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Fans, drivers give Grand-Am racing at Kansas Speedway a thumbs-up

Updated: 2013-08-18T01:25:23Z

By TODD ENGLE

Special to The Star

Grand-Am Road Racing SFP Grand Prix brought a unique product to Kansas Speedway over the weekend. There were different classes of cars zipping around the new road course layout. There were night races and driver changes and winners determined by fastest lap time, instead of crossing a finish line.

It’s a new experience to the average American motorsports fan, but those who came out to the speedway seemed to enjoy it.

Christian and Misti Andrade came from St. Louis to enjoy the festivities.

“I like sports car racing, and it’s the closest race to St. Louis,” Christian Andrade said.

Misti Andrade said with a laugh: “He asked his dad to go and his dad decided not to, so I pushed for us to have a couples weekend.”

Both said they’d plan a return trip if the Grand-Am series returned.

Joseph and Lynette Day, from Easton, Kan., are season ticket holders for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races. They sit in the grandstands for those races, but they, like many other fans, staked out a spot along the infield straightaway.

“In the grandstands, you can see all of the race. Here, you only get to see a bit of it, but here we’re closer. I think it’s great we can get this close to the cars,” Joseph Day said. “It is different racing, but I enjoy it. I think it’s great that they brought the Grand-Am cars in and put the road course in.”

Richard Darr, from Platte City, Mo., brought his 9-year-old grandson Tanner Casto to the race.

“I’ve been (to the speedway) a couple times when I was younger,” Casto said. “It’s loud. It’s very loud.”

Darr was drawn to the race by the newness of it all.

“It’s the inaugural race, and I wanted to come out and see it. It’s a lot of fun. You can get closer to it,” Darr said. “I’ll probably bring more people (if the road races return). I think they’d like it.”

The course is new for the drivers, and they had praise for the 2.37-mile layout.

“It didn’t look like all that much, but really there are these finer details that you catch while driving that you have to master before you’re really going to be one of the fastest cars on the track,” said Matt Bell, whose team won the Continental Tire Grand Sport race. “It’s more complicated than it looks just on the map, and honestly, probably even more so than it looks on TV.”

Matt Plumb, whose team finished second, agreed.

“Infield courses like this on speedways, I’ve never been a huge fan of. But this one is interesting. It’s got a lot of flow to it. … I’d be psyched to come back here,” Plumb said.

Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren couldn’t control the weather for the inaugural event, but fortune smiled upon him there, with three days of little rain and unseasonably cool temperatures.

As for the rest, Warren was pleased with the final product.

“Because of the scale of our facility, smaller events cannot feel as good. The comparison I’d use is when Sporting KC, then the Wizards, played at Arrowhead. It’s hard to get that vibe. You have a great crowd, but it feels small,” Warren said. “Because fans watch the race from the infield, you have clusters of high density of fans, so there’s a lot of energy, but the grandstands are still largely empty.”

Kansas Speedway also can’t control whether or not sports car racing will return in 2014. Even so, Warren is confident it will become a regular part of the schedule in the future.

“We may or may not fit into that picture next year. Even if we don’t fit into it next year, it doesn’t mean it’s not something that won’t happen in the future,” Warren said. “I think one way or another you’re going to see professional sports car racing at Kansas Speedway.”

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