Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lakeside Speedway prepares for flooding. Hopefully this report doesn't cover the last night of racing

Everybody is talking about how the Missouri river is about to come out of its banks and flood everything in its path, but there is a significant potential casualty that isn't getting much attention.

Lakeside Speedway is a Kansas City institution. And next week, that institution will be silent. Kansas City, Kan., emergency management officials told the owner of the track to prepare for the worst, so the upcoming races have been cancelled to give the track a chance to move their equipment to higher ground.

When I think of Lakeside this season, the old Hee-Haw song lyric, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," comes to mind. It seems like every week, they're battling rainouts or rough track conditions or flooded parking areas or some other problem. It has to be enough for track owner Marc Olson to want to pull his hair out.

I went to Lakeside Friday night. I wanted to post some candid images for you guys to look at on the blog here, and I wanted to take in another night of racing just in case something really bad ends up happening out there.  Of course, true to Lakeside's run of luck, it rained halfway through the show, and they had to deal with that.

I was there for the very first race at the current location when it opened up as an asphalt track in 1988, and I worked there full-time as the Marketing Director for a few years in the 1990s. I worked with my wife there before we were married. I even drove the pace truck after it turned into a dirt track before my son was born. So that 3/8-mile oval holds a special place in my heart.

Lakeside is no stranger to flooding. When the Missouri spilled out of its banks in 1993, the track was completely submerged beyond the grandstands and up the two-story building. I went out there during the cleanup, and it was a real disaster. When looking at all that mud, damage, and debris everywhere, I never would have bet that they would be back.

But somehow they were. Although the big flood had more of an impact than it may have first appeared. Even after cleanup was completed, the asphalt track surface suffered from "weepers", or water that seeped up through the seams on the track. This caused several canceled shows, even on perfectly sunny days after a rainstorm.

Eventually that, plus the continued void in dirt track racing in the area that was left when the old track closed, prompted then general manager Olson to cover the asphalt surface with clay for the 2000 season, bringing dirt track racing back to Kansas City, Kan.

I say "back to" Kansas City, because the Lakeside Speedway story dates back well before this current location. Originally built at its Leavenworth Road location in 1955, Lakeside hosted some of the biggest names in the early days of racing. Guys like A.J. Foyt, Steve Kinser, Greg Weld, and many more, tried their hand on the legendary speedway. Right up until it closed, Lakeside was the most popular dirt track in the area, drawing a rabid following of fans and cars.

Lakeside was relocated to its current location on Wolcott Drive in 1988 when the Woodlands horse and dog track took over the original site. The new track had an asphalt surface, and the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series it hosted there was a breeding ground for drivers such as Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer. Others, such as Jeff Gordon, Jason Leffler, and J.J. Yeley took to the 3/8th's mile oval in USAC Sprint Car and Midget shows. The track figured prominently into some of Larry Phillips' national NASCAR Championships. It is a crown jewel in the world of short track racing.

The Woodlands is long gone, but Lakeside is still steaming along. The weekly shows are among the toughest, most competitive anywhere. Touring series like the MLRA Late Models and the World of Outlaws still make stops there. The races are even being broadcast this year on Metro Sports.

And the thing that most people don't understand about tracks like this is how central they are to the lives of so many people. This isn't a hobby or a whim to most of these people. There are guys that are racing cars that are worth more than my wife's, my parent's, and my cars all put together, hauling them around in trucks that are worth more than my house, all to run a race that pays out a few hundred bucks to win. They put everything into this. Their families are completely involved. It is, literally, everything to them.

I would like to suggest that you keep an eye on Lakeside's Facebook page for updates, and when and if everything does get back to normal, you try attending some shows yourself. You may be surprised how involved you can get.

I sincerely hope that Lakeside survives the flood of 2011 with minimal damage. But the prognosis doesn't sound good. You don't hear about it much in the news, but it would be a real loss for Kansas City if this track went away. Even if you don't realize it, Lakeside is a significant part of Kansas City's history and culture.

Winners pictures at the end of this slideshow are courtesy of

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