Hank Denning and the other volunteer members of the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association often ask themselves if what they do at the famed Great Bend dragstrip is worth it. Then, they see the track featured nationally and realize it is.
“Sometimes we ask ourselves why we do go through the work, expense, grief and financial risk for this event or even the entire season as a total volunteer group,” Denning told the Great Bend City Council Monday night. The association president was giving his annual report on the city-owned facility which is maintained by the SRCA.
“It’s not only for the passion of the sport,” he said. The city receives exposure when the Great Bend track is mentioned in an article, photographs or during a televised event.
There are only 120 NHRA sanctioned Tracks in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. “The dragstrip and city are mentioned many, many times and old footage from the first U.S, Nationals is shown. It really makes us very proud that is our city they are talking about.”
And, there will be only 44 Lucas Oil events scheduled by National Rod and Custom Association races nationally in 2018. One of those is at the SRCA Dragstrip Great Bend.
“How cool and unique is that for our city to be one of those facilities,” he said. “That is why we continue.”
He thanked the council and city for its support.
Council members, in turn, acknowledged the work involved and thanked the SRCA for its efforts. One council member called the strip “a gem.”
It was a mixed year for the track, Denning said.
“We had combined spectators of 4,666 and 2,373 drag racer entries attending in 2017, up a little from 2016,” he said.
The Lucas Oil Event this year in June was the largest turnout since 2009 with over 400 teams taking part. This is up 22 percent from 2012.
In 2017, they scheduled 10 NHRA Summit Series points races combined with 10 test and tunes on the same weekends. “We did lose two those races and three test and tunes to weather, same as last year. Eight is really our minimum to make it work.”
The track hosted the Street Race, Rocky Mountain Race Week, Wichita Pontiac Uprising, Sammy Mathews Charity Race and the NHRA Lucas 0il event. “The Expo Complex is heavily used by multiple entities so we try and work around everybody’s dates,” he said.
The complex also got some attention from the group.
Volunteers did a lot of patching in the concrete areas. “I think the figure was around 4,000 pounds of material to help in the maintenance of the facility,” he said.
The heavy truck traffic in the north runway and crossover area is really taking a toll. The track itself is still deteriorating as the more powerful cars are pulling aggregate out of the asphalt. There are also new NHRA track requirements to contend with.
But, “we have met all of our requirements per the operating agreement with the city with a payment of $20,000 on the 28th of November,” Denning said. Of that, $10,000 satisfies SRCA’s final loan payment to complete the grinding of the track in 2012.
“Our next goal as an organization now that we have satisfied that debt is a track surface replacement,” he said. With its age, it is beyond mere maintenance.
“In 2018 we again scheduled 10 NHRA Summit Points Races and test and tunes,” Denning said. There will also be the Rocky Mountain Race Week in June.
The Wichita Pontiac Club also will be returning in September for the third straight year with the annual Pontiac Uprising. This was the last year for the Sammy Mathews Charity Race, but Denning said they are looking for some type of charity event to take its place.
They are also looking to bring a Big Money E.T. Bracket Race to Great Bend in July but they are still in the negotiating that.
There were snags and conflicts in scheduling the Lucas Oil Races, He said. “That one got real exciting to set a date for 2018.”
The group was originally looking at June, as in the previous two years, but that didn’t work. There were major NASCAR races, NHRA races and other events at key facilities falling at the same time.
They landed on the fourth weekend in September, but Denning was called and told year-end national events were being shuffled because of television time conflicts with the NFL.
Now, it is scheduled one week later on the last weekend in September, the same as the Hahns Bros Super Cross event in Great Bend. “We decided to just pull the trigger on everything as one huge weekend. It will be quite interesting logistically to pull off.”