By SCOTT AUST
While working on his micro-sprint car Wednesday at Garden City Airport Raceway, 14-year-old Justin Rogers of Fort Worth, Texas, shrugged when asked if he was inspired to get into racing by his two older sisters who race.
"I don't know. I just wanted to get in a car and drive," he said, drawing a chuckle from his dad, Kelvin Rogers.
"We had this little suspension car sitting in the garage, and I kept telling Dad, 'I want to race.' So he threw it together," Justin said.
The Rogers were in Garden City this week, seeking to finish in the money at the first-ever Micro Mayhem event at the Airport Raceway. More than 300 drivers pre-registered for the three-day racing event, which wraps up with tonight's 7 p.m. finale in five different vehicle classes. With a guaranteed purse of more than $55,000, the event is billed as one of the biggest short track racing events of the year.
Kelvin said this is the first year for his son to compete in micro-sprint cars. The previous three years, Justin raced and won quite a few winged outlaw karts division races, but is still looking for his first micro sprint feature race.
Justin said the switch to a new division has been fun, though they have had some motor problems.
"This is a major learning curve, coming from running a single-piston, hopped-up lawn mower motor and moving into four-cylinder motorcycle engines," Kelvin said. "We'll nip something in the bud, and then the next week there's something, and it puts our program together of everything we need to check every week."
Ben Barbo, event organizer and promoter, said it took a lot of hard work to put Micro Mayhem together.
"I've been working on it for about 16 months," Barbo said while patroling the Raceway grounds Thursday afternoon to make sure things were ready to go, and to visit with drivers.
After Thursday's first night of racing, Barbo, whose family races regularly at the raceway, said things went pretty well.
"The track started out a little dusty for practice, but overall it was a fairly contentious-free night," he said Friday afternoon. "Turnout was pretty good, not too bad for the first time ever. We have a lot of cars pulled in from a long ways away."
The large purse drew some of the top competitors in the industry.
Joe B. Miller, 22, was the 2012 POWRi Micro Champion. Performance Open Wheel Racing, Inc., is a St. Louis area-based sanctioning body for National Midgets and 600cc Outlaw Micro Sprints.
Miller, who owns Speed Shack Performance, an engine building company in Millersville, Mo., has been racing overall for about 10 years, and specifically mini sprints for about seven years.
"I've been going to sprint car races since I was probably a year old, so I've been around it my whole life, always traveling around and watching," Miller said.
Miller said his dad used to race motocross and got his son interested in motor sports. His car is a winged outlaw, 2013 hybrid chassis, 630cc Kawasaki engine built by Speed Shack. The wing allows the car to carry more speed into the turns, while a non-winged car has less drag that allows more speed in the straightaway, Miller said.
Normally, Miller doesn't travel more than four hours away from his base in southeast Missouri, but the large purse at Garden City was attractive enough to make the 13-hour drive.
"The payout is obviously really good. On average, a local event might pay out between $300 and $500. You get some national events that pay around $1,000. And then you have five or six big money races throughout the year that pay between $5,000 and $10,000," he said. "Another reason we came out here is trying to get more exposure for the company."
Chris Andrews, 28, of Tulsa, Okla., won a $10,000 prize last summer at the Keiser Wheels 66 Mike Phillips Memorial at Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion, Ill., a big Outlaw Micro-sprint race.
Andrews, who has been racing since he was 4, started in the quarter-midget division before moving up to micro-sprints by age 8 or 9.
"I'm a third generation driver," Andrews said. "My grandpa started racing, and my dad got into go-carts and dirt track racing. It's pretty much in my blood. He got me into quarter midgets, and it's been the love of my life ever since."
Monday through Friday, Andrews' day job is as an outside salesman for an irrigation company in Tulsa.
"This is my weekend job," he said.
Racing is more about competing now rather than the thrill and excitement he felt when first starting out. Andrews said there's plenty of good competition in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, at the Port City Raceway and the I-44 Speedway.
"I don't get a chance to run with the POWRi guys as much. We don't travel that far. Typically, we stay close to home. Port City's my home track, and that's where we run pretty much every weekend," he said.
This isn't Andrews' first time to race in Garden City. He entered another race event a couple of years ago and found the track a little big but a fun track to race on. He said the organizers of Micro Mayhem did a great job promoting the race and getting sponsors on board to offer a bigger purse and draw a big crowd.
Andrews thinks people will enjoy the spectacle this week.
"Micros and sprint cars are cream of the crop as far as dirt track racing goes. Micros always have a lot of excitement," he said. "There's a lot of passing, and a lot of good competition. Guys like Joe B., and then there's guys from Oklahoma like Steven Shebester, Trey Marcham. There's going to be a lot of good competition here this weekend. We get real close, wheel to wheel with each other, and it's a lot of fun to watch."
Admission tonight is $10 for adults and $8 for children younger than 13.