Jack Crook can’t speak of racing without talking about family.
The manager and promoter of the Garden City Airport Raceway, Crook’s racing memories reach back to times with his father, Gene Crook.
“It’s a family thing,” he said, adding that’s true for many in the racing world.
The smell of exhaust, the rising dust and the buzz of engines become embedded in their childhood memories.
Jack’s son, Jeff Crook, began racing at 13. His other son, Jaret, loves working on the cars and watching the sport. His grandson, Jayden, also has raced.
“I would say normal families go to the beach or to the mountains — we didn’t,” said Jeff Crook, now 38. “We went to the races.”
Four generations into it, his dad still never tires of advocating for the Airport Raceway.
“It’s just a love for it,” Jack Crook said, “and not wanting to see it fail.”
The 68-year-old retired Garden City man oversees Airport Raceway events. This year, 10-weekly races fill the calendar from June to September with two big events. Rain and unexpected conflicts altered it slightly, but most summer Saturday nights, the raceway comes to life.
This Saturday night, gates open at 5 p.m., with a drivers’ meeting at 6:30 p.m. and hot laps at 7 p.m. Heat and feature races begin at 7:30 p.m. and are usually finished by 10:30, Crook said.
General admission is $10 each. Kids 10 and under are free.
Regular race nights remaining this summer are Aug. 10, Aug. 17 and Sept. 7.
On Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, a Dwarf Round Up is scheduled, Crook said. This is the first of what he hopes will be an annual event. Dwarfs and 600s will run that weekend.
For more information, contact Jack Crook at 620-287-3695.
Memorial Day weekend features a midget car race. Even with a rain delay date this year it drew 32 cars; there were 41 last year.
Go-karts and junior sprint cars give young racers a chance to experience the sport. Go-karts cost from $800 and up; and junior sprint cars range from $1,000 to $4,000 usually. Those race on the small inner track.
Without the help from the community, Airport Raceway couldn’t function, Crook said. Many racers and sponsors contribute to make them a reality. People from Ulysses, Liberal, Dodge City and more participate.
Chris Hickman is among those who give of their time and talents to keep the racetrack going.
“He is a relentless worker,” Crook said.
Hickman’s love for racing began at 6 years old on a 3-wheeler. He moved up to go-carts and bigger cars. Today, he owns a 600cc Micro Sprint car.
Even after an 18-year break from the sport, the 46-year-old Garden City man said, there’s nothing like racing.
“Nothing else matters when you’re behind the wheel — the competition — trying to be No. 1 one for yourself, not everyone else,” Hickman said.
Similar to the Crook family, Hickman inherited the passion. His dad, John Campbell, introduced him to it back when Garden City raced on the track on Raceway Road.
Whether it’s mowing, watering or taking out trash, it’s a joint effort to keep the races going. Along the way, it’s not only biological family members who stand by his side.
“Beyond that, all the guys out there are family, whether blood or not,” Hickman said.
Jack Crook was among the community members to build the Airport Raceway 10 miles east of the city back in the 1990s. The 6-mile oval racetrack hosts Dwarf and Midget Races. A short inner track allows for go-kart and junior sprint car races.
Crook hopes his efforts will help the raceway grow and welcomes the community to come out and experience the fun.
“You can’t own a boat here,” Crook said with a chuckle. “You might as well own a race car.”
He coordinates the raceway schedule with the Dodge City racetrack. Several Dodge City racers pitch in here, too.
This Labor Day, Jack’s son plans to take a break from his job as a coal and material handling supervisor at Sunflower Electric Power Corporation to race in the Dwarf Round Up.
“There was a time — that’s all I lived and breathed for,” Jeff Crook said of racing. Now raising a family, he limits himself to two races a year.
The walls of his family room tell tales of his racing heritage, however. Photographs of his grandfather and father racing in the 1950s hang near pictures of Jeff’s own competitions. Helmets and promotional posters remind Jeff of people and places along the journey.
Ask him about his and his dad’s Full Midget car and Jeff quickly lists the stats — it weighs 825 pounds, has 365 horsepower and 315 pounds of torque. It’s fueled by alcohol.
He tells stories of a friend, Kurt Osterbuhr, who taught him a lot about racing. He speaks of wins and losses, of catching on fire and crashes, of friends and family times, of building an entire car in a matter of days and more.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Jeff said, adding he watches some races on TV but when he heads to the racetrack he’s not into spectating. “I want to drive or I’m not going.”