By NICK SCHWIEN
Sure, racing is important to Kenny Schrader.
Then again, he's been behind the wheel for a number of years.
But what excites the NASCAR driver is meeting the fans and hanging out with them.
One can understand why Schrader is excited about a return trip to RPM Speedway in Hays on Tuesday then.
"That's definitely a big part of the fun," said Schrader, who competed at RPM Speedway at a special show in August 2009. "It's fun meeting fans from all over the country."
The longtime driver will get that opportunity again Tuesday at Mod Mania at Hays' dirt track.
The night features a $2,000 payout to win the modified feature, and a $1,000 payout for the winner of the Northern sport mod main event.
Races are slated to begin at 7:30 p.m., with pits and grandstands opening at 4:30 p.m. Hot laps begin at 6.
But what makes the night special will be the appearance of Schrader and fellow NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer, who grew up in Emporia but never has raced in Hays.
Both drivers will be piloting modifieds in a field that is expected to be one of the largest contingents of drivers to the 3/8-mile track -- as well as one of the largest crowds in track history.
"I'm looking forward to it, and I hope people come out and enjoy it," Schrader said. "And it will be fun running with Clint. We've spent some time racing together, and he's a good guy who is passionate about things like this, too."
Schrader had a rough outing in 2009 in Hays. He was caught up in early trouble and failed to finish the feature after only a few laps.
"We did it before, and we had all types of problems with the car that night," Schrader said.
"The fact that I've raced there once will make no difference. That was the first time I really ran an IMCA race car, some different rules. It's a different type of fun."
The race is sponsored by Federated Auto Parts, and Don Bickle Jr. of S&W Supply of Hays has had a key role in bringing Schrader back to Hays.
"It wasn't that tough of a deal to get him back because he had such a good time last time," Bickle said. "About a quarter to 12 last time we had to chase him out of the parking lot. I said. 'Ken, you have a race the next night.' But he said, 'I go when the last guy has all his stuff signed.' That's just Kenny. He just goes above and beyond."
That's what track officials are planning for. The last time Schrader was in town, a large crowd attended the star-studded race.
Now, with two big-name drivers taking to the track along with talent from several other states expected to attend, RPM Speedway is gearing up for another record night.
In fact, some organizations are putting together bus trips from the eastern part of the state and making several stops along the way to pick up fans en route to Hays before making the return trip home late Tuesday night.
"It's good for the local track and good for Hays," Bickle said. "I'm glad we can be a little part of helping out."
Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. Children 4 and younger are free. Pit passes are $25 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger.