WaKeeney drivers make noise on track in big city
By NICK SCHWIEN
A couple of country boys went to the big city, hoping to make a name for themselves.
That's exactly what happened in Las Vegas during the weekend.
And what happened in Vegas certainly wasn't going to stay in Vegas.
By the time Kyle Rohleder and Travis Sherfick arrived back to western Kansas, news had spread about what the modified drivers from WaKeeney had accomplished in the big city.
In a field of more than 260 drivers approximately 20 hours away, Rohleder and Sherfick made the 28-car field Saturday night at the Duel in the Desert -- one of IMCA racing's signature events, along with the Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa, and the ever-growing Fall Nationals in Hays.
"It probably still hasn't sunk in even now," Rohleder said Monday afternoon as he traveled back to WaKeeney. "It's a pretty big deal. I know a lot of guys have gone out there quite a few times and have never made the show."
The Duel started Thursday and wrapped up Saturday. Rohleder, on Thursday's first night of qualifying races, won his heat, then finished fourth in his qualifier for the big show.
That locked him in to Saturday night's $7,777.77-to-win feature.
"It was pretty darn neat," said Rohleder, who was fourth in his qualifier. "I was grinning from ear to ear all that night and all day Friday."
The top four drivers in two qualifying features Thursday and Friday locked into the Saturday big show. More last-chance races the final night set the 28-car field.
Sherfick locked himself in with a third-place finish in his qualifier Friday.
That gave WaKeeney two drivers in the big show.
"There's a little over 260 guys, and the first night Kyle Rohleder made it in," Sherfick said. "Then we had two guys from WaKeeney, Kan., in the big show. Ninety-five percent of the people in Vegas didn't know where WaKeeney, Kan., was at. It's pretty cool two guys from the same town made it in to the big show against stiff competition."
Sherfick's night in the big show ended early. He hit a hole in turn four and broke a key component of his car, finishing 28th.
He still wasn't about to be down about the trip, though.
"Three or four years ago, we were close to making it," Sherfick said. "There's tough competition out there. You go out hoping you can make it, but everyone has that same hope."
Rohleder finished 13th, his best outing in Vegas. He was the top-finishing Kansas modified driver. Jeremy Payne of Springfield, Mo., won the feature, followed by Terry Phillips, Beatrice, Neb., and Jeff Taylor, Cave City, Ark. Taylor won Fall Nationals VI in 2012 at RPM Speedway in Hays, as well as Super Nationals in 2012.
"You look at all the guys that finished up front," Rohleder said. "Guys like Terry Phillips, Jeremy Payne. They're there racing for $7,000, and that's a little payout for them. They're used to racing big shows for $10,000, $20,000 to win. Then there's us little IMCA guys."
But Rohleder and Sherfick held their own. So, too, did Cody Gearhart, from Liberal. Gearhart and Rohleder have become good friends through the years, and Rohleder credited Gearhart with a lot of his success in Vegas.
Gearhart won a last-chance qualifier Saturday, then finished 15th in the big show.
In the sport mod feature, Tyler Frye of Belleville -- the track champ and Fall Nationals VII winner at RPM -- was second in the sport mod big show, and Penokee's Clay Money was ninth. Beloit's Jake Krone initially finished third but later failed post-race inspection.
Several other area racers also had strong runs in Vegas, proving the state isn't just bumpkins with no talent.
"It just goes to show you we're not too bad out here," Rohleder said about Kansas racers.