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NICK SCHWIEN ⠢ Hays Daily News Taylor Velasquez drives his 360 sprint car through turns three and four Aug. 31 at RPM Speedway in Hays.

Making the leap in sprint car racing no easy task

There are no small dreams, just ones drivers aren't able to chase at times.

But finding solid footing to begin that pursuit is crucial --  just ask sprint car drivers.

In its seventh year, the United Rebel Sprint Series based in Oberlin has provided younger drivers an opportunity to get their feet wet in the racing world while learning the ins and outs of the sport.

The URSS is a 305 sprint car series that provides a cheaper alternative to the 360 sprint car series in the nation.

That doesn't mean it's lacking in action or excitement, and that definitely doesn't mean a driver can't hone his skills to prepare for the move up to the 360 ranks.

"It just gets you into sprint car racing," said Liberal's Ty Williams, who won the URSS national title in 2010. "A sprint car is a sprint car, but the difference between a 305 and a 360 is enormous, just like going from a 360 to a 410 is a bigger difference.

"But it teaches you the basics. ... It teaches you how to race, racing maintenance."

Williams has 17 career victories in the 305 class, including 10 during his championship run two seasons ago.

The last few seasons, he's spent time competing in the 305 and 360 classes. Frequent motor problems -- four engines in eight races -- hampered his ability to compete in more NCRA and ASCS 360 events this season.

He won both nights of the URSS Wheatshocker Rebel Nationals in July at RPM Speedway, including a $2,000 payout the second night of the event.

Normally, winning a URSS feature is a $400 payout.

"It gets people into racing," Williams said. "Not everyone is able to afford to go 360 racing because of the travel. ... If you want to get good at the 360 deal, you have to travel quite a bit."

A few nights during the racing season, both 305 and 360 sprint cars race at the same track -- with the 305s serving as a supporting class to the faster 360 class.

Some drivers have tried to race both divisions in the same night in separate cars.

But jumping back and forth from the two isn't easy. Nor is it easy to make the leap season to season.

Taylor Velasquez, who cut his teeth in the URSS, has made the leap into the larger class the past few seasons. In one of the first races during the 2009 season, Velasquez drove in both classes at Dodge City Raceway Park.

He won that night's 305 feature, then wrecked his 360 during the subsequent feature, breaking his arm.

"It definitely helps your reaction time out a lot,"  the Turpin, Okla., driver said about the 305 class. "And it helps with the way you look around. Then again, you have more time to look at that stuff. One thing you have there is more reaction time."

The 360 class carries a higher rate of speed, much like the 410 class -- with the biggest-name division the World of Outlaws -- carrying higher speeds than the 360 division.

Payout for the 360 class also is greater than the 305 classes in the state. Motors are much more expensive in the larger class, as well.

That means sponsors are at a premium.

"I'm getting more and more support from sponsors,"  Velasquez said. "I'm starting to get my name established nowadays. We're about to upgrade our trailer and do more traveling. I don't have a win in the 360 yet, but it will come soon."

The URSS season wrapped up Saturday at DCRP, with Brian Herbert winning his second national title. He is the first two-time winner in the series' history.

The state's most recognizable 360 class, NCRA, has two shows remaining this season. On Saturday, 81 Speedway in Park City hosts the 360 sprinters, while their season ends Oct. 20 at Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

Quinter's C.J. Johnson leads the NCRA points race as he tries to win consecutive national titles in the class.

NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net