ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The ground may not shake when engines rev like it does at Heartland International Raceway in Topeka, but Marion County will soon hear the roar of of race cars with the completion of the Rock Shop Ruins RC Raceway.
Located 300 yards east of the Rock Shop at the intersection of 120th and Nighthawk, Rock Shop Ruins is actually four venues in one, according to promoter Jessey Hiebert.
“We’ll have a Baja track, a bash pit, a sand drag strip and a high-bank, high-speed oval,” Hiebert said. “This isn’t a race track, it’s a raceway park.”
If the concept of a remote-control facility sounds familiar, it should.
Originally, a track was to be constructed at the Hillsboro Sport Complex, but complications and opposition combined to squelch the proposed project.
“We had quite a few people who weren’t really excited about having a remote track at the Sports Complex,” Hiebert said. “With the new swimming pool so close to where we had proposed building initially, people were afraid the noise may have been an issue.
“We were also afraid of complaints from golfers and tennis players, and I even had someone who owns an airplane comment they weren’t really excited about us having a track there because of its proximity to the airport.”
In addition to fears of noise pollution, Hiebert said organizers had trouble raising money for the project.
“We needed $1,700 for a fence, and that proved to be cost prohibitive,” he said. “So even with a reduced cost, we were still well short of what we needed.”
“I could just tell it wasn’t going to work out.”
So Hiebert began returning the money that had been previously donated.
One of those donation came from Neil Hett, owner of the Rock Shop, who disclosed he had a plot of land that may work as a raceway location.
Former Marion High School classmates, Hett and Hiebert devised a plan that not only would meet the needs of the proposed track, but dramatically improve its potential.
“Neil owns the park and the track, but we’re developing it,” Hiebert said. “Neil has donated equipment and material and basically told us we could have the run of the place.
“It’s his race track, but he told us we could use it whenever we want to.”
Since the raceway is located on private property, it no longer needed the expensive fence, meaning more funds could go toward track construction.
“It’ll be bigger and better,” Hiebert said. “In Hillsboro, we were going to have one track, but now we’ll actually have four tracks at one site.”
Hiebert credits Hillsboro’s Brian McMillen and his son, Brandon, as the architectural driving forces behind the project.
“Brian actually designed the raceway park,” he said. “He and Brandon have been out there non-stop to get this thing going.”
Beginning in March, volunteers burned and cleared the necessary area of trees, allowing construction to begin.
Since then, semi-loads of sand and clay-based dirt have been hauled to the site as the raceway began to take shape.
Brian McMillen said the complex will be like none other in central Kansas.
“The oval has about a 20-degree banking and it’s 100 by 60 feet,” he said. “Vehicles will be able to run about 40 to 50 mph when it’s done.”
The drag strip portion of the complex is 120 feet long with a 6-inch sand base.
Also included will be a “bash pit,” which consists of a series of ramps constructed to give remote-control enthusiasts a chance to jump their vehicles.
“People actually launch their vehicles off these jumps and literally get 20 to 25 feet of air when they jump,” McMillen said with a grin. “Sometimes when they come down, they bash.”
The fourth piece of the raceway will be the original Baja off-road track which measures 82 by 110 feet.
Promoters also hope to build stands for remote drivers.
“We’ll be constructing platforms that the drivers can stand on,” McMillen said. “And we want to have pits that will enable the drivers to bring their cars in just like NASCAR drivers do.”
Hiebert said the goal of the Rock Shop Ruins is to provide a fun yet family-oriented atmosphere.
“We’ve even cleared some trees so families will be able to have picnics or camp if they want to,” he said.
Since the track won’t be subject to the guidelines of the Sports Complex, hours at the Rock Shop Ruins will be flexible.
“People can stay as long as they like,” Hiebert said. “There won’t be any set hours at all.”
Those who choose to use the track will be required to sign a liability waiver.
“If you hurt yourself, or if your property gets destroyed, Neil or the track won’t be responsible,” Hiebert said.
No fee will be charged to use the track, Hiebert said, but users recognize there are ongoing costs to operate it and are asked to submit a donation.
“People understand there was a cost to build the place and to maintain it,” he said. “To this point, everyone who comes out here has donated money back to Neil so he can recoup expenses for fuel and product.”
Concessions will be available in the future, Hiebert said.
“We eventually want to offer food and drinks (soda pop and water), also on a donation basis,” he said. “When we have special events, hot dogs and hamburgers will be available.”
Plans call for a grand opening sometime this fall, although racing enthusiasts from Newton and Wichita have already challenged the Rock Shop Ruins.
“We think what we’ll have to offer will bring people in from all over the state and even from out of state,” Hiebert said. “There aren’t many places that have a high-bank oval, so that alone should bring in a unique group.”
Hiebert said he hopes people will respect the track, but feel free to use it regularly.
“We’d like to see the raceway eventually be able to support itself,” he said. “We just want to thank Neil for the ground and equipment because he’s already invested hundreds of dollars. But we really appreciate it.
“It should be a lot of fun for everyone who uses it.”
Those interested in the progress of the track or conversing with fellow remote-control hobbyists can visit a Web site established at www.flatoutrc.com.