Special to The Free Press
Rural living and Kansas motocross have been a priority for both Ron and Shelly Hardey, but on Sunday the Marion couple watched the last Central Kansas Moto?cross Series race at their track on the edge of Marion.
The Hardeys bought this farmland on the edge of town from the Greene?meyer family, and have referred to it ever since as ?Green Acres.? The track, in operation since 1990, is nestled along Mud Creek and next to U.S. Highway 56.
The Hardeys started running MX races out of their ?backyard? 25 years ago. The track was created by the excavation of farmland and river bottom to build up the highway and bridge that crosses just north of their farm.
Some of those first young riders are now grown up and riding Pro MX/SX, including Tommy Hahn, Will Hahn, and Josh Grant. We will have to see if any more home-grown Kansas riders make it to the pro level.
The history of the track, and the stories of past race seasons are treasured memories for the couple. I could tell the absence of racing is not only going to be felt by the MX community but by Hardeys, too.
Some of the stories they tell leave them laughing, while others fill their eyes with tears.
One lasting memory will be of the gathering of riders before each race to drop their head for a prayer, or place their hand over the heart to honor the national anthem. The ritual was part of the glue that bonded this group on race days.
A few weeks ago, Ron and I met at the starting gate to visit and take some photos of the track. I took a few shots of Ron and Shelly near the gate, which symbolizes both the beginning and end of this couple?s journey through the sport.
As we talked later, I could tell they viewed the riders and their families as part of their ?moto family.? I have heard many riders boast about this track ? well before I came there to photograph a race.
Earlier this year, a young man in Ponca City, Okla., told me a story about the track?s big triple jump and how riders had to watch out for the creek. The creek has become infamous for swallowing up bikes ?if you didn?t hit that back corner just right.?
I don?t think anyone ever was injured because of this corner, but I imagine a few bikes didn?t run the same afterward.
On a historical note, during the 1995-96 race season all of the tracks rained out in the surrounding states, so they all came Green Acres to race. One memorable moment was looking down the road outside their home and seeing cars lined up all the way down the street.
That day, the track hosted 404 entries with 396 who raced. It was the record for racer-participation until it was finally surpassed by Jeeps Motorcycle Club three years later.
I asked Shelly the week before the final race what she would like to say to the riders and motocross families.
?We have seen a lot of racers grow up here,? she said. ?Now they are adults and their children have grown up riding here. I?m in awe of how they have grown. We have met and made lifelong friends here. We?ll miss the motocross community.?
Jason Kruse is a physician assistant by vocation and an action sports/lifestyle photographer by avocation. Cur?rently living in Wichita, he has followed Kansas motorcross racing for several years.