The Dirtona Raceway in Hugoton is playing host this weekend to car races during the Stevens County Fair. Along with board members, owner and promoter Millie Heger is looking for ways to bring more funding for the track in order to help out with the expenses of running it. Courtesy photo
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
While the Seward County Five State Fair is scheduled to begin in less than a week, the Stevens County Fair in Hugoton is already underway, and as with Liberal’s fair, car races play a part.
Races were on the program for Saturday at Dirtona Raceway in Hugoton, and more are scheduled to take place this afternoon.
The track is run primarily on sponsorships and donations, but with a downturn in the economy through recent years, money has been harder to come by. Owner and promoter Millie Heger is now looking for ways to raise money to help keep the track open.
Heger said she and Dirtona board members, along with racers, plan to get creative with ways to raise money and support for the track.
“We do different things like Park Day, which was on the Fourth,” she said. “Right now, we’re working on a coloring contest for the kids where they color a car, and then we’re going to paint pine derby cars in their designs and then auction them off.”
Heger looked for help from the Stevens County government, but she was told that entity can not help out.
“The county says they can’t help it out like you would a golf course or other things in the community because it is not a county entity,” she said. “We can’t get any donations from the county. We’re trying to raise enough money so we can keep it open.”
Heger said Dirtona is a non-profit organization.
“It’s an association – Stevens County Racing Association,” she said. “I had just put money in to help it out. I own some of the buildings, including the concession building.”
Heger said she would like to see go cart racing come back to Dirtona as an alternative to sports and video games.
“There’s nothing wrong with baseball or football, but there’s a lot of kids that don’t want to do that either,” she said. “I was trying to figure out a way we can get more of the kids involved to.”
Heger said the track has always had financial problems.
“It’s always run this way,” she said. “It’s always run on businesses giving us money for advertisement. In the last few years, things have kind of gotten hard economically, so that puts a stress on everything else.”
Heger explained some of the items that must be paid for in order to keep the race track running.
“It’s just gotten harder to raise enough money to keep it open for all the expenses it takes to run it – your diesel fuel for your water trucks and graders, your electricity and water and our porta potties we use,” she said. “I’m hoping to get that taken care of for next year and put in a rest room. We pay our EMS, so it just takes a lot to put it all together.”
Heger said at the beginning of 2010, there was about $6,000 for the track to run on, and fundraising efforts have continued through the first half of the year.
“We’ve only raised a couple of thousand which has helped us kind of keep things open and doing what we can, and I’m still helping it out,” she said.
Donations may be mailed to Stevens County Racing Association, P.O. 594, Hugoton, KS 67951.
“Any donation is appreciated,” Heger said.
The annual budget for Dirtona runs from $10,000 to $20,000.
“That’s usually what it takes per year to run everything,” Heger said. “We get money from admissions when we charge gate fees. Pit passes is how we get some of it to pay for our insurance.”
Heger got a beer license this year, and she said this has helped with some of the costs, but more is still needed.
“We’ve been selling T-shirts,” she said. “We may have some fundraising dinners through the winter to help pay for some stuff for next year.”
Race admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 7 to 12 and free for children 6 and under. Pit passes are $25, and Heger said racers pay a one-time fee to register a car, also $25.
The Dirtona Raceway opened in 1993, and Heger said more people come to Hugoton to race from outside of the area than in the community.
“They want us to keep it open,” she said. “They don’t want us to close it. They hate to close it because they have to go further in this area. I was trying to keep it for them and try to get some of the younger kids interested in something and give them something to do on the weekend.”