Pittsburgh International Race Complex opened in 2002. Its original configuration, now known as the North Track is 1.6 miles long. Designed by Alan Wilson, the North Track was all there was when Jim and Kathy Stout bought the facility in 2011. It was a layout that Stout found boring as did other racers he knew.
Since the couple acquired Pitt Race, they have added the South Track, which when combined with the North Track, makes for a 2.78-mile-long configuration. A quick Spec Miata laps the full circuit in about 2:08. They also have made a number of improvements to the physical plant and the facility overall.
NASA will be visiting Pitt Race twice in 2023, in July with NASA Great Lakes for a regional event and again in September for the 2023 NASA Championships.
What drivers in the regions surrounding the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area know is that Pitt Race is one of the most underrated tracks in the country. Like High Plains Raceway outside Denver, Pitt Race flows wonderfully, and is as well suited to Time Trial as it is for racing. Pitt Race has a challenging layout with tricky turns of varying speeds, blind rises and elevation changes that add to the fun. The Stouts not only added the South Track, but also repaved everything while they were at it. The result is an excellent racing surface with usable curbs and ample runoff.
Turns 3 and 4 will remind you of the Corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Turn 5 is tight downhill bowl with a tricky entry and a steep uphill exit. Turns 7 through 11 are some of the finest esses in the country. Turns 12 and 13 are essential to get right because they lead to the blind Turn 14, which empties onto the long back straight with high-speed turns 15 and 16. Here’s a good example of a hot lap at Pitt Race.
Stout was able to purchase of Pitt Race because of Coastal Pet Products, a company he launched with his brother Tom in 1968. If you’ve ever stopped to appreciate the curve of a collar’s buckle to be more comfortable for your dog, or bought a leash made with a highly reflective material for nighttime safety, then you already know a little about Coastal Pet Products. The company’s 400,000-square-foot facility in Alliance, Ohio, produces collars, leashes, harnesses and travel accessories for dogs and cats the world over.
The changes and improvements to Pitt Race would seem to reflect the mindset of a racer, and Jim Stout certainly fits that description. According to Driverdb.com, Stout has raced in the 2008 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche GT3 and he’s also raced a Dodge Viper in the Viper Racing League, NARRA, NASA, and US GT, with wins and podiums to his credit. If you see a purple Dodge Viper Comp Coupe, it’s probably Jim Stout. In fact, he owns seven Vipers.
We caught up with Stout to find out a little bit more about him, the Pitt Race facility and what NASA drivers can expect at the 2023 NASA Championships.
Q: OK, first off, how many tricks does your dog Stryker know, and how many fancy collars does he have?
A: Well, Stryker knows all of the basic good-dog tricks. Everything from sit to shake, high five, give me 10, even. He likes to sit pretty, and that’s his real crowd pleaser is sitting pretty. He’s not a fancy collar guy, however, he does constantly wear sometimes two collars at a time to test them for function and durability. And he has two collars on even today as we speak. He’s a collar test dog.
Q: As much as we all love dogs, we should probably change the subject to racing. When did you take up racing?
A: I took up racing in 2000. I went to Mid-Ohio and I had a 1996 street legal Viper GTS coupe and that’s how I started my racing. I raced with Archer Racing who took care of my car and I said, “We can either spend money and convert my coupe to a racecar,” But at the time they had an Archer-prepared unlimited car that I leased from them. I didn’t go up the right way. I started at the top. I didn’t work my way up like I suggest to people.
Q: You started in a fast car?
A: I started in an unlimited Viper. Now the only thing is that Viper did have ABS brakes before ABS was on Vipers, and it had plenty of horsepower. It was a real good driving Viper, real good race Viper.
Q: There’s a big difference between wanting to go racing, and buying a whole racetrack. How did you come to purchase the Pitt Race facility and why?
A: Well, we were early investors in the track when it first opened, and the track, as it proceeded to go into Chapter 11 in 2010, we decided the best way to protect the track ourselves was to buy the property, purchase the property that the track was located on. Now, the short answer I give people, and we don’t need to write this down, when they said, “How did you get involved with a track?” I said, “I was drinking.” Because that’s the only logical reason to buy a racetrack.
Q: I’m going to have to ask you to elaborate on that a little bit if you could.
A: Well, you know I make my living making dog collars, and the short story I tell people, if a bunch of guys were sitting around having a beer saying, “What kind of industry can we go in to make a lot of money?” And if somebody says, “Why don’t we make dog collars?” I think the answer from the group would come back, “Have another drink, and let’s go on with another better idea.”
So, the track kind of fits into that category. I always tell people, “Don’t get personally involved with your own hobby. Don’t turn your hobby into your business.” And apparently I don’t always listen to myself because that’s how we got involved in a racetrack.
One of the interesting things, and this is kind of a sidebar, and I’ve been to Barber, but at the time I had not been to Barber yet and they said, “Are you trying to make your track look like Barber?” And I said, “No, I’m trying to make my track look like Coastal Pet Products.” Because if you come into Coastal, the grounds are well groomed, buildings well maintained, the floors are very clean and it’s just my way of life and way of doing business.
Q: Not long after you purchased it, you added the South Track and repaved the whole circuit, and created one of the most interesting tracks in the country. Did you lay it out yourself? Did you have help from a track designer?
A: Well, I’m really glad you enjoyed the layout because I did too and you don’t know until the track’s completed. Because when you’re trying to run it in an ATV or four wheel drive, it’s a dirt track. You don’t really know what you have till it’s all paved and you get up to speed. But to answer the question, the track was originally an Alan Wilson design with a natural terrain providing much of the uniqueness. However, because of some EPA issues, we had a wetland or water way that we had to move and as well as some other topography challenges. We did some field engineering and I give much of the credit to engineer Earl Seiler who was at the track before we bought it. He’s a DE guy with a passion to see the track completed, and he was very much an instrumental part of completing the South track the way it was done.
Q: Since the original North Track was designed by Alan Wilson, did you bring him back in for the South Track?
A: Yes, we brought him back in and he wanted all or nothing. And if you ever do business with me, if you ask for all or nothing, I can assure you what you’ll get. I liked Alan, but we took over at a certain point and said, “We’ll take it from here Alan, thank you.”
The North Track, when I bought it, I’d have people say, “This track’s boring to me.” And I said, “I agree with you, it’s boring to me too.” This is now what I feel is a very good flowing track, and you’ll never totally master the track. I really like what we ended up with. I’ll put it that way.
Q: Did you look to other tracks for design motivation? If so, which ones and why?
A: I owned part of VIR for a while and VIR always has been and still is one of my favorite tracks to drive. But when we ran the Viper Racing League, we ran everything from Brainerd to Sebring and Daytona to the tracks in the West Coast, Willow Springs and Thunderhill and everything in between. We had a heck of a lot of track experience and I kind of knew what I liked and knew what I didn’t like. I do like elevation changes, I like blind turns. I like the track. It has, and I think you mentioned the term rhythm. The track has some rhythm and flows nice. So, when we got done with the track I was very, very pleased with what we have. Very pleased.
Q: How many months is Pitt Race open for racing and karting?
A: Our full season is April to October, so it’s seven months, but April and October are sometimes questionable and we call them shoulder months. You can have great Aprils and you can have great Octobers, but you can have snow in either one of them.
Q: How tough are the winters on the facility? What kind of maintenance do they require you to do each spring? Do you see what you’ve got when you get there, that kind of thing, or how’s that work?
A: This year it’s been a very mild winter, but we do a lot of tire wall rebuilding. We always try to get the sod in before the winter so it gets a chance to get into the ground. We do any sod repair and preparation, look at any drainage and always look at painting, whether it’s the corner worker stations or the entrance guard station. We like to keep things painted, maintained. The north car garage got the interior painted again this year. I know that we did paint the event center last fall, the exterior of it had never been painted since it was built. The goal was to keep everything in top repair.
Q: What happens at the track during the winter months when it’s not open?
A: We do some autonomous driving rental. We’ve done a lot of it. At times we’ve had several groups renting the track from the skid pad or the vehicle dynamics to the big track. When that first happened some years ago, we had a five year nondisclosure and we couldn’t tell anybody who was on it. It’s been a little more open now. We used to close it down totally when it was being used for autonomous driving and now they actually participate all during the week. So that’s what they do during the winter.
We’re like any seasonal track. We need to have more things to do during the winter. We did have some Mini Coopers. They said “Leave 2 or 3 inches of snow in the track.” And they rented it with snow on the track and they had the ball slipping and sliding around in their Mini Coopers.
Q: Do you have any special plans or improvements or preparations this year before the NASA Championships?
A: It’s really just to make sure everything’s in top condition. As always, we’ll have things well mowed, and just keep things looking as sharp as they can. We’re looking at building some new garages on the bottom of Spectator Hill and that might be well under construction at that point.
Q: When you pull into the facility and look around, what are you most proud of?
A: I think the presentation of it. It’s clean, well groomed, maintained, driving the lines are painted and it’s been our goal. We get a lot of compliments on the condition of it, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come since we purchased it in 2011. You’ll see me or Kathy picking up trash or doing whatever it takes, and we find the cleaner we keep the track the more people respect it and help us keep it clean.
Q: We’ve all seen that house in upstate New York that has its own mile-or-so racetrack on the property, but you own a real racetrack. What’s it like racing your Viper at your own racetrack?
A: Well, it’s great. I like the flow of it. I’m pretty fast on it and I think what people don’t understand, they think because you own a track you go out there and drive it and practice all the time, which isn’t the case. We don’t drive up to speed unless we have a full medical, full corner workers. I actually run with other groups and pay just like any other member.
Q: That is surprising.
A: Well isn’t to me. If you knew me, it wouldn’t be. It’s the only way to do it. As far as going out there and driving top speed on my own, I just don’t do that. It isn’t sound, and I practice if somebody has a group. Our local Porsche club rents a track during the season on a Wednesday evening and just rents it for four hours, and I will go run with them sometimes. Matter of fact, my wife bought a Porsche last year and switched from a Viper to a Porsche and we’ve enjoyed driving the Porsches too.
Q: What are the things you’d most like people to know about Pitt Race?
A: Well, it’s very pet friendly. Of course it was paid for by the pet industry and when we first started racing Vipers, there were tracks that would not let pets go to the track. I had a couple of friends in the Viper Series that would not race at those tracks. It’s our goal to be very pet friendly. It’s clean. It has five sets of restrooms with full showers in all but one of them. It has a friendly staff on hand at all times to meet our customers’ needs. I’m proud of our team and the way they maintain the track. We have a staff that services restrooms during an event on a very on-top-of-it basis.
We’re family-friendly too. Pet and family friendly because families and wives don’t like to use porta potties, and guys don’t either. We have very few porta potties and we have a lot of bathroom facilities. I’ve been to some of the old legacy tracks, and some of those things are way outdated. It’s something we’re real proud of. But the restrooms are what dictate the family friendliness, and when people stay there and race, they have good showers. The bathrooms are air conditioned and heated, and the showers have hot water. They’re good showers.
Q: There are some homes around the Pitt Race facility, but also a sportsmen’s club and state game lands. How susceptible do you think the track is to potential sound limitations?
A: We feel we’ve settled in a very good community environment. We work closely with the community. We monitor and respect our agreed-upon noise levels. We enforce engine startup in the morning, which is always a challenge because we like to start our engines up and get them warm early, but we respect that. Most of the groups that work with us have been very cooperative to preserve our playground, and part of that is preserving the neighborhood.
Q: OK, last question. Will you be racing at the NASA Championships and will Stryker be there for everyone to meet and greet?
A: Well, my answer to that is a double yes. I’ll run my Viper. I don’t run the NASA series for points, but I do run with NASA whenever I get a chance. It’s a good group to run with. They do a real good job and I do like the wheel to wheel. I’ll be honest, once you run a wheel to wheel, DE just doesn’t do the adrenaline for me.