Kansas City International Raceway sits empty under an exhaust-gray sky on a blustery late-November afternoon. No spectators fill the grandstands. A chain wraps around the entrance gate. Signs on chain-link fences implore fans not to bring glass bottles or alcohol onto the grounds. A stool is overturned in the tiny ticket-taker stand, and an empty ashtray sits on the desk. A few drab buildings — one with a sketchy-looking roof — dot the property, located across the street from a quarry and near the Little Blue River, on a strand of Noland Road near Raytown.
If not for the still newish-looking scoreboard, it would be easy to imagine that the track had been abandoned for more than a week and a half.
The track closed permanently November 27, ending the three-nights-a-week races that had been held at the track from spring through fall. (KCIR hosted a moment of pure Americana in 1974 when 10,000 people witnessed Evel Knievel jump his motorcycle over the cabs of 10 semitrailers.)
On November 21, the 93-acre land parcel that opened in 1967 became the city of Kansas City's newest real-estate acquisition. Next year, the city will begin converting the site into a park.
Six days after the sale, the temperatures hung in the 40s that windy last race day. It was too cold for dragsters to function properly, but more than 200 drivers took their street-legal rides for final passes down the quarter-mile strip.
KCIR manager Todd Bridges, who took his first job at the track in 1980, says the mood among racers was more celebratory than somber.
"There was just a lot of talk about memories and development of friendships and hopes that there will be a [new] track built soon," he says.
The races lasted from noon to around 5 p.m. "It was starting to get dark and cold, and everybody had gotten their runs in and paid their respects," Bridges says.
Racer Kyle Marcum drove his mint-green 1986 Ford Mustang to the starting line, did a burnout and idled down the strip.
"The last pass down the track, I think it was really the epitome of the last four years," Bridges says. "It's the only 47-second pass I'll ever remember. It was respectful and done with a lot of dignity."
With the racers now banished from the track, the only life left on the property are geese meandering in a muddy patch.
The demise of Kansas City's only drag strip can be traced to last January. City officials say attorneys representing Rob Park, a longtime player in the local race scene and former KCIR owner, offered to sell the track to the city for $2.95 million and proposed an agreement that would allow 36 more months of racing.
"We found it to be a little weird," says Ted Anderson, an assistant city attorney who negotiated the deal.
The proposal was odd, given that Park didn't own the track when he made the offer.
In 2008, Park sold the track to real-estate developer John Uhlmann for an undisclosed price. Park went on to work as a consultant to Uhlmann until the developer's death in August 2009. The track fell into foreclosure in 2010 while it was stuck in probate court, and a bank took possession.
In March 2011, Park swooped in and bought the track from the bank's holding company for $950,000 with the help of fewer than a half-dozen investors in a company called NP3 Racing LLC. (Park declined to name his investors or the exact number of stakeholders, or how much he has in NP3.)
Kansas City began negotiating with Park and agreed on November 21 to buy the track for $1.55 million. The city has already begun drawing up plans to convert what it disparagingly referred to as a "sea of asphalt" into a park, with ballfields and picnic shelters in place of the strip and grandstand.