The RPM Indoor Raceway 
Renovated Wal-Mart  
Round Rock, TX


Round Rock, TX is the major retail district right outside of Austin, TX. This sort of district is sometimes called an "exit town", since the only real way to get to it is by taking an exit on the highway. The surface streets in the major community that supports the "exit town" (Austin, in this case) don't easily lead to the retail district, because the area is basically a retail outgrowth of the town rather than an original part of the community. In these "exit towns", we usually find the likes of Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Home Depot, etc., often all residing together in a shopping mall that sometimes makes up the entire district.

The RPM Indoor Raceway, most unfortunately, closed its doors recently. The fact that the raceway closed is quite remarkable actually. The renovation itself was wonderful, and the use for the space was fantastic. When you walked in the raceway, you could imagine yourself saying, "What would it be fun to do in a huge, empty Wal-Mart building?" Driving small cars around it really fast is pretty good answer. Everyone who worked at the RPM Indoor Raceway was very enthusiastic about racing, hoping that the track could help the whole industry of indoor racing to catch on a little more in the United States. Round Rock is the home to a lot of Austin's web and tech industry, and Dell Computers sits right across the street from the former track. Most of the track's business was actually corporate- when a department at Dell wanted to provide a fun, team-building weekend for its employees, it would rent out the raceway. In fact, the raceway was complete with wi-fi internet access, a café, and conference rooms. The RPM also hosted league nights. The track rented the building from a large real estate firm who owned the structure.

Original Wal-Mart signs have several tiers, the top tier advertising the Wal-Mart logo, the next tier saying "We sell for less". The next usually emphasizes the "ALWAYS".

The RPM track is one of 60-70 in the United States. The model of car and track is currently very popular in western Europe The track is a third of a mile around, and about 14 cars can race on it at about 40 miles per hour.

Even though the operation was very successful, the overhead costs of being a single-user in such a large space just caught up with them. The management at the track had come up with some ideas to curb the costs, but in each situation, the building owners and the building itself offered obstacles. Since the raceway was clearly such an alternative use for the space, it was hard to find investors and partners who wanted to venture into sharing the space. The track came up with business ideas that would allow them to split up the structure, offering parts of the building to a climbing wall and a laser-tag operation. But the high overhead and the niche market of the indoor raceway made the proposition risky. Another factor that the raceway brings to light is the fact that most big box retailers, including Wal-Mart and K-Mart, often have various statements written into the leases/deeds at these sites, restricting remotely competitive retailers from moving into the space. These restrictions can last anywhere from 10-100 years after the original retailer leaves the space, so we can guess, for example, that most Wal-Mart buildings will not become a K-Mart within a short time frame. The building that housed the RPM Indoor Raceway is indeed currently under restrictions regarding who may move into the space. For the Indoor Raceway, this was fine-- obviously they are not a competitor with Wal-Mart. in fact, they tried to use these restrictions to their advantage, trying to get together a solid "land banking" deal for the owners so that they could feel secure in the space. The deal would have assured the owners of solid rent from this entertainment complex, and the raceway and their partners would feel secure in the building. Sadly though, it just did not work out at this point for the raceway.

Big box renovators often claim the parking lot as one reason that they bought the space.

The glowing sign at night after league night. The track is 60,000 square feet.

A few more remarkable characteristics at this site involve the exterior of the building. Generally speaking, the exterior of a big box building is the last thing to be renovated. The function of the building always comes first, for obvious reasons. But the exterior of the RPM Indoor Raceway is interesting because the facade is covered in stone-- much different than the typical grey and blue painted cement blocks of most Wal-Mart buildings. As you look around the parking lot at RPM, you see that every building actually has the same stone facade. This is a clue that a single developer built the entire shopping center in the first place, and leased the main building to Wal-Mart, who would act as the "anchor store" for the development. The signage at RPM is also interesting-- The many-tiered sign is a signature of Wal-Mart: the top level states the name "Wal-Mart" and on the lower tiers we usually see the company's logo, "We Sell For Less", and the next tier emphasizes the "ALWAYS." In the case of the RPM, this original sign has been re-used, so that now the tiers state the presence of the Go-Kart track. It is interesting to note how the format of this sign is being incorporated into the landscape.


Back to big box map