KERNS - As the drivers cut through the swirling dust at the Elkins Raceway, a large dose of adrenaline pumps through their veins. For these guys, it's not fame and fortune that keeps them coming back, it's the need for speed.
"I love the thrill - just going fast," local fan favorite Chuck Harper told The Inter-Mountain Friday night at the Jenkins Ford Firecracker Topless 30. "Really, that's why we all do it. It's definitely not for the money."
Based in Beverly, Harper competes in the Super Late Model Class, which is the sport's elite caliber of competition. His team consists of six volunteers, and without their help, he says racing would be impossible.
The Inter-Mountain photos by Ben Simmons
Crew members Chris Myers and Brain Hamrick fine-tuned Chuck Harper’s race car Friday evening just before the Jenkins Ford Fire Cracker Topless 30 at Elkins Speedway.
Crew Chief Tim Leggett changed tires on Shane Hitt’s Super Late Model Friday evening.
"If not for them, we wouldn't be here," Harper said. "They get the car ready. They get the tires ready. They put in a lot of time getting everything prepared. It's a bunch of work."
Aside from the time and dedication, Harper said the cost of operating a racing team stops many folks at the gate. His team races about 30 events yearly and he estimates the cost is well over $100,000.
"The cost is tremendous," Harper said. "A motor costs about $38,000. I've got Rick Sturms, he's my sponsor. He buys the motors and the parts. If not for him, I wouldn't be doing this. Diesel fuel, just to get to the race track is expense. There are a lot of costs involved."
Harper, who's been racing since 1982, said the sport has evolved over the past three decades. He said the rising costs, along with a lagging economy, have downsized the competition.
"Everything has come a long way since I started racing," Harper said. "You used to be able to get a car out of a junkyard and you could race and be competitive. Now if you don't have a $30,000 car and a $40,000 motor you can't be competitive. A lot of people can't afford it. That's why the car count has been down. The economy has taken its toll on everything."
Shane Hitt, of Buckhannon, also races in the Super Late Model Class. His team competes in about 25 races a season.
"It's definitely an adrenaline rush," Hitt said. "It's also about the competition, you always want compete and you always want to win.
"It's also very technical, as far as shocks and springs and moving the car. It's fun to see what happens when you move something or you change something on the car, whether it helps or hurts. There is a science to it."
To keep the team on the track, Hitt gets a little help from his good friends Tim Leggett, Doug Davis, Martin Tenney and Doug Wyatt.
"It all starts in the garage," Hitt said. "That's the difference between the guys who win and the guys who finish seventh and eighth. These races are won Monday through Thursday in the shop. You don't just show up here on Friday and unload and be good. If you are going to be good, you are going to work all week. You have to work harder than everyone else and you have to figure this stuff out before everyone else. It's like a chess match."
To stay competitive, Hitt and the crew work in the garage year-round fine-tuning the race car.
"It's non-stop, you don't just wake up on Friday morning and decide you want to go race," Hitt said. "A lot of people think, 'I'm going to go get me one of those, it looks fun,' but it takes working all year long in the garage, and all week long putting in hours, to come out here and play for a few hours. Even through the winter, we are always working on something. It's non-stop. If I had a job this hard, I'd quit. We do it for fun."
Like Harper, Hitt also mentioned the economy has made a significant impact on the sport. He agrees that many people can't afford to race and it has attributed to lower numbers showing up at race tracks to compete.
"Even here at a local track on a Friday night, if you don't have a high-dollar motor, you just as well not come," Hitt said. "You have to spend a lot of money to do it right. Especially in the Super Late Model Class, you need top notch stuff. Everybody has brand new tires, brand new motors, brand new everything."
To help offset the costs, drivers solicit sponsors to assist financially. Hitt says it takes more than the lure of advertising to get businesses to shell out cash.
"Every sponsor I have on this car are close friends of mine," Hitt said. "They go out and help me raise money and they come to the races and watch me. Some come every weekend. With the economy the way it is, it's hard for any company to give you money to run their name on the side of a car. I've got great sponsors. Even more important than that, they are my friends."
Anthony Arbogast, of Valley Head, races in the Street Stock Class. He's been racing for about 15 years.
"It's exciting," Arbogast said. "You never know what's going to happen out here. There's always something different every weekend. I love it."
While racing in the Street Stock Class isn't as expensive as the Super Late Models, Arbogast said it still costs about $10,000 a season. Like the other drivers, Arbogast invests all of his time and money into his vehicle. He gets help from family members, Vince, Dale, Laremy and Derrick Arbogast.
"Pretty much every penny you get, you put in it," Arbogast said. "Mom and Dad help me out a lot with the finances. They put a lot of money into it. I get to have all the fun."