Speedway opener outlasts weather

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Mother Nature tried to get the best of the Hayden Speedway Saturday night by drenching the dirt track for 20 minutes. Surely she laughed as drivers, fans and race officials scrambled for cover during the downpour. After the rain subsided, the speedway unleashed its own thunder with the roar of engines as drivers showed Mother Nature that it would take more than rain to keep cars off of the track.

While the rain delayed the race an hour, Yampa Valley Auto Racing Association president Justin Gallegos thought there were more benefits than losses from the storm.

"After the track was packed down again, it had a better grip for the drivers," he said. "I don't even think we lost too many fans, they just waited it out."

One driver who may have benefited the most from the rain was defending IMCA champion Steve Harris.

In the heat race Harris broke his drive line, which in normal circumstances would have caused him to pack up and watch the rest of the night from the stands. His fortunes changed. Hayden driver Jimmy Scoppa returned home to pick up a spare drive shaft. The delay allowed Harris to change things out, make some temporary adjustments and return to win the main event.

"It took me an hour and a half to get everything changed," he said. "The delay gave me just enough time to get things ready. It just went our way that night."

In addition to Harris, three of the other four divisions went to local drivers in the main event races. Scott McKinney and Herby the Bug took home first in sport stock, Jerry Dawson from Grand Junction won street stock, Greg Kolbaba took home the trophy in pro stock, and Nate Hitz won super streets.

The street stock race provided the closest finish of the night when Dawson held off a charging Dean Dare. A popped tire sent Dare, who was in the lead, to the pits late into the race. He got back on the track in the allotted time and raced his way back to the front, only to lose by six feet to Dawson.

The other races weren't decided on the last lap, but without rearview mirrors, most of the drivers have no clue how close the other drivers are.

"You don't have a chance to look back," Hitz said. "I have no idea how close second place was to me."

Hitz is defending his season title in super streets and started the season off with double points for an opening win.

"We only lost one tire on the night and won the main," he said. "So really we guessed right, got lucky and won."

Both Harris and Hitz were fans of the increased size of the track and were looking forward to their next races.

Those were sentiments Gallegos thought were shared by most of the drivers.

"The only complaint is that with the drivers doing extra laps, they were low on gas," he said. "I think with the improvements to the pit area and the track the drivers were pleased."

Now that he has the drivers and crews taken care of, Gallegos hopes to improve fan friendliness at the track.

"A problem I don't mind facing is increasing fan seating," he said. "Before the next race we need to bring in more stands."

The crowd of 579 was large for an opening night at the speedway and Gallegos credited them for toughing it out in the conditions.

"I don't think we had too many leave during the rain," he said. "I made sure to have our announcer thank them for being the best fans ever."

One more improvement Gallegos hopes to see is the lighting of the track. The current set-up leaves several dark spots on the track, making it hard for drivers, judges and spectators to catch everything.

"Our lighting assemblies are old," he said. "We hope to get some newer assemblies with the funds we made."

The first race of the year is a fund-raiser for the track, with no prize money going to the drivers. It helps the non-profit YVARA raise funds for improvements. It didn't deter too many drivers as 48 showed up for the event.

"We don't make any money anyway with all that we have in our cars," Hitz said. "We're just out there to have fun with some competitiveness too."

The Open Invitational race is the next speedway event and will be held at 7 p.m. June 14.

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