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Start Your Engines

Ricky Dennis was born into the sport of auto racing, and now he's making money doing what he loves.

What: Indoor arena racing licensing
Who: Ricky Dennis of Arena Racing LLC
Where: Mechanicsville, Virginia
When: Started in 2002
Startup Costs: $500,000

 

Ricky Dennis was born into the sport of auto racing, and now he's making money doing what he loves. The son of a racer, Dennis went to his first hockey game in the early '90s, and he says all he could picture was "a race car running around a racetrack in the arena with all those people sitting there looking at it. Like a million other race fans, I was wishing we had something to watch in the winter, because there's almost no racing [then]."

 

In 1993, Dennis built a wooden indoor track and 52 cars with no suspension, but it wasn't until friends--including Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs--invested in the idea that Dennis was able to officially start the company in 2002.

 

After a city purchases a license with Arena Racing, the company builds 56 cars and a high-bank indoor track. The city, meanwhile, sells slots to locals. Each slot includes a car and a spot on the track. So far, the company has opened arenas in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Hampton, Virginia--the first arenas to boast indoor stock car racing leagues. This fall, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is opening its indoor racing arena, selling slots for $12,500.

 

After building stock cars for 19 years, Dennis now prides himself on creating hometown heroes. "They all tell their friends, their family, their co-workers and their neighbors, 'Everybody, come watch me race,'" says Dennis, 48. "And with 56 teams and five crew members on each team, you've got 250 or 300 people [spreading the word]. That's a guerrilla marketing force."

 

Having earned 2007 sales of about $1.2 million, Dennis is looking to open arena racing in three to five new cities this year.

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This article was originally published in the March 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Start Your Engines.

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