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Keller Auto Speedway at Kings Fairground

May 23, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Need for Speed

June 2017
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Keller Auto Speedwary

Sure, speeding along at 100 miles an hour is fast, but when racing on a 3/8-mile, dirt course alongside 30 other vehicles – well, that’s called sprint car racing.

“It’s a different kind of racing,” explains Brandon Morse, promoter of Hanford’s Keller Auto Speedway. “I used to be into NASCAR but now I think it’s boring. The best racing is on dirt. It’s just a better race, more passing, cars flipping. As a promoter, I don’t really like to see that stuff anymore, but for your general fan, it adds to the excitement.”

For a racing fan to call NASCAR boring needs some context. These sprint cars have 410-cubic-inch motors in a 1,200-pound chassis, compared to the 358-cubic-inch motor in the 3,500-pound cars used in NASCAR. 

Any course longer than 3/8 mile and between the lightweight chassis and powerful motor, these cars could probably take flight. 

“It’s insane,” agrees Morse. “They’d be too fast on a bigger track.”

The season has kicked into full gear at Keller Auto Speedway, where races are held Fridays and Saturdays between April and October. Excepting bad weather, Morse says there will be about 15 shows this year.

“We run three to four classes a night, and sprint cars are always the headliner,” he adds, explaining the track includes multiple heats and sometimes stock car races. “Last Friday, we had a World Outlaw Race, which is a 410 sprint car, and they tour the whole United States. It’s a big show. They only come to California one time a year.”

While sprint racing might seem like a niche, Morse says when people discover races at the Hanford course, they say they’ll be back.

“We hear it all the time,” he says. There’s really no experience like it, he continues. “The sound, getting hit with a piece of clay if you’re close, when those cars turn they totally get sideways, and they’ll flip a long way, they’re going so fast.”

As a purveyor of the sport, though, Morse says he’s never been tempted to get behind the wheel.

“No,” he says flatly. “That’s nuts.”

While Morse isn’t racing to get behind the wheel, 25-year-old Kingsburg local Cory Eliason is making a name for himself on the sprint circuit. He nearly won the World Outlaw race in Hanford in April, and placed multiple times in other races the year before. 

“This year I’ll be doing close to 80 races,” says Eliason, with about 11 in Hanford. His cross-country tour began in Oklahoma at the end of last year, then took him to Australia in February, back to California through this summer, and onto the Midwest for another month.

While he’s been traveling the world racing, he’s fond of the Hanford racecourse. 

“I would say Hanford is like a home track,” says Eliason, also including the Tulare course.

There are a lot of quarter-mile courses, he adds, “so it feels good to get out and stretch your legs a bit, and to use the car for what it’s meant to be used for.” 

For Eliason, though, there’s no mistaking the smells and sound of a sprint racecourse. 

“You smell wet dirt all the time, and once the cars get going, you smell the fuel burning. There’s really nothing else like it,” he says.

And while there are risks racing, it’s never given him pause.

“It’s never stopped me,” he insists. “You don’t ever think about it. You show up and do your job. We see crashes all night long, and it’s not a matter of if but when, because when you’re going 100, 120 miles an hour, sideways next to another guy, all it takes is the most minute mistake.”

The danger definitely adds to the excitement for the crowd, says Morse, but 99 out of 100 times, the racers will walk away from a crash. That’s what these cars are built for. And while watching the race won’t provide the same adrenaline rush as racing at 100 miles an hour, it’s admittedly safer to watch from one of the seats.

Keller Auto Speedway at Kings Fairgrounds

801 S. 10th Ave., Hanford • 

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