When we last visited with Lehigh Valley Grand Prix Owner Mike McCreary in 2018, he told us that he’d grown his then 11-year-old indoor go-kart racing business back to its opening month levels. It’s something that’s unheard of for an attraction like his, which is located in south Allentown, where LVGP has been a tenant in AEDC’S Plant No. 1 for the past 13 years. McCreary attributed the growth in part to the revitalization of downtown Allentown with more people living downtown and looking for things to do on nights and weekends nearby, especially on bad weather days.

But the COVID-19 pandemic brought his thriving business to a screeching halt earlier in its 13th year, as it did for so many others. LVGP was forced to close for three months, which resulted in McCreary furloughing most of his employees. A major disappointment that came out of the pandemic was the launch of a second location at a mall in New Jersey location that now can’t happen due to the loss in finances. So instead McCreary invested his financial resources at his current location in the form of a new axe throwing feature. “Although our dreams of growth are on hold, we are extremely grateful to still be operating.  Not all businesses have been fortunate to survive,” McCreary.

While the doors were closed, McCreary took advantage of a PPP loan and used it to pay staff members to help renovate the facility and build GO AXE! The six lanes with wooden bullseye targets at the end will be yet another activity that guests can enjoy at Lehigh Valley Grand Prix. Pairs of lanes are separated by a metal fence. A countertop will be placed behind the lanes where guests can relax and enjoy food and a beverage while they wait their next turn to throw.  McCreary envisions the space to be a great location for Corporate Team Building and other private events.

“Axe throwing is extremely popular and there aren’t many places to do it in the region yet,” he explained. “GO AXE! will be the only axe throwing location in Allentown. The new attraction is expected to create two jobs at LVGP for staff who need to be stationed to monitor safety. If all goes well, McCreary expects to open it by early September.

GO AXE! is in addition to two mini-bowling lanes and the Octane Adrenaline Bar. While the food and beverage portion of his business hasn’t reopened just yet, McCreary expects it to be by early September to compliment the axe throwing experience. The menu will be tweaked to feature more sharable foods. He and his team also repainted all of the walls in the Grand Prix customer area, and laid out a new track that McCreary designed.

“Our customers have been extremely supportive and understanding about the need to wear a mask when they aren’t eating or drinking or racing on the track. They are here to support us so they are playing by the rules,” he said. “The group bookings have started returning as people want to go out and do things safely with friends. We’re currently accepting reservations for corporate events, birthday parties, and bachelor and bachelorette parties like we have always done.”

In addition to the social distancing and face masks, policies and procedures were also changed for other aspects of the guest experience. First, they removed every other check-in kiosk to allow for social distancing when racers arrive and register on a tablet that is affixed to the countertop as well as established the ability to create profiles and reservations online. Now only staff members can handle racer’s helmets. They also take care of sanitizing them inside and out with a special spray. Fabric socks that racers wear over their heads and necks are no longer washed and reused. Instead racers must purchase one for a few bucks that they can use on future visits.  The new head coverings cover the nose and mouth to create more protections to the customer.

Race cars are also sanitized with a special antibacterial fogger. Briefings that were done in a group format before every race are now done as part of a slide show on screens in the pit area. They also took out many of the tables and bar stools in the bar area.

All of these changes are costing LVGP more to operate during the pandemic, but McCreary says it’s worth it just to be open again.

“Reopening was like a rebirth in a way. Things feel somewhat normal again since we reopened,” he said. “So far we’re not back to where we were pre-COVID-19 but we’re closer than I thought we’d be.” McCreary estimates his business is at about 70 percent of where it normally is from a revenue standpoint. So far, he’s operating with seven employees per shift and expects that number to increase as more customers return.

“Our customers are excited to be back. I’m just grateful to still be here and to be welcoming guests again. I can’t wait to see what’s down the road ahead!”

Lehigh Valley Grand Prix operates out of AEDC’S Plant No. 1, a 263,000 square foot former Mack Truck facility. After purchasing and renovating the building, AEDC divided the space into multi-tenant manufacturing units. Other than LVGP, the balance of the building is occupied by manufacturing companies, such as Gateway Industrial Services, a metal fabrication, sandblasting and painting facility. Plant No. 1 currently has additional units available for rent with space starting at 24,000 square feet.