By NICK SCHWIEN
NESS CITY -- The mid-afternoon sun beat down on the track and pit area, becoming an unrelenting force to drivers and fans alike.
But as soon as the helmets went on, the visors went down and the green flag dropped, the only heat anyone noticed was coming from the action on the track.
That scenario played out Saturday afternoon at Ness County Speedway during the Ness County Fair.
Several go-kart drivers of all ages took to the eighth-mile dirt track in the northwest corner of Ness City to battle it out amid the scorching heat for bragging rights -- and trophies.
While the track normally doesn't run in the afternoon, this was a special day for competitors and track officials alike. It signaled nearly a year-plus of having the track in operation and giving local and area drivers another chance to compete in western Kansas.
"A couple years ago we suckered Kenny (Lutters) coming onto the board, and Kenny's familiar with motorsports," said Bryan Foos, the fair board president. "We talked to some people around town that drove to WaKeeney, and the next thing you know ... the track was built. You couldn't turn back from there."
Lutters has plenty of racing experience. The Ransom man has raced just about anything and everything, including a 305 sprint car recently. But now, his efforts are focused on the small dirt track in his home county.
When the speedway got its start, Lutters was one of only a few with racing experience. The rest of the volunteers were along for the ride.
"Kenny was the only one who knew anything about racing," Foos said. "This boy is a demo car -- hammer down and don't use the brakes. That's what I like. But we built the fence and have a lot of work to do out here. There's a lot of local people who said if we did it, they would race. And we've got pretty good support around here. The businesses are great about helping out, too. It's a community deal."
Foos was busy in the heat Saturday, along with the rest of the volunteers. Lutters helped man the scoring of drivers, and took several laps himself around the track while spritzing water from a large tank trailer to help keep the surface racy and the dirt to a minimum.
The track is the second in approximately a 30-minute vicinity. WaKeeney Speedway also has its own go-kart track, WaKeeney Mini Speedway.
"It's a lot different from the other ones," said Jetmore teen Jeremy Huish. "It's more of a paperclip. We call it a paperclip because it has really long straightaways and really tight corners. Most of the other tracks are circle tracks."
Huish regularly competes at WaKeeney and Wichita. But when the Ness City track opened for business last year, he had a new favorite facility close to his home -- approximately 30 minutes away.
"I'm very glad (they built it)," Huish said. "We like to support it. Some of the other people don't, but we like it."
For a 14-year-old, Huish is seasoned beyond his years. He won two classes Saturday and is smooth in the driver's seat, rarely moving his hands to turn the wheel around the track.
Instead, smooth and steady is Huish's game.
"It's a lot of fun, and you get to have great family time," Huish said.
Smooth and steady also is the way volunteers are working to continue to improve the facility. A fence surrounds the track, which also features a pressbox for officials keeping track of scoring.
More fence will be added, along with a permanent concession stand. Admission is free, and people can pull up next to the track in their vehicles and watch the action unfold.
"It will be a lot better when we don't have to come out and finish building," Foos said. "We've got concessions coming and trailers coming to be mounted. We're getting more and more done every day, and we're even trying to get that guy to bring the lawnmower races down here. We've had the guys call about getting the mini sprints down here, too. It just takes time and people."
The track also provides an atmosphere unique to other motorsports. In some divisions of racing, females are few and far between.
On Saturday, though, a good contingent of females were behind the wheel -- including Taylor Walker and Kerri Bruntz.
"It is fun, and it feels good to beat (the boys) sometimes," Walker said. "I'm not sure they like it so much, but I enjoy it."
Walker has raced for four years, and Saturday was the first time out for her this season. In fact, a go-kart track is where she met her boyfriend, Chris Heim. Heim started in go-karts before moving on to the IMCA Northern sport mod class that competes regularly at WaKeeney and Hays.
"He already told me that No. 1 always beats me," said Walker, who goes to Kansas State University. "We were already arguing about it. He already said he's going to take it out afterwards and make a faster lap time than I ran."
It's all about having fun, and that's just what track officials are hoping for as the track grows in the coming years.
"I think once we get everything squared away and get our group of people in the same position and get our jobs figured out, then I think we'll have a lot more karts," Foos said. "I'm just having fun right now. No one's getting hurt, and we're having fun."