As the 50th anniversary of the Florence Grand Prix and the 150th birthday of the town approaches, so does the return of the race.
Florence used to host a Grand Prix motocross race for six years, from 1972 to 1978, until it became too much for the town to maintain and put on. But as the 50th anniversary approaches, town members and the Flint Hills Bent Rims are rallying together to bring the well-loved tradition back to town.
“I’m from Florence, and it was a dream of mine to see this race happen again. As a kid watching the first race in ’72, I just thought it was amazing,” Duane McCarty, an event coordinator for this year’s Grand Prix, said.
This year, races will be on Sunday, May 29, throughout nine different classes of modern bikes and six in vintage. The vintage bike races will start at 10 a.m. and the modern at 1 p.m. There is a $10 gate fee for spectators.
McCarty said that the event would hopefully bring more people to Florence, bring back its memory of holding the races, and generate revenue for the town and its businesses.
“Ninety-nine percent of Florence is all for it. They know that this will kind of put Florence back on the map like it was,” McCarty said. “I could go to Wichita and say, ‘Where are you from?’ And I’d say, ‘Florence, Kansas.’ And everybody, ‘Oh, that’s where the races were.’ So it was a national known race.”
McCarty said everything is on its way to being ready by Sunday. It has been 44 years since the last race, and plenty of obstacles, such as insurance and literal barriers, have given organizers a bit of trouble.
“We drove in about 300 fence posts by hand. We put up, like I said, 4,000 feet of fence. We ribboned or taped the racetrack out in the county and out on the farmer’s land,” McCarty said. “So to make the trail and stuff, we did tree cutting, branch cutting, weed eating and herbicide spraying for the trail. It’s more work than anybody can imagine. And it’s just all coming together now.”
With a lot of work in a short amount of time, McCarty said they have lots of helping hands to get race-day ready as volunteers from all over came out with excitement about bringing the race back to Florence.
“That’s all going smoothly now—just a lot of work,” McCarty said. “We’ve got a lot of volunteers helping us. They’re coming from Kansas City, McPherson, Hutchinson, and just basically all over because everybody’s excited about this race, because back in the ’70s, it was a big thing. I mean, there was people from all over coming to it. And we had a world champion from Sweden who raced in it two years—Rolf Tibblin—and he raced in it. Of course, he won because he was a world champion.”
With the history and background of the race, McCarty and those putting it on are making sure that the past is a part of this year’s event.
“There will be a lot of cool old vintage bikes from the ’70s. They’re racing so that will be something you know ‘Look at that old bike. I remember that back when I was a kid, I used to race them.’ or something.” McCarty said.
This year the races aren’t focused so much on speed but on the trails in hopes to create a safer race and day overall to be able to bring it back for years to come.
“There’s not going to be a lot of high speeds. It’s going to be a lot of trails and stuff where maybe 10 to 20 miles an hour is going to be top speed. They will be able to open it up down Main and stuff, but there’s nothing for them to run into,” McCarty said. “We hope we can keep injuries down, keep any problems with spectators down. And then next year the city, I’m sure, will let us have another race in the city limits. So, we just hope this year we have no problem that way as far as out-of-control spectators or injuries.”
At the end of the day, McCarty said that he hopes the spectators not only have a good time but that the race offers a bonding experience for the riders as they spend the weekend swapping stories.
“Motocross and super crossing is a good family spectator sport nowadays […] I think everybody will enjoy it because there’ll be a lot of excitement. There’s going to be a lot of noise. I think it’s just going to be a fun Sunday,” McCarty said. “For the riders coming in Saturday, there will be the old football field when they had the high school […] That’s where they’re camping so they can tell all their war stories. And all these riders from all over five or six, seven states can all get together and tell war stories on races they’ve been in.”