Severe thunderstorms in August blew away the last two regular-season races at RPM Speedway, but the rumbling across the Ellis County Fairgrounds this weekend signaled the return of race cars for one of the biggest events in the region.
About 200 teams from across Kansas and nine other states and even Canada gathered for the Briney Motorsports 13th annual Fall Nationals fueled by Casey’s General Stores. The Ellis County Fairground was full of trailers and RVs. The smell of fuel and the roar of engines was in the air as ATVs scooted back and forth from trailers to the track in Friday's cool, drizzly air.
Billy and Jodi Briney, owners of Briney Motorsports, were there with their trailer full of just about anything teams might need - from fuel to tires to parts. Friday morning, they hosted a breakfast at their dealership, 1000 East U.S. Highway 40 Bypass. More than 100 attended.
They’ve been a part of the Fall Nationals since 2015.
“This is our biggest race of the year,” Billy said. The couple traveled to eight tracks this year so far.
“It’s good for us, it’s good for the city,” he said, noting the 200 teams that come to town.
The Brineys and racers said the quality of the track and the races is what brings so many to Hays for the event.
“The track is ran really well,” Jodi said.
“They put on a great show and look at the weather and we’re still going to get a great race,” Billy said of Friday’s conditions.
David Pitts, a driver from Rock Springs, Wyo., agreed. He’s been coming to the Fall Nationals and the early season Sunflower Classic for about three years.
“If the track goes bad, they go out and fix it before we go on and race. It’s really the prep; they do an awesome job here,” he said.
Pitts, who’s been racing 15 years, travels to Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, and said the Fall Nationals is probably the second-biggest race he goes to each year.
“It’s a nice facility and nice race. This is one we look forward to coming to twice a year,” he said.
Dylan Sherfick, WaKeeney, is a veteran of the Fall Nationals, having raced modifieds for about 10 years.
“It’s obviously one of the biggest events in the area. It’s one of those deals everyone wants to be a part of, kind of like a prestige deal,” he said.
This year, he brought a brand-new car for the race. Thursday night’s practice was the first time it ran.
“With a new car and everything it might take a little bit to get the bugs worked out of it, but we’ll see,” Sherfick said. “I haven’t had the best of years, so we’ll just hope for the best and see what happens.”
The Nelson Racing Team — three brothers from Onega, northeast of Manhattan — were set up for the weekend with their RV parked in the fairground parking lot and a smoker going with some pork butts for Friday night’s dinner.
Middle brother Darin is the driver, joined by oldest brother Dennis and youngest brother Dustin. They grew up on racetracks, they said.
“I was two weeks old and went to the racetrack and been there ever since,” Dustin said.
This is their third year at the Fall Nationals. The first year, they “followed a friend” to help him out.
“We’d never been to something this big, and just the atmosphere was awesome,” Darin said.
“It’s fun to come out and talk to other racers we don’t usually race with,” he said.
The competition is good, too, they said.
“There are 61 cars in our class, and we know that can grow. There’s a lot of competitive cars out here from all over. So if we make the show, we feel like we’ve won,” Darin said.
The brothers said the quality of the facility is one reason they’ve returned to RPM, noting the showers are clean and the track even provides shaving cream, toothbrushes and other toiletries.
“The track’s always been great itself,” Dennis said.
The brothers said they’re grateful for the work put in to get the track open for the Fall Nationals after the summer storms.
“This is our last race of the year, so we would have been cut short,” Dustin said.
“Back in the day, our big race used to be the state fair down in Hutchinson. And they stopped racing that. This is our state fair now, this is our big race that we go to,” he said.