In a front yard just northeast of Van Buren sits a dirt oval.
What sets this 1/10th mile track apart is that it exclusively runs dirt go karts. These carts have modified or stock 6.5hp Harbor Freight motors as a way for some kids to break into racing, or formerly retired local racers to get back in the game.
Cody Farmer sought for a more economical way to deal with the econmic downturn and the rising cost of scrap metal to continue his hobby, in his search Lost Valley Racing was born.
"The parts, and the car, it’s a struggle to haul anywhere, maintain it with the economy and the fuel prices," Farmer said. "This, you can do in the back of your truck and throw it in there, and get in a kart reasonably priced."
Go-karts are the entrance into the natural progression for a lot of drivers. Big-name drivers, like three-time Formula 1 World Champion Ayrton Senna, 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, and 24 Hours of LeMans winner Allan McNish all began with karts. In the biopic "Senna" Ayrton recalled, "it was pure driving, it was pure racing. There wasn’t any politics, it was real racing."
"We’re doing it for fun and for the kids. This a stepping stone to either get into a big car, open-wheel, or Indy. I’d like to see somebody someday make it from Arkansas other than Mark Martin," Farmer said with a laugh.
Former Tri-State Speedway (Pocola) Roadrunner class champion in 1992, Bill Jackson of Alma, came out to Lost Valley to run his kart. It was Jackson’s first competitive race since 1998. The allure of the kart being fun and challenging is what brought Jackson back. He was reminded, "my old friend Tim O’Toole said on Facebook recently, ‘you never really get out of racing’."
During the hot laps Jackson, looked at ease in his red No. 23 kart, as if he just stepped into the Grand National class. As he got a feel for the track and the kart with several others on course, the laps became smoother and consistant.
"First thought on the track was to see if my motor build was going to live, and getting a feel for the handling," Jackson said. "Past experience was huge. The chassis setup and cornering technique is the same.
"On dirt you want to do the sideways thing entering the the turn, set the car, and drive as straight as possible exiting the turns."
While Jackson is coming back to the track, several drivers are looking at the at the karts as the better value to get that racing fix. Muldrow, Okla., racer Glenn Qualls runs a Monte Carlo at two local tracks, and is exploring the idea of running the dirt karts.
"I’ve actually thought about selling the car and getting a couple karts because it looks fun," Qualls said. "It’s hard to find skins for a car. You could pay $1,200 to have one guy do it or send it to a metal fabricator. Most of the time it’s better just to have a buddy who’s really good with a hammer to pound all the dents out."
When asked about the scrap industry impacting the car counts, Qualls and fellow racer Josh Warren, both stated, "when you find a car, that’s in good shape. It’s priced double what they could get it for scrap."
Warren added, "I feel in 10 years, you won’t see any leaf spring Camaros or the G body cars."
Getting into the dirt karts is inexpensive, $100-plus for a Harbor Freight motor, and chassis prices that vary from a used for a few $100 to brand new for $2,000. For under $2,000 a driver could be racing in the Box Stock class at Lost Valley Raceway.
The Modified class it has a rule that harkens back to the days of Can-Am.
"Our Modified class doesn’t really have any rules. Just whatever you can build in a 6.5 horse and pull start it," said Farmer.
Warren said, "I think it’s one of the best things you can do for a kid who is into racing. You don’t need to go out and spend $10,000 plus. $1,200 will buy a nice kart race ready."
With dirt karts sudden boom in the Arkansas River Valley, the Internet dealers have helped the market immensely, in the absence of local vendors.
"With the online thing, you can get on there Monday morning, and have it by Wednesday or Thursday. Unless you need to overnight it," Farmer said "Just makes it easy, then you don’t have one vendor that knows everything you’re doing, or trying to accomplish, or if you are cheating."
Hearing the Modified class start up you realize these 6.5’s aren’t your normal everyday lawnmower engine on a tube frame.
"You can get rotating assemblies, they make billet crankshafts, flywheels, rods. You can cut the heads on them. They have different (valve spring) retainers like on a small block Chevrolet." Cody said "Headers, carburetors you can go crazy with. I think $400 bucks you could get into one as far as motor (goes)."
Just like the big car dirt tracks in the River Valley, of Tri-State Speedway and Crawford County Speedway. There are two dirt go kart tracks for local racers to choose from. While Lost Valley has a Box Stock and a Modified class. The track at a non-militarized part of Fort Chaffee runs a strictly Box Stock and is slightly smaller than Lost Valley Raceway.
With everything that is going on in the local motorsports scene, Cody and Melanie Farmer are creating another way for local drivers to race. For them it isn’t about the money, or trophies, but doing something to help the future generations of race car drivers.
Who knows, maybe the girl running the mini-sprint will be the next big thing from Arkansas.