Hermiston Raceway prepares for a spectacle

Mitch Kleyn, center, and his crew tune up their super late model car Friday in preparation for Hermiston Raceway’s Labor Day Spectacular event.

HERMISTON — The scent of burning fuel and the sound of roaring engines pierced the late summer air Friday afternoon, and that’s exactly how Garrett Evans likes it.

The Wenatchee-based driver soaked in the sights and sounds of drivers unloading their vehicles and speeding around the track in preparation for the Hermiston Raceway’s Labor Day Spectacular — a two-day bill that runs Saturday and Sunday evening.

“I love this sport,” Evans said. “I love the sounds of the cars, the smell in the air — everything.”

Evans will be one of the many regional racers hitting the oval over the course of the weekend-long event. Gates open at 4 p.m. on Saturday and 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Racing lasts until 10:30 p.m. each night. It’ll be a nonstop slate of racers, both local and regional, but Evans’ reputation precedes him more than most.

“He’s a soft-spoken guy,” Hermiston Raceway owner and promoter Greg Walden said, “but he’s a legend.”

Evans has more than 400 career wins, five late model championships, and more than $1 million in winnings under his belt. His skills behind the wheel of a stock car were crafted over the past 40 years.

“There will be some local guys who have raced here a lot, so they’ll probably be pretty good,” Evans said. “And there will be guys from out of town, too. I think it’ll be an exciting race. It’ll be good competition.”

Evans is hitting the track with a new stock car — a Senneker built in Michigan that he and his crew just picked up last week.

“It’ll be my first time on a track with it,” Evans said.

The Labor Day Spectacular will also feature three separate classes of sprint cars: WESCO, ISRL, and the Speed Tour team from Meridian, Idaho, all of which run on Saturday. The Intermountain Outlaw Modified Series will also make an appearance.

“These sprint cars have no radio communication, and no mirrors,” Walden said. “Everything in front of them is their focus. It takes a different breed of racer to drive them. They have to be abnormally brave.”

On Sunday, the Hermiston Raceway’s usual cast of local drivers takes the spotlight, showcasing a variety of classifications including street stocks, mini stocks, bandoleros, bombers, and hornets.

Sunday’s schedule also includes Northwest super late models in their only Hermiston appearance of the year, and the legends division in a regional qualifying race. Any drivers in the class that win will earn a starting spot in the national race in Charlotte, N.C., this fall.

The Hermiston Raceway has earned quite the following over the years, even drawing racers from Oregon’s neighboring states. Mitch Kleyn made the two-hour commute from Quincy, Washington, for his fourth appearance on the raceway this year alone.

Kleyn’s pit crew, led by Travis Sharp of Racing Dynamiks of Kalispell, Montana, made the trek with him.

“We’ve had a great time here,” Kleyn said. “We’ve probably won half the times we’ve been here. It’s just good ol’ redneck racing. They’re doing a great job with the track. The place is packed every time.”

A racer with over 30 years of experience behind him, Kleyn is set to compete in the super late model series. His car is built with a Ford body and a 630-horsepower engine.

“This thing is unreal,” he said of his ride. “We’ll have to cut it down to about 450 horsepower. This race will be about saving tires.”

Kleyn isn’t the only one in his family hooked on racing — his 11-year-old son Kasey is also building a career as a stock car racer. The family recently returned from a showing in Madera, California, in which Kasey was part of the bill.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking,” Kleyn said, “but he’s been doing great every time. I always ask if he wants to keep going, and he always says, ‘yes,’ so we keep going. We’ve put 12,000 miles on my motor home following him around.”

Sunday’s performance, which features Kleyn and Evans among others, is the last of three events that the Hermiston Raceway is set to host this season.

“You’ll have 140 different racing teams coming here on two different nights,” Walden said. “It’s a smorgasbord of racing, if there’s such a thing.”

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