A Day at the Races

Devon HowerMike StapletonBen Hower
By: 
TOM STEPHENS
Sports Editor

Devon Hower is just following in his father’s footsteps, or should we say tire tracks.

“I’m just doing what my Dad does,” he said with a shrug.

We spoke with Devon has he sat in his race car in the pits at Waynesfield Raceway Park Saturday while his dad Ben was cranking on the engine of a truck a few feet away. Devon drives in the compact class at WRP, which are mostly stripped-down coupes with 2.2-liter engines, five or six forward gears, a clutch, and a couple of roll bars. Brakes, too, not that the driver’s use them very much.

A first-year driver at WRP, Devon is doing pretty well for himself this racing season. Coming into Saturday night, Devon was fifth in the compact point totals and sitting atop the Rookie of the Year standings.

Not bad for a guy who is two years away from getting his driver’s license. Devon is 13 and will be an eighth-grader at Wapakoneta Middle School this fall. He’s probably the only kid in his class that could drive the bus to school, as long as he could do it making left-hand turns at 60 miles per hour.

While driving compacts at WRP is a new endeavor for Devon, he’s no stranger to the driver’s seat as he’s been behind the wheel in demolition derby cars since he was 10. Just like Dad.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Devon’s dad Ben said as he had his head stuck in the engine in of his truck. “I did demo derbies and we couldn’t keep Devon out of the car. So he just climbed in and started driving. Moving up (to compacts at WRP) is just the way it worked out.”

Waynesfield Raceway Park and hundreds of other similar small tracks across the country are places where traffic violations are not only disregarded but encouraged. No turn signals, car pool lanes, speed limit signs, or state troopers around the corner with a itchy trigger finger on the radar gun. No driver’s license required, either.

WRP is a 1/3 mile banked dirt track easily located by ear on Saturday nights one-mile south of the village of Waynesfield. On any given weekend, visitors can expect to see everything from light trucks to sprint cars making left-hand turns at felony speeds.

The light trucks and compacts are just that, light and compact. The trucks are limited to engines no larger that 2.5L, while of the compacts - Hondas, Toyotas, and Chevys for the most part - generally have 2.2L engines. Mini-sprints are essentially dinky cages sitting atop huge motorcycles engines, as are the winged cars, which come equipped with an air foil to give traction and keep the vehicles from taking flight.

Two other classes of vehicles which run at WRP are the modifieds and the sprint cars, both of which deserve additional comment.

Modified cars are named as such as the drivers basically take an engine the size of a pool table and slap in what used to be a sedan of some kind. The car is then basically stripped of its chassis, which is replaced with an extensively modified suspension, hence the name. These are the closest things that come to what one might see at a NASCAR race on TV, but there is nothing quite like the experience of watching these monsters up close and personally, bumper-to-bumper and roaring by at breakneck speeds that would land their can in the can should they carry on like this on a public highway.

Sprint cars are like no others at WRP, or anywhere else for that matter. Sprint cars are basically tiny wedges of cars, much like one might see at the annual Soap Box Derby, except the Soap Box Derby generally discourages vehicle packing 900-horsepower engines. To give readers a idea of how much vroom that actually is, according to chevrolet.com, a 2017 Silverado 2500 HD, a pickup that farmers use to tow barns, 40-acre plots and such around the countryside, tops out a 445 HP. Sprint car drivers are sitting on top of an engine that puts out over twice that in a vehicle that would fit in your bathtub. Watching these wedges fly sideways around a 1/3 mile dirk track at fleeing-and-eluding velocity is both a sight and sound to behold.

Devon’s Li’l 316 car traded some paint in the compact qualifier and spun out coming out of turn four, but made it back on the track and finished 10th out of 17 racers in the compact main event, earning some more points in standings (drivers for the various classes are awarded points for each race depending on their finish, much like their NASCAR brethren, which are totaled up at the end of the season to determine the overall points winner), while Ben, driving the 316 truck, finished 11th out of 18 vehicles in the truck feature.

For those of you that have the notion the racers out at Waynesfield Raceway Park getting rich by taking home the checkered flag should consider a re-think . A very big payday at WRP — which usually goes to the winners of the modified or sprint winner in a sponsored feature race — is $1,500, while most of the winners of the other classes can expect to pick up a couple of hundred dollars at best, and that’s for coming in first. Seeing that racing fuel is going at about $9 per gallon at present and one tire on one of the light trucks go for about $100 a throw, racers like the Howers are not out there for the money. They are in the pits and on the track because, as Devon told us, that’s what they do.

When we mentioned to Ben that Devon wants to move up to modifieds, which is a big jump in both competition and overhead, he shrugged.

“As long as it’s OK with the wife,” Hower said with a smile. “That’s gonna be up to her.”