Autobahn: a place to race and relax in the ‘garage mahal’
By bob okon firstname.lastname@example.org March 17, 2013 4:28PM
Bill Miller (left) and his son Matt (right) talk next to their 2007 Lotus Exige in their condo-garage at Autobahn Country Club Tuesday, March 12, 2013, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:06AM
Matt Miller calls his combination condo and garage at Autobahn Country Club “a dream come true.”
“I live in Orland Park, so I’m right up the street really,” Miller said. “It’s like having a personal race track in your back yard.”
Members at the Joliet club for racing enthusiasts sometimes jokingly call the residences at the race track “garage mahals,” a take-off from the Taj Mahal in India that recognizes how elaborate some garages and the attached living quarters have become.
The club will add room for 24 more if the Joliet City Council this week approves the needed zoning. Autobahn is buying 11 acres that will expand its size to nearly 329 acres with room for a total of 76 of the condo-garages.
Miller and his father, Bill Miller, own their place together.
Matt, who races competitively, can drive a car there like nowhere else in the Chicago area. But with the condo equipped with the comforts of a home away from home, the Millers can bring friends, family and business clients who may not share their enthusiasm for racing.
“We use it to relax with the family,” Matt said. “When I’m out on the track, my family has a place to relax.”
They own a family business together and bring clients to the Autobahn as well.
Sometimes, Bill said, he just comes to get away from it all.
“I’ll come out during the day, play with the car a little, take a shower and go back to work,” said Miller. “It’s actually great because you can get out all your frustrations here. And, you get away from the frustrations.”
The Autobahn Country Club lies in the south end of the city, surrounded by the newly developing CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet industrial park. Autobahn is buying the 11 acres for additional garage lots from CenterPoint.
City approval is needed because the land had been zoned for warehouse development.
There are no signs of resistance to the zoning. The Autobahn Country Club, which opened in 2004, is a point of pride for the city of Joliet. Not only is it a regional attraction for racing enthusiasts that complements the nearby Chicagoland Speedway, but car manufacturers use the tracks there for demonstrations, dealer training and test drives for high-end customers.
Toyota last week used the Autobahn track for dealer training on the new RAV4 models.
“Last year, he had almost 40,000 people come through our gates, and we’re not a spectator track,” Autobahn Country Club President Mark Basso said.
The club had its best financial year ever in 2012 despite some lingering effects from the recession, Basso said.
“It slowed down here like everywhere else,” he said.
Club membership held steady, but new construction of the condo-garages fell off. Two lots are under contract for construction now.
“That’s a true improvement from last year,” Basso said, “We had none under construction last year. Hopefully, that’s a sign that the economy is picking up.”
Membership also grew in 2012 with 24 new members joining. Total membership is more than 400.
It’s not cheap. Memberships cost $35,000 a year, and annual club dues are $4,000.
Still, it can be a good deal for a competitive racer like Matt Miller, who was the 2009 C-Sports Racer division national champion in the Sports Car Club of America. Anywhere else, Miller said, he would pay $8,000 to $10,000 a day for track rental.
“If you’re a racer, it’s a bargain,” Miller said. “And, it gives you a competitive edge.”
Autobahn members include retired professional racer Bobby Rahal, also the owner of a garage mahal and a Chicago-area resident.
“He’s out here quite a lot,” Basso said.
And, why not?
“The reality is cars take a lot of space,” Basso said. “When you have a collection of cars, you rent a warehouse. But here, you can store them, race them, and there are mechanics on site.”