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Sports Car Racing To Start On New 'Roaval' Track At Kansas Speedway

Greg Echlin

The new road course constructed within the oval at Kansas Speedway will be the site of sports car competition for the first time this weekend. Pricier models such as Porches, Ferraris and BMWs are more associated with this group of drivers compared to the more common Chevy, Ford and Toyotas on the NASCAR circuit.

And, the brand of cars isn’t the only thing different about sports car racing.

When drivers see the green flag wave at Kansas Speedway this weekend, they won’t be watching the lap count. Instead, the race teams will be aware of the clock. They’ll track how many laps are completed when their time is up after a little more than two hours.

Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren saw his first Rolex Series sports car race at Daytona International Speedway last February.

"We know when it ends. It doesn’t matter how many cautions there are. It doesn’t matter or anything else," says Warren. "Fortunately, we have a beautiful forecast, but if it were raining we would race in the rain for this series, which is not what we’ve done with our traditional oval track racing with NASCAR."

Kansas Speedway is referred to by the drivers as a “roaval,” a combination of an oval and a road course. All but a handful will negotiate the Kansas Speedway road course turns for the first time.

Jordan Taylor, a Rolex Series driver who lives in Florida, took some casual laps around the course at the end of last month.

"This one is going to be one of the fastest ones we go to because we’re using almost the entire oval. So we’ll be going close to 200 miles an hour by the time we hit the brakes in Turn 1," says Taylor. "It’s definitely a high-speed 'roaval' for us, a high-speed track. Once we get on the infield, there’s a few tight corners that’ll offer some good racing."

Others like Richard Westbrook, who lives in London, anxiously anticipate their first tour of the course at Kansas Speedway.

"I’ve never been to Kansas before. I was really looking forward to coming here. A spectacular venue you’ve got here. Amazing, amazing facility," says Westbrook.

About 60 cars will be on the track for the Rolex Series and the Continental Tire Series — compared to around 40 that typically start a NASCAR race. That’s because a different classes of cars will be racing within the race, so when the time is up more than one driver will be declared the winner.

That type of racing appeals to Brandon Nott, who dabbles in amateur sports car racing on the side when he’s away from his full-time job at a Kansas City ad agency.

"We all like when you find your car and you think that this was built for you or you were built for it, there’s some extra love that you have for the sport and for that class," Nott says. "Even if you don’t like the driver or the team, you see your car behind someone’s car there’s always a part of you going ‘C’mon go, go!' You’re rooting for that manufacturer."

Nott is involved with a local Porsche club as a driving instructor. In his estimation, more than a dozen sports car clubs thrive in the Kansas City area.

According to Pat Warren, a massive crowd isn’t projected this weekend. But with admission prices considerably less than a NASCAR Sprint Cup race the race fans who do show up will have flexibility.

Fans of sports car racing tend to like to get closer," he says. "If you want to see the race itself, if you really want to see the racing, the grandstands are a great place to watch. If you want to get close to the cars, the infield is obviously a better place."

Warren says the beautiful thing about this weekend is there are many options for spectators. There will be trams running,  and there is a tunnel that goes under the track in Turn 1.

"You can watch from one race, move and watch from another. We’ve got some small grandstands set up from the infield, so it’s really whatever you want to do," says Warren.

The bottom line: An added race weekend at Kansas Speedway keeps business brisk in western Wyandotte County.

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