Ever since he could remember, Dean Choma liked to deliver fun.
And most times fun involved bikes of one sort or another.
And at the age of 54, the man who founded Pubtrek and now runs Fastlane Karting, looks back and sees that delivering fun has indeed been his life.
But having survived a collision with a kangaroo five years ago that should have killed him, and now come through the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, Dean Choma is looking ahead to many more years of delivering fun.
“It has been a nightmare; we had to let 30 staff go when Covid closed us down,’’ he says.
“People would ask me, how are you going, Deano, and I’d go, I’m living the dream.
“But now I’m back into it again – last night I was chasing some people in the gokarts in the rain.’’
Now that Fastlane Karting has been allowed to reopen, Dean Choma decided that it was important to improve the delivery of fun in a post-Covid world.
“I have been in business for more than 30 years and have learned how to deal with such situations, to be able to adapt very quickly,’’ he says.
“What has happened with the pandemic is that people have been isolated and disconnected from others.
“And when you do that to people it breaks their spirit.
“Well, now we want to play our role in reconnecting people once again.
“And do it safely, so when you come to this track you touch just two surfaces, that black chair and that steering wheel on the gokart.
“I call it new world karting.’’
Dean Choma was born in Liverpool Hospital and attended Leppington Primary School before going to Casula High.
He grew up in Leppington on the family farm.
Young Dean rode motorbikes from the age of seven, for his own fun but also to put on a show for his mates.
“I wanted to be the person at high school that was the guy that was delivering the fun. If everyone was having a good time then I was satisfied,’’ he says.
“So when people walk out of this place and they’re pumped up and they’re giving each other the high fives, I stand there at the door, and go, yeah, that was great.
“And it’s where I continue to get the energy from.’’
Eventually the time arrived when Dean Choma had to choose a career, so he did an apprentice and ended up working as a toolmaker in factories.
He says that’s where he learned the importance of people skills.
“I can fix things but in the factories the problem with most of the machines was the operator, so the people skills kicked in,’’ he explains.
When he got the travel bug, Dean Choma packed his bags and explored large chunks of our great country.
“I collected some opals, put them in my shorts and went to America, sold them and came back, bought a bus and started a business,’’ he says.
That was 1989 and the business was the famous Pubtrek.
“In America I discovered they loved Australia and loved Australians and that the culture of Australians was in pubs,’’ he says.
“So I took the bus on a trip to a couple of pubs, a convict trail around the Hawkesbury, and Pubtrek was born.
“That’s also when I really discovered my love for delivering fun to the people. It started with bucks parties and I became the best man’s best man.
“I found out I could deliver all the fun and do it safely.
“When I was running those buses, I ran with the same insurer for 30 years, and I delivered over 6,500 bucks parties, in those buses, myself.
“I took them skydiving, paintballing, go karting, laser, lawn bowling.
“I did pub crawls in and out of night clubs with variable security and variable management, and I never made one insurance claim, ever.’’
One of the places Pubtrek started taking groups was a gokart track in Campbelltown, which had started operating in the 1990s on a site located across the road from Pizza Hut and St Andrews fire station.
Dean Choma says he remembers the first time he laid eyes on Fastlane Karting and it’s not a particularly great memory.
“To be honest I was not that impressed; I was so busy delivering fun with buses I didn’t even look sideways the first time I walked into this gokart place,’’ he says.
In the year 2000 he won several Sydney tourism awards for excellence for PubTrek.
Dean Choma then bought out his biggest competitor, Sydney Party Bus.
He ended up owning the two biggest party bus outfits in Sydney, with 15 buses, all full size, and relationships with just about every pub, club, tavern and beer garden in the Sydney metropolitan area.
But the size of the operation presented a problem and he had to do something, so he bought Fastlane Karting, basically to use it as a depot for his party buses.
“The gokarting business came with it not knowing how much fun it would be down the track,’’ he says now as we sit and chat inside Fastlane Karting.
When the party bus industry was regulated, resulting in an uneven playing field for his operation, Dean Choma started to look more closely at the gokarting business model.
He helped develop it into a popular attraction for families and young groups from all over Sydney.
“I found that it’s a very safe activity, but unlike things like roller coasters, it’s one of the last things left where you’re in control.
“There’s not many things where you can have fun, get adrenaline, and be in control.
“And it is an activity that everybody can enjoy – we recently had an 80 year old lady out on the karts – and we regularly take kids as young as four.’’
Right in the middle of that success, Dean Choma had a terrible accident and almost lost everything.
Here’s how he tells the story:
“Five years ago I hit a kangaroo on a trail bike doing 110kmh, body on body, in Abercrombie National Park.
“I had no phone service, I was by myself, I was 60km from base camp and it was four degrees at lunchtime
“I hit the ground, I stood back up, but when I tried to grab the bike this arm went that way, it was broken that bad. I had five broken ribs, punctured lung and a broken shoulder.
“I got on the bike, started it and got out of there.
“It was three months in hospital and from that came complications with my marriage, it broke down, and fell apart.
“The businesses were on the rocks, but I decided that it was a time to regather my team, so we had bedside meetings and things started to look a little better.
“It’s very similar to this pandemic: either stand there like a dummy in the headlights and get run over, or you fight.’’
In the mid 1990s there were 26 gokart tracks across Sydney.
Now there are just seven and one of them is Dean Choma’s Fastlane Karting right here in Campbelltown.
And while he’s looking forward to many more years of people having fun in his track, Dean Choma is proud that Fastlane Karting is also a place where young kids first learn about motor sport, as well as road safety awareness.
Safe Driving for Schools every Wednesday (pictured below) is for pre learner drivers, that is students in Year 10, 11 and 12, many of whom have had no experience behind a steering wheel.
But Dean Choma is particularly proud of a program for grownups called Men’s Business that will also return on July 28.
And no, it’s not what some people think, as he explains.
“Here at Fastlane Karting, prior to the pandemic, before the bushfires and the floods, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, we were running a very successful program called Men’s Business, a networking opportunity for people in business.
“My experience with mental health – I’ve done a lot of personal growth and personal development courses – I can see through people’s mannerisms and behaviours when they’re out of their comfort zone, and when they’re with peers and other men around I can see the ones that may need a little bit of help.
“We get Lifeline, men’s meditation experts, guest speakers such as life coach Max Garcia, [the former US Marine now living in Macarthur] to come along to be part of Men’s Business.
“I mix all that together and it is very effective.’’
And there’s fun of course, too. This is Dean Choma we’re talking about, the master at delivering fun.
So the men are put in race teams to add a competitive and fun element to the evening.
“You will be put on the team that’s right for you in terms of both working together to win and networking,’’ he says.
“And you will have a lot of fun, maybe even a beer or two afterwards,’’ says Dean Choma.