Pete Howey, general manager at Lakeside Speedway, never doubted there would be racing at his track this season.
Not even when the spring floods from the nearby Missouri River spilled into his 4/10-mile dirt track in Kansas City, Kan., and created mud, soot and water so deep that fish were swimming laps in lanes designed for late models and sprint cars.
The track, just an exit from Kansas Speedway off I-435, was out of business for 14 costly weeks but opened its 65th season on Aug. 2 and will conclude on Friday night with the annual World of Outlaws extravaganza.
“I was bound and determined that we would get at least one race in,” Howey said. “If that’s all we got, I would have been happy. We ended up getting six shows in, and Outlaws will be number seven.
“A lot of people saw gloom and doom, but I always saw the silver lining in everything because I knew it would happen one way or another.“
Although Hovey said insurance covered most of the expenses to repair damages, he estimated the abbreviated season cost Lakeside more than $600,000 in lost business.
“Last spring was a nightmare,” he said, “and it’s going to be a nightmare at that place until the levees are fixed. It took a lot of hard work and dedication and a lot of fingers crossed that the water wasn’t going to come back and get us.”
The cleanup process entailed the use of seven pieces of machinery, including tractors, tillers and graders, not to mention a lot of elbow grease.
“It was just dirty job,” Howey said. “There was a lot of mud in our boots. But the dedication of my staff …. Jodi Gibson, Jim Whisler and Jason Cochran … and our fans and drivers who came out to help and pull together got it done.”
Hovey and his family knew what they were getting into when they bought the facility in 2013. The track has a history of dealing with flooded conditions, including 2011, when most of the season was wiped out, leading to longtime operator Mark Olson selling the property.
“Since my family bought the track, we have not had major weather issues except for a typical rainy night,” Hovey said. “What keeps me going, is once we got that track open … on Aug. 2, my stands were packed, and I had lines everywhere. To see the looks on everyone’s face…
“These people are hard-core racing fans or family members (of racers), so Junior got to get in the car again. Just to see how happy they were, when the first car hit the track, to get the Kansas City dirt track back open, it was totally worth it.”
Hovey expects a crowd of 5,500 to 6,000 to be on hand for the Outlaws on Friday night … weather permitting.
The crowd usually includes some of the stars from NASCAR who will be competing at neighboring Kansas Speedway on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, Outlaws points leader Brad Sweet drives for former Cup star Kasey Kahne; and 10-time series champion Donny Schatz, who trails Sweet by 10 points, drives for Tony Stewart Racing.
“This is different than NASCAR,” Howey said. “Being that it’s dirt, and being it’s a sprint car, it’s a good mix for the people who come to town to visit us.”