Beyond The Open Wheel: The Dirt Track Rises
In racing only the strong survive, sometimes one has to fade away to be reborn into something incredible. We have seen it with Penske’s foray into NASCAR, Mercedes coming back to run a factory team in F1, and you can add the 24 Hours of Le Mans to that list with its rebirth from the Group C days to now with LMP1.
Tracks are no different Meadowdale in Carpentersville, Illinois was truly a lost raceway. Opened in the 1960’s to help with the rise in sports car interest in the Chicagoland area it closed a short time later after disputes over money. For years the track laid to rot, I toured it one summer evening with my dad as he recalled his memories of my grandfather and my grandmother racing there. A lot of the track existed still, overgrown by nature but it was still there. A group formed to save the track and was successful. It is now known as Raceway Woods and the track layout is now a walking path. Sadly the other tracks that opened and operated the same time as Meadowdale did not fare as well, Lynndale Farms in Milwaukee became a housing edition, Wilmot stopped racing to concentrate on the ski resort there. These tracks can still be seen mind you just not as they once were.
All this brings me to the actual story at hand, in racing you have the chance to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix and for a track in Kibler, Arkansas that is just what they did.
While looking through a Facebook page called Lost Speedways, I realized that every other Friday I go to what was once a “Lost Speedway.” A few years back, racer James Richesin had an idea to open a track on his property for dirt racing. The track was to be modeled after the historic Tri-State Speedway in Pocola, Oklahoma he raced on in the past. It was a fantastic idea for the community I mean any new place for entertainment has got to be a boost right? Stands were built, concession stand was built, the track was laid out and worked it was a complete project, till the neighbors found out, citing the same rhetoric that other tracks across the nation faced, noise, traffic, crime and other things. American Motor Speedway was shut down as it ran through the court system, only to be told “You can run but it cannot be production based cars.” As that is the money maker for any dirt track due to its affordability compared to Modifieds, Late Models, and Sprint Cars the track shut its doors with no opening in sight.
Nearly two years ago I wrote a story about the emergence of Karting in the Arkansas River Valley. At the time there were only two tracks in the area to race dirt Go Karts, midway through 2014 season it looked as if there were going to be four tracks. That soon changed as one track closed due to the land owners not wanting to renew the lease. Then there were three Lost Valley in Alma, AR, 59 Speedway in Sallisaw, OK, and the newly reborn American Motor Speedway.
After a conversation with friends and former racers, Richesin reworked the track to have a kart track that used part of the front straight of the big car track and the infield. The result is a fast course with an incredible surface. It is wide track that has provided some exciting starts and restarts, at points the karts go five wide down the straightaways.
One thing that the owner has said since the first day was “It will get better”, in regards to that point it has exponentially.
I had the opportunity to race the track recently, and it was worth the $20 entry fee. The thing with American Motor Speedway is that I am also the tracks photographer, so balancing taking photos and racing is rough. I got permission to delay the class I ran from going out so I can drop off the camera and “suit up” so to speak. In the heat races the Kart ran fantastic, the kart was quick just needed more grip.
During intermission, I worked on the tires to get a setup similar to what a fellow racer had he was quicker than I was through the corners. Set the air pressure then prepped the tires then I took the kart to the grid. I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures, counting off the races until I had to go out. Ran to where there were karts already running to go out. Fellow racers had my gear out of the kart ready for me to put it on, I asked the track volunteer where I was to start and it looked confusing on the paper, one of the guys helping me ran to the board to see, I started inside 7th row, needless to say there where a lot of karts there that night.
The race started and immediately there was pandemonium, as every kart fought for the same spot into turn one. This happened with every restart, I found that my kart worked really well on the high side of the track; just it took a lap or two for the kart to come in. Once it did though, it was a rocket. I found that with the set up I had, if I went higher into the corner I could carry more speed through the center than following the line others were using. Which, as the photographer, I usually sat at the entry into 1 and analyzed how others were setting up for the corner, pitching the kart, and their exit of turn 2. I miss judged the closeness of another kart while going for the apex and he ended up by my left shoulder. Thank goodness for the safety rule of having a full bumper, because I could not imagine if he actually was able to launch over me. The finish of the race was confusing, as I took the checker flag and did not even know I did. Just saw the track workers pointing us to the pits.
Hot and exhausted, I climbed from the kart pulled off my gear and grabbed the camera and took off again.
American Motor Speedway is fun it is competitive, and very, very quick. What makes AMS special is how the show is run. Race starts with a prayer, a national anthem, and a very informative drivers meeting. There seems to be something new added to the race day to make things better for those involved. The officiating is fair, the racers are respectful, and above all it is a fantastic family atmosphere. James and his crew do a fantastic job at putting a race together.
If there was ever an example of rising above American Motor Speedway is it.
Race schedule is posted on Facebook and subject to change due to weather. They utilize the USKRA rule book. Address is 2927 Westville Rd, Van Buren, AR 72956.