AZTEC — Every other Saturday from April through October, the revving engines of quarter midget race cars and the clay dust left in their wake marks the scene at the Kart Kanyon Speedway here.
Track president Calvin Mathews, who was promoted from his position as vice president late last year, said his top priority is generating a spike in popularity of the speedway's races, since a "loss of car count and loss of interest" has plagued Kart Kanyon the past few years.
"We recently teamed up with the (United States Auto Club) sanctioning body because it allows you to race your USAC-sanctioned car anywhere. Whether it be dirt or asphalt, you can take it all over the country and go race it," Mathews said.
By huddling under the umbrella of USAC, Mathews hopes that lots of new families will bring their kids to participate in the races, as well as watch them themselves, since the partnership with USAC should broaden the speedway's horizon.
"(USAC) does everything from the quarter midgets all the way up to full-fledged sprint cars," Mathews said. "So we hope we can get the word out that we're with USAC and other families with racers under USAC can travel out here and vice versa."
They start them early at Kart Kanyon. Mathews said there are racers as young as 4 years old who compete on his track. His 5-year-old son, Kasyn, started racing well before that.
"He was out there messing around on electric cars when he was 1," Mathews said. "When he was 3 we got him a little go-kart. Then, when he was 4, we got him out here on these quarter midgets. So this is his second year."
The brackets of racers at Kart Kanyon are categorized by division and type of quarter midget engine, each of which increase with age, driver weight and experience. The competitive age brackets typically are: 5 to 7, 8 to 10, 11 to 13, and 14 and older.
Aztec's James sisters — 11-year-old Liv and 10-year-old Brooklyn — have been racing at Kart Kanyon for more than three years. The young Aztec residents, who both attend Mesa Verde Elementary School, have developed quite a sibling rivalry.
"Poor Brooke has been at it for three and a half years and has yet to win a race — she keeps coming in second behind her older sister," said Darren James, the girls' father.
Last season, Liv took home the trophy for finishing with the most points in her class. She said her dad's passion for racing trickled down on to her.
"My dad's friend started racing, then he got my dad into racing," Liv James said. "Then he took us to see these little quarter midget races, and me and my sister really wanted to do it."
Though there has been a dip in popularity at Kart Kanyon Speedway, Mathews said the relationship between racing and the Aztec community is as strong as ever.
"Aztec is awesome with the racing aspect," Mathews said. "The land we're standing on belongs to the city. Aztec's always had a long history of racing, with the Aztec Speedway and Motocross Track. It was going well there for a while, and I think it was just the shortcomings of the economy and people losing interest that hurt us. But we're determined to change things."
In addition to Kart Kanyon Race Night, which began its season on April 11 and will finish on Oct. 31, Mathews is trying to put a deal together to start a series between racers at Kart Kanyon and Aztec Speedway.
"You got tracks that are within 10 miles of each other, and they're completely different style of tracks," Mathews said. "So it would be good to get kids familiar with both types of tracks so they can get better and a little more well rounded."
On Halloween, the Pumpkin Race will take place. For that race, participants must craft their race cars out of a single pumpkin by inserting two independent axles through a pumpkin and attaching the wheels to the axles. The no-point annual exhibition race closes out the Kart Kanyon Race Night season every year.