March 1, 2009
The Next Wave: Who Are the Valley’s Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs?
By Jana K. Hoffman
Photo by Kenneth P. Volpe | transposure.com
It was an intense game of Beirut at Lehigh University that brought Cooper and McCreary together. That’s what they say, anyway. All jokes aside, the success that these two have experienced over the last year has certainly sped by at more than 45 mph.
While McCreary (from Allentown) was in school he was enrolled in an entrepreneurial class where he developed a business plan that eventually became a reality. That business plan was what is now known as Lehigh Valley Grand Prix. It was entered in the Talheimer Student Entrepreneurship Contest at Lehigh and won. “I did it [for the class], but the real reason for the plan was to pursue it,” he says. McCreary whips out his BlackBerry to quickly calculate the percentage of prize money that went toward the overall upfront costs of the project – .2 percent.
Fresh out of college, Cooper (from Buffalo, New York, now living in Whitehall) wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do. McCreary invited him down to his hometown Dewey Beach, Delaware, for the summer and the two fine-tuned the business plan. “I wasn’t really in a hurry to dive into a cubicle in the corporate world,” Cooper says. McCreary offered him the opportunity and he jumped on it. The two partnered and got the ball – or should we say wheel – rolling.
McCreary was only 22 when he began approaching people about the initial idea and he admits they were skeptical. “I showed up with a backwards hat on and a pair of jeans,” he recalls. “To this day I do not own a suit.”
We suppose you don’t really need one when you own one of the largest indoor playgrounds in the area. LVGP is housed inside a former Mack Trucks building in Allentown. Built in the 1920s, It was constructed with a saw-tooth roof that allowed for wider column spacing, essentially enabling McCreary and Cooper to put the track inside. “If you look at the roof you can see how it goes up and down,” Cooper says. “That pretty much allowed those green columns out there to be [placed] farther apart. They’re about 40 feet apart, which is kind of what we needed to put a track in here.” But it wasn’t easy. “Finding a space was very challenging,” McCreary says.
The $1.5 million construction project was a bit of a risk, but the boys had put a great team in place that contributed to its success. Part of that team was McCreary’s father, a former accountant, who helped with plan analysis. “There were a lot of numbers to analyze,” McCreary says. “He helped me crunch numbers because that’s a weakness I have. I’m a marketing kind of guy, and he helped me strengthen that side.”
Once the numbers were crunched, they needed a design and a construction company. The two sought out Paul Felder of The Architectural Studios in Center City, Allentown, for design help and Ondra-Huyett Associates, Inc. of Allentown to spearhead construction with Ron Jerdon as project manager. Ondra-Huyett won the 2008 Merit Shop Excellence in Constructions Award: Restoration/Renovation presented by Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc.
McCreary and Cooper looked to Belgiumbased Sodi for their carts that travel at speeds up to 45 mph. “In Europe this sport is much bigger,” Cooper says. “These indoor tracks are much more common.” Sodi designed the quarter-mile road course with the guys’ input and tweaks. While we were there we couldn’t help but notice the tires lining the course. There are 1,300; all acquired from one NASCAR race held in Chicago. “If you actually look at the sides of some of the tires you can see the driver’s number in chalk,” Cooper explains. Some of the tires can be traced back to the cars of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
When it comes to indoor racing, the guys might be pros, but they admit running a business is quite a different feat. “I’d say the major challenges we face are lack of experience, running a sales team, and having systems in place for employees,” McCreary says. “Those are probably the most challenging things we have to deal with on an ongoing basis. The strengths of being a young entrepreneur are we’re not set in our ways, we haven’t been affected by…the culture of the working environment.” Cooper also says they’re quick to react to issues and they’re very open-minded.
The Valley has a strong racing community and they’ve found a way to cater to it. “It seems like there was a real need for this,” Cooper says. McCreary tells me the best part of having his own business is he knows he’s working for his own benefit. Cooper, in turn, says he’s never dreaded coming to work. Except, they say jokingly, when we came to do this interview.
Source: Lehigh Valley Style, March 2009