SHERIDAN — He had never been around dirt track car racing before. But a self-described adrenaline junkie, it only took attending four races at Sheridan Speedway in 2015 before Brady Herdt put his savings into buying his own car.
It wasn’t just the thrill of speeding 60 miles an hour around an oval track that made the driver jump into the front seat of a race car. Instead, it was the people off the track.
“Basically, everyone in the racing community is a big family … we all flock together,” Herdt said.
Earlier this month, though, Herdt’s new-found family was in danger of losing its home.
Sheridan Speedway, previously known as Cloud Peak Raceway, shut its gates abruptly on June 4 after legal disputes between the previous manager of the track and the property owners. But when the racing community lost its hometown track, they banded together to once again bring racing back to Sheridan.
The track’s closure came as a surprise to everyone.
Sheridan Speedway reopened in May 2015 after the track had sat vacant for five years. For local drivers and race fans, it was a godsend.
The speedway had enjoyed a healthy number of spectators and racers in its first year and the track had carried that momentum into the 2016 season.
When the announcement came that racing had been suspended, it shocked Ken Harmon. The 15-year veteran racer, among many others in the racing community, attended a meeting on June 4 to discuss the future of the track.
“We didn’t really get an answer (about the track’s future) at the meeting,” Harmon said. “We needed to get the track running again.”
“To lose racing at the Sheridan Speedway, with everything the community had put into it, it would be devastating,” he added.
After an eviction notice was placed on the gate of the speedway on June 10, Harmon posted an announcement on Facebook the next day calling all racers and fans who were interested in reopening the track to attend a meeting on June 12.
They were expecting fewer than 10 people to attend the meeting. Instead, 70 showed up.
At the meeting, they elected officers and formed Sheridan Speedway, doing business as Sheridan Motorsports Association. Local racer Justin Elmer was elected as the new president.
Racing enthusiasts also donated and provided sponsorships to the tune of an estimated $6,500 dollars to pay sanctioning fees and reopen the speedway. Sheridan residents Lorna and Jeff Peleski donated the money for the insurance. Another racing enthusiast Kurt Hjorth donated another $2,000.
“It was amazing the amount of people that showed up…,” Sheridan resident Brian Davidson said. “It was like a family reunion.”
The week following the June 12 meeting has been a whirlwind for those involved with the track. Volunteers have been on the phone with the International Motor Contest Association and racing circuits to try to get sanctioned events back to the track.
Efforts have led to nine scheduled races, and two more tentative races. The group has also started to restore the track, which included a cleanup Thursday evening when several people volunteered their time and equipment to work on needed repairs.
Earlier this week, the association struck a deal with the owners of the track to lease the land for the season — for a whopping $10.
“The owners just wanted to get the track running again, and money had to exchange hands somehow to make the lease legit,” Harmon said.
“Sheridan really loves racing, and we have proven to the community that the association and Sheridan Speedway is here to stay,” the association’s Vice President Earl Baxter said.
Despite the challenges the speedway has endured in the past several weeks, the association members are looking to put the troubled past behind them.
The association is going to honor all previous agreements with racers and sponsors, Harmon said. They are working on collecting memberships from anyone interested in being involved with the speedway.
“We like running the track as an association rather than having one person run it because everyone can have a say in the way we run the track,” Baxter said.
While they have most of their ducks in a row, the first race will make or break the new speedway and the association. Taking place on June 26, the raceway will need support from the community and drivers during the races if they are going to continue racing for the rest of the season, organizers said.
“We are hoping to get the spectators out here. If we can get good support for this big race coming up, it will really, really help us,” Hjorth said.
But the racing community as a whole is confident that the track will continue to operate. After all, they claim, if they can come together to rebuild the track, they can make it succeed.