Off Track

Amid the concrete barriers and miles of plastic sheeting used to block nonpaying spectators from watching the Texaco Grand Prix, Race Car Club, despite its time-appropriate name, is just a party for the sake of a party. The name is pure convenience -- the Grand Prix was right around the corner last year when Houston idea man Joe Martin planned to throw his latest much-anticipated bash. As fate would have it, the uniqueness of a rogue party with a race theme drew 2,000 people.

This manifestation of Martin's entertainment obsession began as an intimate Thursday-night cocktail party with elite friends. The pressure to keep raising the bar eventually gave way to Joe Martin Productions, the official company behind Race Car Club.

When finances became an issue, Martin simply asked his friends for some cash in exchange for spots on the host list. What he got was a lengthy list of affluent Houstonians, artists and (naturally, since it's a party) media types. Many of them, like Houston attorney and part owner of the Continental Club Ken Wall, are relatively young (pre-forties) players in Houston's downtown nightclub and restaurant business.

Martin, barely hiding his pride, admits the crowd at Race Car Club is more affluent than not, but insists there is diversity. "The host list was my effort to go out into the disparate cliques of predominantly Inner Loop Houstonians I knew and select one or two people from those cliques," says Martin.

With such a good thing going, one might wonder why Martin would chance diluting the ranks of "trendsetters and style makers" by opening his party to the public, perhaps allowing in a flood of day-labor types after good booze, food and three bands for the mere cost of a conservative night on the town. Martin says he isn't worried -- tickets are sold only to those with Web access. Fortunately for the masses, check cards work like credit cards and every Houston library has an Internet kiosk.

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Brandon Cullum