The husband and wife team that brought GForce Karting to the province two years ago is pushing their business model into the next gear.
Next week, following an extensive and expensive renovation, Walter Matena and Kieley Hickey will open the doors to the GForce Funderdome, a 40,000-square-foot facility that will feature an indoor go-kart track, a sizeable blacklight arcade, five party rooms — with the option of converting three of them into one room to accommodate larger groups — a licensed adult-only race lounge and a canteen.
Come February they’ll also launch a race-themed indoor glow-in-the-dark 18-hole mini-golf course at the facility at 1269 Topsail Rd., nestled on the edge of Donovans Industrial Park.
Unlike the go-karting operation they’ve operated during the summer in the parking lot of the Jack Byrne Arena, the indoor karts are not the same high-performance variety, meaning they’ll top out at around 32 km/h compared to 65 km/h for the outdoor karts.
But, Hickey adds, “the speed at 32 km/h on a tight, constrained track feels very much like 65 km/h.”
“Indoor and outdoor are so unique,” explains Matena, a lifelong karting enthusiast who has previously operated both types of tracks in Ontario.
“Indoor you really drift and slide in the turns, it’s tight, it’s fast-paced. Outdoors is fast-paced as well, but it’s a wide track, it’s a longer track, you stick a bit more in the turns.”
“We’ve been in here playing with different track layouts because we want to find one that’s comfortable for all walks,” Matena says. “It’s still aggressive and fun enough for guys who are skilled, but still easy and fun enough for someone who doesn’t have those skills.”
Safety is paramount, he says.
As with the Jack Byrne karts, drivers must be a certain age and meet a size requirement — 52 inches — in order to steer their own kart. For those who are either too young, too small or both, there are special two-person karts that allow a parent or guardian to sit in the driver’s seat.
All the karts are also speed controlled.
“So when we get younger kids out we can put them at a half speed so they can get out there and get a feel for a couple of laps before we kick them up to full speed. If there’s an accident where a car spins out on the track, we can put them all down to an idle speed so you drive around nice and safe.”
Matena and Hickey have even installed a state-of-the-art ventilation system and carbon monoxide sensors throughout the racing area.
“We’ve had karts going while we were testing track layouts and you can’t smell anything,” says Matena.
It’s also markedly cheaper than the outdoor racing. Whereas $20 got you a 10-minute spin around the Jack Byrne track, members at Funderdome can tackle the indoor circuit for $15. The more sessions, the cheaper it becomes for both member and non-member alike.
As for whether or not the green and checkered flags will wave again in Torbay next summer, Matena says it’s undecided.
“It’s just whether we can mentally and physically get past this initial six months of opening up this business and see where we’re at for the summer.”