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RPM Speedway gets new promoter

New general manager hopes to build crowd, possibly add new events at Ellis County track

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
David Pitts, of Rock Springs, Wyo., makes some repairs to his car after practice laps Oct. 4, 2019, during the Briney Motorsports 13th Annual Fall Nationals at Rolling Plains Motor Speedway in Hays.
Cars take practice laps before the races begin at the Briney Motorsports 13th Annual Fall Nationals on Oct. 4, 2019, at Rolling Plains Motor Speedway in Hays.

In case you’re wondering, the menu will be a little different this year at RPM Speedway when the racetrack opens for the 2021 season on Saturday, April 3.

That’s according to Chris Sutton, the new promoter for the county’s popular Rolling Plains Motor Speedway at the Ellis County Fairgrounds. 

“I’ve already had at least a dozen people ask me if we’re going to sell gizzards at Hays, and the answer is ‘yes,’ ” said Sutton, also competition director for Salina Speedway in Salina, where fried chicken gizzards are a big hit.

“Everybody raves about them,” Sutton said in an interview with The Hays Daily News. “We sell about 80 pounds a night at Salina.”

There will be kid-friendly items on the menu, too, like funnel cake fries.

As the new promoter for the nonprofit RPM Speedway, Sutton says the track’s loyal racing fans and racing teams will see most things stay the same.

“What I want to happen is to continue to build on the foundation that the previous management group had that’s already built,” Sutton said. “I don’t want to change anything as far as the show goes, I just want to spotlight … and try to do a few small things to get the participation in the grandstand.”

Top-tier facility

No changes are needed to the arena infrastructure, he said, or its 3/8ths mile, high bank clay oval dirt track.

“The people of Ellis County, they’re lucky to have that facility,” said Sutton of the track northwest of town.

Sutton has managed Salina’s track for nine years, and on Jan. 18 was contracted by the Ellis County Commission to also run county-owned RPM Speedway.

The previous managers, two longtime cornerstones of the speedway, decided not to continue their contract after the death of Loran Zimmerman, 64, on Nov. 21, said acting Ellis County administrator Darin Myers.

Zimmerman was a speedway founding board member and longtime vice president. At the same time, longtime speedway president Glenn Unrein, also a founding member, retired from his post, said Myers.

The RPM board and county staff identified Sutton, of Windom, and his KLS Promotions for the three-year management contract.

Sutton complimented Ellis County’s new grandstand, well-kept fairgrounds, a track and show that draws racers and race fans from all over the state, and its new concession stand, scale house, power poles and lights, all replaced after 2019’s devastating summer wind storm.

“It’s one of the best facilities in Kansas. It’s known for having some of the best car counts in Kansas weekly racing,” he said.

The track has the support it needs, including more than 75 sponsors and an army of volunteers.

“The track is supported by the county and the Fair Board very well,” Sutton said. “The Fair Board and the county take pride in that facility, and it shows.”

Build the crowd

What Sutton does hope to change is attendance in the 1,500-seat grandstand, drawing more people to the track, and getting more participation from race fans.

“We just need to get the crowd more involved,” he said, and that’ll take “a quick timely show, an exciting show, affordable, and good food. People only have so many entertainment dollars to spend. And you have to make it affordable and a place that people want to come spend their entertainment dollars.”

Racers and race fans from 15-20 different states and Canada come for the track’s big events, like the Mike Hughes Sunflower Classic Memorial in the spring, and Fall Nationals in the fall. Sutton wants to draw from around the state and beyond for other races on the schedule, as well.

On an average weekend, RPM officials have said previously, the track runs 100 race cars and 300 people in the pits, with 300 to 500 fans in the grandstand.

“Racers and race fans come from all over the state,” Sutton said. “I think that we just need to get more participation from the race fans in general. Hays is a little way out there. But once we can get the fans there, I think they’ll come back.”

Same, but different

Gate admission will stay the same, for the most part. As in the past, adults are $10, and kids 12 and under are free. But now senior citizens pay only $5, and first responders and current and retired military with ID get in free every Saturday night.

Racing entry fees stay the same.

The race schedule, normally with five classes of cars, was released three weeks ago on RPM Speedway’s Facebook page. It will mirror the 2020 schedule, with the exception of the kick-off to the season, Sutton said.

“With this year and getting a late start on a contract, and everything else, I did not schedule the spring Sunflower Classic, due to time constraints of getting everything ready,” he said. “That was usually the first show the last weekend of March. But that will be back on schedule for 2022.”

More to come

Look to see more specials added in to the schedule, this year if it can be managed in time, and for sure in years to come, Sutton said.

Sutton may have other surprises in store to please fans.

“I want to utilize the facility for more than just what it’s being utilized for now,” he said, including the surrounding fairgrounds. “I want to utilize the facility in a broader range where people can come out and enjoy the facility.”

RPM’s Facebook page advertises the speedway arena as a multi-use facility for concerts and all motor sports like tractor pulls, demolition derbies, tough trucks and motorcycle events.

So something more than races?

“Could be,” Sutton said. “I don’t want to say what I’m working on, but just other events other than racing. As soon as we can get the race program off the ground and going, then I can focus on other events.”