Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kansas City International Raceway gone too soon



By Brent Kalwei


In 1967, The Beatles proclaimed that “All You Need Is Love,” the Kansas City Chiefs played against the Green Bay Packers in the first Super Bowl and Chevy introduced the first Camaro. 1967 was also the year that the Kansas City International Raceway drag strip opened on Noland Road.
For 44 years, two lanes of asphalt provided KCIR’s spectators with entertainment one quarter mile at a time. However, the track that thrived for so many years seemed to be taken away from us all too quickly. The track closed on November 27, 2011. If still standing today, KCIR would be celebrating its 50th year. Although the space once occupied by KCIR now essentially sits as an empty lot, there is no doubt that the track provided many highlight moments.
KCIR housed premier events such as the Summer Nationals from the 1960s-1980s that featured National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) legends such as John Force, Gene Snow, Shirley Muldowney, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who was selected No. 1 on the list of “NHRA’s 50 Greatest Drivers.” My father, at 13 years old, along with a standing-room-only crowd, witnessed KCIR’s 1976 Summer Nationals.
Dick Harrell, known as “Mr. Chevrolet,” who owned Dick Harrell Performance Center located on Hickman Mills Drive, raced at KCIR the first year the track opened its gates. Harrell won KCIR’s King of Kansas City in 1968. He was also the American Hot Rod Association’s (AHRA) World Point Champion, and named AHRA’s “Driver of the Year in 1969” and “Driver of the Decade” for the entire 1960s. Harrell tragically lost his life in a funny car crash in 1971 in Ontario, Canada.
Larry Larson, who owns Larson Race Cars in Oak Grove, spent many years racing at KCIR. In 2014, Larson became the first driver to complete the quarter mile in less than 6 seconds in a street legal car. Larson did so in his 1998 Chevy S-10 truck.
I’ve been a baseball player for 22 years and since I began my career, I have enjoyed playing it more than any other sport. But I have to tell you, when it comes to being a sports fan, there is no better spectacle to attend than a drag racing event. There is a sense of thrill when you browse the variety of sweet rides in the pits, hear the sounds of the engines and take in the side-by-side action as the cars roar down the track.
My dad, Donnie Kalwei, took me to my very first drag race at KCIR in 1992 when I was just 2 years old. I would be lying if I said I remember any memories I had of the track at that age. However, that was the start of something special. Beginning in 1999, I enjoyed the many times my father drove me to the track in his black 1955 Chevy, similar to the one in American Graffiti, and in his blue 1971 Chevy Nova. But, he didn’t just drive his cars up to the track, he raced them too. He consistently attended weekly grudge nights from 1999-2011.
In the same way I gained interest in drag racing thanks to my dad, so did he from his dad. Before there was KCIR, my grandfather raced at Kansas City Timing Association Drag Strip located on Front Street from 1957-1967. My dad also watched his dad race his 1962 409 four-speed Chevy Impala at KCIR in 1967.
One of my other favorite memories was getting the opportunity to watch racers like DeLon Joseph, Terry Murphy, Willie Brumitt, David Schorr, Mike Bodine, John Hocking and my cousin Justin Kalwei compete in the Kansas City’s Fastest Doorslammer race. Joseph, who created and raced in the inaugural KC’s Fastest Doorslammer race in 1992, was a five-time winner of the event. Joseph, Murphy, Hocking, Brumitt, Jack Schorr, Edgar Wright and Dwayne Robinson competed in the inaugural doorslammer race. For more than 15 years, the KC’s Fastest Doorslammer race was KCIR’s premier event. The event featured pro modified cars that reached speeds of over 200 miles per hour. To this day my favorite drag racing class to watch is pro modified.
I think I can speak for the many drag racing fans and drivers of the Kansas City area when I say that a part of us is missing without KCIR. Earlier, I mentioned why drag race events were so special to me, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the track connected all who raced and attended as fans.

“The drag strip was just like a big family,” said Joseph, who raced at KCIR on the very first day the track opened. “There were hundreds of people that were down there that you knew. You saw them once a week and that’s how you got to know a lot of people. I have people stop in my shop all the time and say, ‘we used to watch you race down there.’ The drag strip closing is one of the most destructive things that has happened to this city in a long time.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Missouri camp offers no limit to children’s potential


by Mary Wilson

Many Kansas City-area children spend their school year looking forward to summer vacation. And, for some, that means heading off to camp. Summer camp means friends, swimming and adventure. For one Kansas City girl, summer camp means overcoming obstacles, pushing herself past her limits and achieving things she never thought possible.

Emily Roots has attended Camp No Limits in Missouri for several years in a row. The No Limits Foundation provides a camp for children with limb loss or limb differences and their families in ten locations across the country. Last month, Roots, along with her parents, traveled to Potosi, Missouri to experience what she says is her favorite part of summer.

Kim Bergman, Clinic Manager for Hanger Clinic and a first-time volunteer at Camp No Limits Missouri this year, met and worked with Roots and her family during their stay at camp. Hanger Clinic is a sponsoring partner of Camp No Limits and provides a scholarship program for area children to attend that may not be able to afford it. Bergman, along with a prosthetist from her office, volunteered their time at the Missouri camp when they heard that helpers were needed.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said Bergman. “I’ve heard stories about how cool the camps were. The word ‘magic’ kept coming up. It really is, though. It is a magical experience.”

In talking with the Roots family, Bergman discovered that Camp No Limits is not all that known in the Kansas City-area. This year, there were only three children from the metro at camp.

“It really surprised me, especially with Children’s Mercy here in Kansas City, that there weren’t more families from this area,” said Bergman. “There is such a need to get the word out because it is such a great program. The number of families this could serve here at home is hard to even imagine.”

Hanger Clinic works with a number of families to provide prosthetic and orthotic patient care services, and provided the funds for one of the three Kansas City families to attend Camp No Limits. While there, campers are able to experience therapeutic programs with specialized professionals, including physical and occupational therapists, prosthetists and adult amputee role models.

Camp No Limits is the only camp for young people with limb loss and their families, creating a network of support for all the campers. Each camp is unique, but there are generally five programs offered each day. All activities incorporate family members as well, with specific group sessions for siblings and parents, when appropriate, to address the needs of families living with individuals with limb loss.

“These kids and these families see each other once a year,” said Bergman. “You would think that they live next door to each other by how close they are. There are some very emotional moments for everyone, and it is a family. I thought, ‘gosh, they only see each other one time a year. We have to change that.’”

Bergman got to work planning an event before school begins in the fall. She began to organize a Camp No Limits Kansas City weekend for Missouri families.

Emily Roots, according to Bergman and her family, is one of the biggest Kansas City Royals’ fans. She loves them so much, in fact, that she had a Royals prosthetic arm made for her, and last year was featured in Kansas City media with her request to have her arm signed by some of the players on the team, especially Eric Hosmer. While her wish didn’t come true, she did meet George Brett, who signed her arm.

In a few weeks, Camp No Limits Missouri families will get together and attend the Royals game on Friday, July 21. The weekend activities will continue into Saturday, where the children and their families will meet a congenital amputee who works for Hallmark as a graphic designer.

“She’s got an amazing job and makes it happen despite her differences,” said Bergman.
Roots, on Friday at the Royals game, will attend batting practice before the game and meet the players, take photos and finally receive the autographs she’s been wanting. However, because she is growing, her current arm no longer fits, so she will be sporting her new Royals prosthesis at the game that day.

“Whatever we can do to put a smile on the faces of these kids, we’re going to try and do,” said Bergman. “They are amazing kids with amazing capabilities, and we want to celebrate them in whatever ways we can.”

Camp No Limits, a division of the No Limits Foundation, relies on support from volunteers and donors. More information can be found at nolimitsfoundation.org. To support efforts in Kansas City, contact Kim Bergman at 913-397-7600 or email her at kbergman@hanger.com