Running a business is like driving a car: To get to where you're going safely and successfully, you must steer carefully around obstacles, know when to accelerate and when to break, when to turn and when to change lanes. But cars aren't just a good metaphor for business. They're also a good vehicle through which to drive business results -- literally.
That's what happens on racetracks around the country, where corporate groups congregate for incentive programs that not only reward employees, but also imbue them with long-term lessons that can help them cross all manner of corporate finish lines.
"Most corporate groups that come here want to do a fun, competitive team-building activity," says Stephen Saward, operations manager at the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal, Calif., near Palm Springs. "But there's always a little bit of education, too."
Naturally, that education is designed to make participants better drivers. If they're paying attention, however, the parallels between steering cars and steering companies means it also can make them better businesspeople.
Plus, it's exciting, unique and memorable -- everything a successful incentive should be. "It's different. It's not a round of golf, it's not a tennis match, it's not sitting at the pool and it's not a day at the spa," Saward continues. "Instead, it's an opportunity to combine fun and education. And how many experiences can you say that about?"
To see for yourself what happens when you teach top performers to "step on it," consider rewarding your incentive group with a day at one of these five fast-driving destinations:
BMW Performance Center West (Thermal, Calif.)
The BMW Performance Center West (pictured) inhabits 32 acres of desert at the Thermal Club, a private motor-sports country club that shares with BMW three professionally designed on-site racetracks. There's also a dedicated BMW track, a polished wet skid pad, an 8,500-square-foot building with classrooms and a café, and a fleet of 100 BMWs, including the M series. For corporate groups of up to 150 people, the experience of choice is a half-day program that's customized based on groups' size and interests. Available activities include the BMW Buffet, during which participants speed around a handling course in four different BMW models; a timed autocross, where they compete with one another to see who can get the fastest lap; and the one-hour M Track Drive, which includes six circuits around one of the Thermal Club's professional tracks. Each program ends with a "hot lap" in the passenger seat with a professional driver who skids his or her way around the track at exhilarating speeds. For groups that can't make the trek to Palm Springs, there's also a location in Spartanburg, S.C.
Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles (Carson, Calif.)
Opened in 2016, the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles is a 60,000-square-foot shrine to fast driving. Along with a large retail store, there's a rotating race-car exhibit, a chef-led fine-dining restaurant serving Porsche-inspired cuisine and a simulator lab where visitors can experience world-famous racetracks from behind the wheel of a virtual Porsche. The highlight, however, is the 4.1-mile driver-development track where participants can learn new skills from behind the wheel of late-model Porsches like the 911 GT3 and the Panamera Turbo. The track features eight training modules, including two handling circuits, an ice hill, an off-road course, a dynamics pad for agility training, an acceleration straight for full-throttle driving, a low-friction handling circuit, a low-friction circle, and a hydraulic kick-plate for skidding and spinning. Groups can gather in one of the on-site meeting rooms, have a meal at the restaurant, then hit the track or the simulator lab to burn either real or virtual rubber. There's also an Atlanta location for groups on the East Coast.
Land Rover Experience Driving Center (Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.)
Located at Carmel Valley's Quail Lodge & Golf Club, the Land Rover Experience Driving Center isn't really about fast driving. It's definitely about fun driving, though. Encompassing a picturesque network of wooded off-road trails that groups can traverse inside the Land Rover vehicle of their choice, the Center mixes adventure with education as drivers navigate obstacles like steep inclines and descents, hairpin turns, rocks, logs, water crossings and mud. As at other facilities, groups can create a customized program based on their size, interests and schedule.
Dream Racing (Las Vegas)
California may be the land of driving, but it's not the only place incentive groups can go to experience some serious g-force. In Las Vegas, for example, there's Dream Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where groups of 10 to 10,000 people can put incentive recipients behind the wheel of a real, non-street-legal Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche or Lotus race car. There are six different tracks -- including the ovular "Superspeedway," a drag strip, an off-road course and a go-kart track -- on which available experiences include race-car driving experiences, ride-alongs with professional drivers, go-kart experiences and timed autocross challenges. Also on-site are meeting spaces, a spa, state-of-the-art simulators for virtual practice driving and even stages for live entertainment.
Nürburgring Driving Academy (Nürburg, Germany)
Incentive planners who want to go the extra mile -- literally and figuratively -- should consider an overseas trip to Germany's Nürburgring, a motor-sports Mecca that dates from 1927. Located in a medieval German hamlet, the legendary racing circuit encompasses two tracks: the state-of-the-art Grand Prix Circuit that was built in 1984 and the original Nordschleife, or North Loop, whose nickname is "the Green Hell" thanks to its long length, numerous bends and dramatic elevation changes. Incentive groups that want to experience the German wonder should head to the Nürburgring Driving Academy, where incentive planners can create a custom program for 10, 50 or 100 participants that lasts several hours or even several days. Available experiences include copilot drives in the passenger seat next to a professional driver, off-road driving, professional Formula Racing training, go-kart racing and "the Race of Champions," during which two participants at a time drive in parallel on the same circuit, competing to see who can drive the fastest and with the fewest mistakes. Also on offer are behind-the-scenes tours and even a motor-sports theme park.