Need for speed

Behind the scenes at Hayden Speedway



Oak Creek residents Kelly Lipsie, right, and Jay Wisecup work on their car between races at the Hayden Speedway. The pit is often filled with drivers and mechanics from the Yampa Valley.


A line of sprint cars, trailers and work lights line the pits at the Hayden Speedway.


Jay Wisecup relaxes between races at Hayden Speedway.


Josh Fellows gets ready for his race during the Rocky Mountain Invitational American Sprint Car Series at the Hayden Speedway.


The setting sun silhouettes fans at the Hayden Speedway. Fans come out to cheer for hometown favorites and absorb the track's tradition of summer racing.


The inside wheel of HD Craig's modified race car lifts off the dirt at the Hayden Speedway as he flies around a corner at a race in August. The quarter-mile dirt track draws racers from Craig to South Routt each summer.

Tucked into the commotion of drivers, mechanics and horsepower and at the base of two trailers stand four men in worn-out jeans, race-inspired T-shirts and with grease on their faces.

For the men, it's a quasi-family reunion.

Rocky, Levi, Sam and Jay Wisecup prepare a Pontiac Firebird and Chevy Nova for a night of racing at the Hayden Speedway.

"If it has an engine, we try to make it go fast," says Levi, who is Rocky and Jay's nephew and a cousin of Sam. "It's fun to see what you can do."

Early in the night, it's all about getting the cars ready. All four Oak Creek men pace around the two cars and talk about what work can be done.

Rocky and Levi are the only racers, and Sam and Jay are there to help them out with whatever they can do. Rocky and Levi haven't put as much money into their cars as some of the other drivers. Levi has $200 in his. Sam has $500. Still that doesn't stop them from competing.

"Honestly, the best thing is being on the track racing," Levi said. "Competing, driving and pushing as hard as you can - trying to learn about it."

Minutes before the preliminary race, Levi and Rocky move like birds chasing prey to prepare their cars. Rocky grabs his jumper cables, hooks them to his everyday car, touches them together eliciting sparks and then places them onto the battery of his race car in the trunk. Battling time, Levi crab walks around his car with an air hose checking to make sure his tires have the right pressure. First the right front, then the right back. He does a semi-crow hop over to the other side to check the tires. With the air pressure set, he moves to refasten the trunk and hood on. After a drink of water, Rocky puts his jacket on, slides his legs one at a time into the car, fastens his seat belt and, with a slight head nod, he's off.

A local tradition

The Hayden Speedway was built on an old landfill in 1964. Through the years it's seen many different additions. In the late 1970s, tires were inserted for guardrails and then in the late 1980s lights were brought in for night racing. The biggest change came in 2000 when the track was re-cut and enlarged to a true quarter-mile track. It was also widened to 80 feet, and the pit areas were made bigger.

"From the beginning days to now, it's almost night and day," said Justin Gallegos, former president of the board and track consultant. "I would say the track has evolved as much as the sport has."

Still, people say the track could improve. Since the Speedway is run completely on volunteers, leadership can be a problem. Gallegos said he would like to see a facility that is county run and would serve as a multi-use complex for all types of events.

"That could be a very lucrative possession for both sides," he said.

Mechanic Gregg Kolbaba said he'd like to see a privately owned facility. Kolbaba, who races at tracks around the region, said Hayden's track surface is the best in the area. Despite the nice track, Kolbaba thinks the Speedway could do a lot if it was better run.

"A lot of tracks are successful, money making ventures," he said. "Hayden could be like that."

Behind the scenes

As owner of Valley Performance in Craig, Kolbaba is a catalyst for many of the drivers at the Hayden Speedway. When he's not racing, Kolbaba's garage is usually full of other competitors' cars. Not counting his own car, Kolbaba said he's usually preparing three or four others for race night.

Although Kolbaba said part of it is promotion for his shop, he also does it because it gives him a rush to see what kind of creations he can come up with.

"I like to know that my stuff is as competitive or more competitive than anyone else," he said. "I strive to have a better performing car than anyone else."

On average, if Kolbaba doesn't have to work on his own car, he said he usually puts in 30 hours a week on others people's cars. He said work usually starts on Tuesday before the race and can take up a lot of his time depending on what needs to be done to the cars.

Apparently his effort and time work.

Kolbaba works on Samantha Johnston's slick, 1971 black Firebird No. 63 car. Johnston has clinched the Super Sport title the past two years behind Kolbaba's work.

"With her car we've clinched the championship before the last race the last two years," Kolbaba said. "I take a little extra time to make sure everything is right."

Kolbaba has had success racing. In 2003, he was the Limited Late Model champion, and in 2005, he was in the points lead in the IMC Modified division when the car was mangled and couldn't run the rest of the season. Now he races Regular Late Models in Rock Springs, Wyo.

Kolbaba got his start racing at a young age. He said his father did some stock car racing and he can remember going to his father's friends' shops and becoming interested in cars.

His infatuation continued when he attended Mesa State in Grand Junction. Kolbaba said in the early- to mid-90s he got into illegal street racing and the performance of engines while at school.

"It's some what of a culture you get into," he said. "Every weekend we'd be out there until three or four in the morning. That's pretty much gone by the wayside, but it was the thing of the time"

And though Kolbaba said he enjoys racing, he admits he equally loves the action behind the scenes.

"I almost get more enjoyment out of that then when I race myself," he said. "Sometimes you just check the fuel and air pressure and sometimes you have to scramble to get the car back on the track.

"I do feed off of that. It gets your blood going."

Chase for first

In the preliminary race, Rocky grabs the lead but heading into the first turn gets caught high in the mud and falls into third place behind Levi. Points leader Johnston dominates the race and captures the victory while Rocky sneaks in ahead of Levi to take second. Pulling into the pits, Rocky tells Sam and Jay that his engine is running really hot. With an ice scraper cleaning off the mud in his car's wheel wells, Rocky stands up, puts his hands at his sides and looks at his car's engine.

"Just have to let it cool down and check the coolant," he directs.

A minute later, Rocky starts the car and lets it idle. 210 degrees. 230 degrees. 250 degrees.

The Wisecups check the radiator and turn a gallon jug into a waterfall in an attempt to cool the beast. After minutes of waiting, they deem the car ready for the next race.

In the championship heat, Johnston takes the early lead and just keeps extending it. With several laps to go, Rocky and Levi are left to battle for second and third.

"When you get out there, it's a whole different world," Levi said. "Then it changes from each time you're on the track. Of course the ultimate goal is to win, but just seeing how good you can do, to see if you can be better than the guy who won last year is worth it."

Despite finishing fourth in points in the Super Street division, Levi said both he and Rocky will be back next year. They're even talking about building a Sprint Car and maybe getting a car into every division.

It must be the allure of the Speedway.

"It's the self satisfaction and the thrill of it," Levi said. "When you're on the track, it don't matter who you are racing. It's all about the fun."


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