Street-style drag racing is returning to Kansas City with Operation Outlaw on Oct. 7 at Kansas Speedway, but the increasingly popular motorsport’s future at the venue was in jeopardy just two months ago.
When Kansas City International Raceway closed six years ago, drag racing also disappeared from the city’s motorsports landscape.
The closest venues — US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo., and Heartland Park Topeka — are more than an hour away, so the drag-racing community embraced the inaugural drag race at Kansas Speedway last August.
“Last year’s event, to be honest with you, was just a lot of fun,” said Central Power Systems & Services Chairman and CEO Robin Roberts, who’s drag-raced cars most of his life. “Everyone that came, the racers enjoyed it and the crowd really enjoyed it. There is no drag racing in Kansas City, so there was such an overwhelming response the first time.”
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Organizers of Operation Octane — which debuted at the International Speedway Corp.-owned track in Kansas City, Kan., on Aug. 13, 2016 — planned another event for June 2017.
Communication issues with Wyco Racing, which is owned and operated by Chad Cunningham and Toby Vitatoe and sponsored last summer’s races, prompted Kansas Speedway to cancel the June 24 event two weeks before the event.
“Despite our repeated requests for updates, information and solutions to specific safety issues, we received no reply from Wyco Racing,” Kansas Speedway said in a statement explaining the decision June 11 on its website.
After Operation Octane’s cancellation, Roberts stepped in to offer his experience as a drag racer, title-sponsorship backing from Central Power Systems & Services, and chops as a promoter.
“Following the cancellation earlier this year of the other event, we were approached by Central Power and we’ve got a lot of confidence in Robin and his team,” Kansas Speedway President Pat Warren said. “We’ve got the necessary communication we need and — while all of our events have an inherent danger to them, because that’s part of racing and motorsports — we feel like we’re doing everything we can now and are looking forward to a great event in October.”
After last year’s event, Kansas Speedway consulted with NHRA Top Fuel driver Doug Herbert, who regularly conducts his B.R.A.K.E.S. program at the track, for recommendations on ensuring driver and spectator safety.
Wyco Racing signed off on Herbert’s recommendations, but Warren, who said communication also was an issue before the 2016 event, was concerned about preparations as the race approached.
“Drag racing was something new to them making a deeper understanding of the technical requirements to promote safety necessary to alleviate concerns,” Roberts said. “We have bridged that gap and have committed to support any need that arises.”
He plans to strictly enforce NHRA rules for the event, which will feature 88 cars in three divisions burning rubber down a 600-foot drag strip on Kansas Speedway’s pit road.
Cunningham and Vitatoe remained involved in planning and managing the new drag-racing event as part of Roberts’ team.
“I give them a lot of credit, because that took a lot of guts for two guys in their 20s to get after it and try to figure it out,” Roberts said. “They didn’t really know what they were doing last year but still pulled off a pretty great event in 28 days, which I think is exceptional.
“But they both have jobs and couldn’t respond to (Kansas) Speedway fast enough, react fast enough and, being young guys, didn’t have the ability to get some of the heavy-hitter racers to commit to certain things. I, fortunately, have the ability to do that, so they’re on board and helping me behind the scenes. They’re still good friends and want to see the event do well, too.”
Instead of Wyco Racing, Central Power Systems & Services — which builds diesel engines for commercial applications, including frack pumps and data centers — serves as the title sponsor and race promoter.
“Having something local makes a big difference — not necessarily for the racers, because we’ll go a long way to race,” Roberts said. “But for spectators who want to come out and bring their kids or things like that, to be able to have that close of a drive and enjoy a sport that they see on TV is a cool deal.”
Eventually, Roberts hope to add a second date in the spring along with the new fall date and grow the event bigger each year.
The Big Tire division features a $15,000 purse, while the Small Tire division has a $6,000 purse and the Street Tire division has a $2,000 purse.
The racing is similar to what’s depicted on the Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws,” which consistently is one of the highest-rated Monday-night cable programs.
“Some of these cars are 3,000 (horsepower) and capable of 4 seconds flat in an eighth-mile, 190 miles per hour,” Roberts said. “Now, it can’t do that on this track, because it’s not glued and it’s not prepped like a drag race would be. This is a true street race, which is a pretty big deal.”
Kansas Speedway bought portable bleachers specifically for the event, which will be installed for the race behind the pit wall and some behind the start-finish line.
Fans also brought lawn chairs last year and sat on turn four of the banked 1.5-mile tri-oval, a safe distance away with a unique view.
The garages and pits will be open and every ticket provides fans access to those behind-the-scenes areas.
Gates open at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, with racing scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the event and Oct. 8 serves as the rain date. Kids under 12 will be admitted for free and parking behind the grandstands also is free as it always is at Kansas Speedway. Infield parking will cost $10 and tickets are available at www.kansasspeedway.com.