To sit inside an electric go-kart at the new race track at Walden Galleria reminds Gregory Dominick of being in the tunnel at the field before the start of a football game, waiting for his name to be announced.
His helmet on snugly, he feels like a bullet in a chamber. He gets stomach flutters.
The Erie Community College student just got a job as “pit crew,” setting people up in the karts that look like little race cars at the Pole Position Raceway that opens today on the second floor across from the movie theaters.
Dominick’s part-time gig, one of 40 new jobs at the Galleria satellite of a West-Coast chain, comes with the exhilarating privilege of trying to master the curves that snake along the concrete floor while racing other drivers at speeds up to 45 mph an hour.
“You can feel the air ... I can feel it through my whole entire body,” he said. “No one wants to come in last place. Everyone wants to come in first.”
It was that electric go-kart thrill that led Manhattanites Eyal Farage and Karen Davis-Farage to open their first Pole Position Raceway franchise in Jersey City in 2010, one of the first of a sites in the East for a pastime popular out West.
After their success, which included selling some 120,000 rides in their first year, the couple was recruited by Pyramid Group, which owns the Galleria, to open a track at the Syracuse “Destiny USA” mall in October 2012.
The rides, which cost $23, are open to people at least 4 feet tall.
While the company does not offer calculations of how much time racers have on the track – it depends how fast they go – the experience from helmet-fitting to the end of the ride varies and can last from 15 minutes to half an hour.
“It’s incredibly gratifying ... All of a sudden, we’re in the midst of this explosive, of this wonderful and unique entertainment venue,” said Davis-Farage.
“We’re basically providing fun,” she said, thinking of emergency-room doctors who are among her regulars.
“People come in to race every week, to get their mind off other things.”
The unusual business venture started when the recession hit and Davis-Farage lost her job as a software company vice president in 2009.
With three children in private school, she was devastated. “I spent about nine months in a very debilitated state,” she said.
Things began to turn when her son won a scholarship to the University of Southern California, and her husband, a contractor whose business had slowed, decided they should take a father-and-son road trip to school.
Once they got to Los Angeles, a family friend took them to an electric go-kart racetrack.
When her son got out of the car, he took off his helmet and said, “Dad, they have nothing like this in New York. This is what you and Mom should do.”
“If it weren’t for our son, we wouldn’t know what we’d be doing today, said Davis-Farage.
Now the couple expects to open another track in Long Island next March, and they’d like to open at least two a year.
Farage was impressed by how fast the go-karts could go and how the low-slung seats made the ride reminiscent of his 1980s-era Porsche in which they made the trip to California.
“The speed puts you back in the chair,” he said.
For his wife, who likes the authenticity of the kart rides and will take a ride a couple times a month when friends visit, it was the opening of the track at Walden Galleria that moved her.
To see another new racetrack open made her feel grateful and a bit teary. She thought of everyone who made the business happen, from her supportive children to the late family friend who took her husband and son for that first electric kart ride and the crew surrounding her Tuesday evening as they readied for today’s opening.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said, smiling and brushing away tears.