When Jake Gyllenhaal and I arrived at Monticello Motor Club, on a crisp, cloudless December afternoon, we were there to work. Sort of. Gyllenhaal was promoting his latest project, the feature-length-car-chase of a movie, Ambulance (out April 8); I was profiling him for the magazine. The club had shuttered for the season in late October, when the weather conditions teetered into the unpredictable, and safety could not be guaranteed on the main course, the club’s central draw: 4.1 miles of baby-skin-smooth, race-grade asphalt, with twenty turns, two pit stops, and some of the longest straightaways on the continent. Even if they could, members—who’d already paid a one-time buy-in that now starts at $77,000 and $7,200 to $15,750 (or more) in annual dues—were disinclined to expose their McLarens and Porsches to the harsh Northeast winter.
Monticello’s members share two traits: an all-consuming enthusiasm for motorsports and the resources to pay the fees. As we toured the tracks we were going to drive, in borrowed cars from the club’s BMW and Porsche fleets, Chris Duplessis, the director of fun—his actual title—told us about the diverse crowd he serves during the season. One owns a car dealership; another, a spray-foam company. They come from thirty-five states, though most live in the tri-state region—New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. There’s also the guy who lives in Bermuda—he comes up all the time—and the Middle East sheikh, who, two days before our visit, had rented out the entire club for a father-son bonding day with his ten-year-old.
Monticello is the private-est private racing club around. Similar operations exist—Autobahn Club, an hour outside of Chicago; The Thermal Club, on the southeast edge of California’s Coachella Valley. But Autobahn regularly opens its doors to non-members, and Thermal… well, they’re pretty private, too. But to join, you must also buy adjacent real estate, a luxury home or an empty lot on which to build one, which feels a bit like an ultrarich version of a cable-TV bundle. And neither club, nor the rest of the competition, offers the range of the perks that Monticello does.
The property was once a small airport, and it retains the zoning for, well, pretty much whatever the club wishes to do. Noise ordinances? Didn’t hear you. Races take place throughout the season, including the Members Race Challenge, the winner of which is declared that year’s coveted Club Champion. Onsite facilities are always expanding, and now include a detail shop, for deep cleaning; a pro race shop, for body and mechanical repairs; and a fuel pump that supplies race-grade gasoline. Then there’s the skid pad, a 250-foot-by-250-foot slab of pavement rigged with a sprinkler system, to simulate driving in icy conditions. And the six miles of off-road trails coursing through the wooded landscape. And the two battle tanks—battle tanks!—sourced from a UK-based company called, you guessed it, Tanks-Alot. One is an armored personnel carrier whose steel tracks can rev you up to thirty miles an hour. The other, bigger, more cumbersome of the two, is deployed for one purpose, and one purpose alone: car-crushing. A local junkyard provides the junkers that you crush.
Gyllenhaal and I did not get to commandeer the tanks. The junker supply was running low, and just hours before we arrived, one of the personnel carrier’s treads derailed. No mind, we had the rallycross circuit: Three-quarters of a mile, part asphalt, mostly dirt, Zamboni’d smooth that morning by Duplessis, and an unholy mess of mud by the time we were done racing. (Gyllenhaal won.) We were driving Speedcar Xtrem crosskarts—seven-hundred-pound go-karts for adults, essentially, sourced from Spain, outfitted with 750 cc Suzuki motorcycle engines but without windshields to protect us from the aerosolized earth. They moved. The most fun I’ve had on four wheels. Apparently, the sheikh’s son loved it, too. A Monticello employee told me a new Speedcar was likely already on its way to the Arabian Peninsula.
If you’re not royalty, Hollywood or otherwise, you can still try out the circuit for yourself: Monticello just re-opened for the season, and they offer a half-day crosskart experience for $1,500 per person, membership not required.