Not Your Average Country Club

During the week, Amy Wittkamper lives the life of a suburban mom.

"It's probably as mundane and ordinary as you can imagine," she said as she and her two sons filled the trunk of her SUV with groceries. "I get up in the morning, get the kids to school, then do my daily errands."

But on the weekends, Wittkamper likes to unwind at the country club. But Wittkamper's club has no golf course, no tennis courts -- just a 3-mile race track with 21 hairpin turns.

'Disneyland for Gear-Heads'

Wittkamper spends weekends harnessed behind the wheel of her custom BMW, helmet on, careening around the curves at 140 miles per hour.

"When I'm out here, I don't even know who I'm chasing," she explained, beaming. "If I can catch them, wow, it's a thrill."

Wittkamper is a member of the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill.

The private race course located in the middle of a corn field is the brainchild of former insurance salesman Mark Basso. Spend five minutes with him, and you'll become aware of his uncanny affinity for cars. Basso knows the roars of their engines the same way a mother recognizes her baby's voice.

"It's a Ferrari, red. I really don't need to see it," he said.

Sure enough, a red Ferrari growls behind him on the track.

For Basso, building the country club is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

"When I was younger, my parents belonged to a golf country club. I used to go there and think, 'This is great, but I'd like to drive my Trans Am down the fairways,'" he said.

Now Basso drives his custom Porsche around his club's manicured grounds, smiling broadly as he says, "This is Disneyland for gear-heads."

Trickin' Out the Club

The country club is still a work in progress. Construction crews hammer away at the walls of a track-side condo complex. There are also plans to build a pool.

Membership costs $35,000 dollars.

"It's amazing," Basso said. "We had over a hundred members before we opened the doors. Now we have over 365 members."

John Preisler is one of them. Like many members, he races in the same car he commutes in. "Goes to work, goes to the track, goes everywhere. I take it on vacation. You can't get me out of it," he said, referring to his gray Ford Mustang.

The Garage Mahal

Despite the continual roar of straining engines and squealing tires, Basso says members come here to relax.

"When you're driving with your helmet on, you can't answer your cell phone," he explained. "There are no faxes, no e-mails and no pages. When I'm in the car, I can't think about anything else except trying to get around the next corner."

Like other country clubs, the Autobahn has a pro shop that sells racing boots, helmets -- even souvenir barf bags. The club also employs its own paramedics and has purchased an ambulance that sits in a garage next to the starting gate.

"We are all about safety," Basso said. "And no one here has ever been seriously hurt."

To run with this fast crowd, a vacation home on the 17th fairway won't do. Members here buy on-site garages.

"We call it the garage mahal," said country club member Dennis Hiffman, gesturing into his massive garage.

Inside, there are parking spaces for more than a dozen race cars and a tool storage area -- all as immaculate as a surgical suite. Upstairs, Hiffman opens the door to a luxury apartment with bamboo flooring and sparkling stainless steel appliances. A gourmet kitchen, two bedroom suites and luxurious seating area overlook the track's fifth turn.

Hinman flips on the colossal flat screen TV in the living room, showing off his closed circuit TV system. Rooftop cameras broadcast all the action on the track. "You don't even have to look out the window," he said with a smile.

Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal is also among the garage mahal owners at the country club.

Living alongside the track can have some drawbacks. Racing starts every morning at 8:30 -- a noisy wake up call.

But Hinman says he doesn't mind at all. "I hear music," he says, "It's music to me."

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