Lightning in a bottle: Thunder Mountain Raceway to host national Lightning Sprint Car race
For 10 years now, the lightning sprint cars have been a fixture at Thunder Mountain Raceway in Olathe.
Although the drivers have enjoyed the local competition, they want to lure in more drivers.
Drivers from across the country will compete in the first Lightning Sprint Nationals on Saturday and Sunday night at the 3/4-mile oval dirt track. Race officials are expecting drivers from California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“There’s not really a national event,” Troy Ullery said. “There are lightning sprint races across the country, but we haven’t seen any kind of national event.
“It’s quite an undertaking. In Colorado, it’s tough to draw out-of-town drivers.”
Practice runs will take place this evening, with heat races at 7 p.m. on Saturday and the main event at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 each night.
The main event is scheduled for 30 laps, with the winner taking home $2,000.
Ullery, 46, brought lightning sprint cars to Thunder Mountain Raceway 10 years ago.
He grew up watching his father race midget sprint cars, but when he moved to Grand Junction from Denver, there wasn’t a lightning or midget sprint car class at the track. He started a lightning sprint car division.
The lightning sprint cars are known for the “wings” on top of the car. They use different engines than the midget sprint cars.
“For me, lightning sprints are an affordable way to go open-wheel racing,” Ullery said. “A lot of them can run on the same tires all year long. The engines are the crotch-rocket (motorcycle) motors. You can buy those on eBay for $800 to $1,500.
“Last year, I blew a motor and bought one for $1,000. They run 90 miles an hour and you don’t have to spend $40,000 to do it. It costs $4,000 and it doesn’t use much fuel.”
Since he started the division, interest in lightning sprint cars has grown.
Ullery has won three track championships, but Grant Garagnon of Olathe won it last year.
Garagnon, 70, started racing lightning sprint cars when he moved to the Western Slope more than five years ago. He’s raced motorcycles, boats, go-karts and modified cars prior to sprint cars.
“I think it’s a genetic disposition,” Garagnon said of his passion for auto racing. “Lightning sprint is a true race car. It is agile and fast. They are fun to drive.”