NICK SCHWIEN • Hays Daily News The Mike Ochs-owned No. 1x NCRA 360 sprint car driven by Garry Lee Maier competes at RPM Speedway in Hays last year during Sprint Car Mania night. Maier, who retired after last season, won the feature. On Friday, the car will be driven by Kevin Swindell.
NICK SCHWIEN â ¢ Hays Daily News The E85 car owned by Danny King, shown during last year's Sprint Car Mania night at RPM Speedway, will be driven by Luke Cranston this weekend.
By NICK SCHWIEN
Today's technology has led to a big-name night for sprint car fans.
And Friday night's Sprint Car Mania event at RPM Speedway in Hays will feature some big name drivers battling alongside top drivers in the state when the green flag drops.
Friday's 7:30 p.m. races at the 3âÑ8-mile dirt oval in Hays will showcase the NCRA 360 sprint cars and the 305 sprint cars of the United Rebel Sprint Series.
Approximately 60 different sprint car teams packed the pit area last year when RPM hosted the inaugural event.
Mike Ochs, owner of the No. 1x NCRA 360 sprint car from Jetmore, was looking on the Internet for a person to pilot his car after Garry Lee Maier -- who won last year's 360 event in Hays -- retired in the offseason.
Ochs happened to stumble across Kevin Swindell's website. He emailed for more information and eventually worked out a deal to get Swindell in his car for the weekend, which starts Friday night at Hays and finishes off with the two-day Steve King Memorial on Saturday and Sunday at the Great American Dirt Track at Jetmore Motorplex. The Jetmore shows, organized by Tony Bruce Jr., will feature the ASCS 360 sprint cars as well.
"We were pretty fortunate," Ochs said. "We had been looking for a driver since Garry Lee retired during the winter. We decided to keep it open and see what we could get. I was calling around and then went to Swindell's website and saw an email link to contact them. ... We got lucky it kind of worked out. He's excited to get back into a sprint car."
Swindell has been busy on the ARCA circuit lately on pavement but will step back into a sprint car and the dirt tracks of western Kansas.
"I haven't run a sprint car since September of last year," said Swindell, who never has raced in Hays or Jetmore before. "I've definitely missed it. I haven't had a lot of time with the stock car thing recently, but I'm able to do some race-by-race stuff."
Swindell has a solid knowledge of how to wheel a car on dirt. He's won the last three titles at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla., in a midget and is the son of legendary sprinter Sammy Swindell, a regular on the 410 World of Outlaws series.
"It's always fun to get to new places and have new challenges. I look forward to it," Swindell said.
"Kevin gets a lot of recognition from the Chili Bowl, and a lot of people up here go to the Chili Bowl and know him," Ochs said. "If anyone is familiar with sprint cars, they know what Kevin is capable of."
But Kevin won't be the only Swindell racing in Hays. Jeff Swindell, Sammy's younger brother and Kevin's uncle, will be driving a car owned by Randy Washburn during the weekend. Jeff is no stranger to dirt tracks, having run on the WoO tour in the past. He's also won the 2002 Knoxville 360 Nationals in Knoxville, Iowa.
Brady Bacon, an up-and-coming talent in the 360 ranks, also will be competing this weekend and driving a Washburn-owned car.
"I talked to Dad and wanted to get two cars up there and give back to people who have supported us through the years," Washburn said.
Washburn got to know Bacon while owning a car on the ASCS National Tour a year ago, while the connection with Jeff Swindell came through mutual friends.
He hopes both of his cars will be up at the front when the checkered flag drops.
"If there's some wheel-banging going on, I hope it will be between our two cars," Washburn said.
Those three drivers will have their hands full with regulars on the NCRA series, including Quinter's C.J. Johnson -- last year's NCRA national champ -- and Liberal's Jason Martin. Both are tied with Jeremy Campbell for the points lead after two races this season.
"We're excited to go to Hays," Ochs said. "I'm glad the NCRA cars will be up there a couple times this year."
The NCRA sprint cars also will compete in Hays on Aug. 31.
Driving for King
Luke Cranston, who grew up in Ness City, will be taking the reins of the Danny King E85 sprint car this weekend again. He expects to race both the 360 and his own 305 sprint car Friday night, then concentrate on the King-owned car Saturday and Sunday at Jetmore for the Steve King Memorial.
That two-day show is in honor of former Jetmore racer Steve King, who died after an accident in 2006 at the Knoxville Nationals.
"Racing King's car is really special for me," Cranston said. "He was my mentor growing up. The first car I had was from him. It's going to be special for a lot of us."
The Cranston and King families have been friends for numerous years, and Cranston said he was honored when he was asked to drive the E85 car this year.
"I never guessed it would have happened," Cranston said about the offer to drive the car. "I wish Steve still was driving; a lot of people do. We all miss him so much. There was nobody that could drive like him. I learned so much from him."
Saturday races at RPM
While sprint cars will take center stage Friday, the regular five classes of IMCA racing return Saturday to Hays' dirt track.
Races begin at 7 p.m. and include modifieds, stocks, sport mods, hobby stocks and sport compacts.
The night is sponsored by Casey's General Stores.
Only a few points separate the track point standings in each division, and the first three races this year have provided fans with non-stop action and late heroics.