RPM Speedway Kicks off 2017 season

By Mike Kessinger, Hays Daily News

News Main Photo

Taron Burkhart monitors the lineup prior to a Northern SportMod heat race Friday night. Photo credit, Jolie Green, jgreen@dailynews.net

     The chill in the air and windy conditions might have kept some fans away from RPM Speedway on Friday night as the dirt track in Hays launched another season with its annual Sunflower Classic.

     But those not willing to weather the conditions or those too far away to attend had a front-row seat for the action this weekend.

     Speed Shift TV broadcast the Sunflower Classic to an audience of online race fans across the world. It was the first time the 3-year-old network, based in Minneapolis, Minn., has covered an event in Hays. RPM is just one of several stops the crew will make across the country as it is on the road all year long.

     “It can get a little stressful, but we’re all so passionate about racing,” Speed Shift TV Marketing Coordinator Haley Pratt said. “It’s surreal we get to travel to all these events and make a living off it. We’re very lucky to get to do that. I think it’s tough sometimes going from airport to airport and not being home a whole lot.”

     It was a love for dirt tracks and other forms of motocross racing that had Pratt, Darren Shanley and Chet Christener wanting to start a programming business such as Speed Shift three years ago.

     On Friday, the crew — which included Christener doing the commentating for the online audience and Pratt and Shanley in the press box along with two camera men — broadcast to a crowd logged in to www.speedshifttv.com. During the early part of the season, Speed Shift TV is usually in the southwest region of the U.S. This year, it is planning to move more East with a broadcast schedule that includes races in Pennsylvania and Ohio for a few stops.

     “We’ve been in Hays since Thursday, and we’re really excited to be here,” Pratt said.

     “A lot of times, tracks reach out to us and want us there. We also work with different series.”

     On the Speed Shift TV Facebook page, there are more than 57,000 followers and after races, the site will have clips from the event and interviews.

     While Speed Shift broadcast the event, a small audience was in attendance Friday a cold evening as the wind blew. The VIP lounge area next to the grandstand was filled with approximately 50 fans in the climate-controlled room.

     The pit area was full of activity. Promoter Rod Bencken went over the rules with racers, and the line-ups for the evening were inserted onto the board.

     Trenton Kleweno had his new car in the Northern sport mod class ready to roll. A Hays resident, Kleweno just got his car March 17 and spent the following four days putting it together with his team that includes his father, Barry Kleweno. Thursday was the first time Kleweno had a chance to practice.

     “This is probably one of my favorite tracks,” Kleweno said. “You can’t beat how well they prepare the track.

     “I think the car will be good. This was the first race I’ve ever had it. I’ve just been fighting brake issues. I don’t have any rear brakes. It’s hard to go out there and race how I want to. I’ve just been struggling so far. We’re putting on a new rear master cylinder, so hopefully it will fix it.”

     There were more than 160 cars competing in this year’s Sunflower Classic, which wrapped up Saturday night. Drivers from across the Midwest, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin, were in attendance.