XENIA — There were plenty of smiles in the Kil-Kare Raceway paddock area, and plenty to cheer about from the grandstands as well, as stock car auto racing made its return to the famed 3/8-mile paved oval on Sunday, April 9.
Since September of 2014, Kil-Kare Raceway had been without a stock car racing series.
But then a group of auto racers and mechanics and fans formed Gem City Auto Racing. Led by Thomas Oakley as GCAR’s Director of Operations, with Columbus late model racer Donnie Renner serving as Technical Director, and Don Wilbur up in the Jerry Wahl press tower as the Competition Director, Sunday’s event went off with plenty of hitches, but even more smiles.
Car owner Gary Estes Jr. was one of those smiling.
“If you love racing, you hate to see race tracks shut down. It costs so much money to open one, that they’re not building any more of them. It’s awesome to see Kil-Kare come back,” he said. “Racing in is in our blood. It’s what I grew up doing, and you just hate to see it go away.
“It’s awesome to get young kids involved. There’s so much trouble in the world today, but racing is like a family. We race each other, but we support each other, too. It keeps people out of trouble, I think it’s awesome.”
Estes fielded a car for 18-year-old drive Cody Evans, of Camden. Evans plans on running more than 70 dirt car races, but he’ll compete in all 11 of the GCAR series events at Kil-Kare, too.
Evans placed third out of 11 cars in the 40-lap late model feature. Xenia’s Ryan Fleming beat New Bremen’s Drew Charleson by a fender length to nab the first GCAR late model feature race of the 2017 season.
The Beavercreek driver-crew chief duo of Jack Jones and Brian Conover were both glad to be back at their home track. Jones, now 29, said he got his start in racing as a kid on Kil-Kare’s tiny quarter midget track, which is located just outside the stock car racing oval near Turn 2.
“I progressively worked my way up through the ranks, and started racing here at Kil-Kare in 2005 on the big track,” Jones said. “It’s just been the local track for us. We both live probably 5 minutes or so from here. It’s great to be back.”
Jones won the E-Modified division track title at Kil-Kare in 2013, then after the 2014 season ended abruptly, he started racing at Columbus Motor Speedway and up at a small paved oval in Sandusky. He raced at Mansfield too, until that track converted over to dirt.
“Now that Kil-Kare is back open again, I hope this really takes off. It’s honestly one of the best tracks in Ohio, in terms of facilities, the track, racing … everything. If we can just get the ball rolling again, and continue to get fans in the stands, I think this could be a really good thing for the area,” he said. “Asphalt racing in general has taken a hit everywhere. There’s a lot of race cars just sitting idle looking for someplace to race. If we can get things going here, I think it could really take off.”
Jones said he was grateful that a fellow racer like Thomas Oakley was willing to put a series together.
“He’s not in here to make money for himself. He’s doing this for us, and for that I’m truly grateful,” Jones added.
Conover said Kil-Kare’s D-shaped slightly banked oval is a driver’s track.
“Darrell Waltrip said it’s the only oval track that has 17-turns on it!” Conover chuckled. “It’s a track that if you find the right setup, and the driver knows how to get around on it, it’s a blast.”
Jones and Conover had a blast, winning the 35-lap inaugural GCAR E-Modified feature event.
In other features, Columbus’s Phil Gussler Jr. won the 25-lap Sports Stock finale, while Galloway driver Corey Kyer won the 20-lap Compact feature.
The next GCAR series event is scheduled for April 23 at Kil-Kare.
You can reach John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123. For more information on the Gem City Auto Racing series, please visit their website at: gemcityautoracing.com.