When it comes to big race events, fans will travel great distances to watch a race.
Whether it is Syracuse, N.Y., in October for Super DIRT Week for the Northeast-style dirt modifieds or Knoxville, Iowa, in August, for the Knoxville Nationals, no distance is too far for the hard-core race fan.
Located 1,276 miles from Selinsgrove lies the prairie town of Belleville, Kansas, population 1,991.
For the past 35 years, midget racing fans from as far away as Australia and New Zealand have come to watch the best midget drivers tackle the 23-degree Belleville High Banks for a chance to write their name in the track's 102-year-old record books.
Part of the lure which draws large numbers of fans to the annual event is the banking of the track, which came about in 1933. The 23 degrees of banking is the same amount of banking in Turns 3 and 4 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The banking helps produce speeds for the midgets of up to 130 miles per hour.
The list of winners of the Belleville Midget Nationals reads like a who's-who of auto racing. Among them are NASCAR champion and 1990 winner Jeff Gordon, the late Stan Fox, Ron 'Sleepy' Trip, Jack Hewitt, Lealand McSpadden, Dave Darland, NASCAR drivers Kasey Kahne and Josh Wise and Indy 500 rookie drier Kyle Larson.
The race started as a challenge race in 1978 and drew a field of 45 drivers.
Former Bloomsburg resident Johnny Heydenreich finished runner-up to Billy Boat in 1995. It was one of his four top-five finishes in the event.
In 2004, just west of the speedway, the Highbanks Hall of Fame, National Midget Auto Racing Museum opened.
The town of Belleville, which is just two square miles, was incorporated on Sept. 25, 1869 and named in honor of founding father A.B. Tutton's wife, Arabelle.
A number of side roads, including the roads around the art deco Republic County Courthouse, are paved with bricks which were laid in the early 1900s.
There are no overhead street lights in town as the traffic lights are located on the street corners. The town speed limit is 20 miles per hour.
It is a very friendly town as folks wave at you as you pass by in your car down Main Street They refer to plastic bags at the food store as 'sacks' and soda is called 'pop.'
It is normal during the Midget Nationals to see four-wheelers travelling back-and-forth to the track with bags of ice and groceries. The town has a Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, Casey's General Store (a food and gas station), a Super 8 and Americas Best Value Inn and Melton Motor Company, Chevrolet dealership.
April Doyle, who manages the local liquor store, is also one of the beer sellers in the grandstand at the track.
The annual North Central Kansas free fair, one of the oldest fairs in the state, is held in conjunction with the Midget Nationals. One of the highlights of the fair is the annual prime rib dinner at the 4-H building just south of the Turn 1 one area of the track on Saturday night. For a $12 advance ticket or $15 at the door, you can enjoy a slice of prime rib, au jus, baked potato, cole slaw, roll, home-made cookie and tea. It is not too often you can enjoy a prime rib dinner before a race. All in all, the prime rib was excellent, but they can use a little advice from an Irishman on how to cook a baked potato!
Some of the other interesting food found at the fair was the deep fried candy bar on a stick, cheesecake dipped in chocolate and Gator Taters which are deep-friend spiral potatoes.
The hot weather in the Central U.S. has taken its toll on the corn crop. What should be fields of lush green corn stalks waving in the prairie wind behind the backstretch and Turns 3 and 4 are brown. The soybean crop has seemed to survive.
History was made last Saturday night when Jerry Coons Jr., of Tuscon, Ariz., became the first driver ever to win the race three times.
He also won the preliminary night 25-lap feature on Friday night and scored the win on Thursday night in the first-ever midget race held on the quarter-mile track on the infield. In all, Coons led 86 of a possible 90 laps in three nights of racing.
The longevity of the Belleville Midget Nationals, which will continue on in 2013, solidifies the legacy that open-wheel racing remains the most popular form of auto racing in the world. Just ask those folks who travel from Australia and New Zealand each year.
n Shawn Wood covers motorsports for The Daily Item. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org