Montezuma County's speedway is more than just a racetrack. It's also a resource for the community's kids
In Montezuma County, the Fairgrounds Speedway has become an establishment that’s beloved by the community as it provides opportunities for kids to learn skills. And according to many community members, the speedway’s promoter Gene Williams and his wife Sissy were a big part of creating those opportunities.
It’s a Saturday night in Cortez, CO. Cars are speeding around the Montezuma County Fairgrounds Speedway, with drivers of all ages behind their wheels. Some of them are kids as young as ten years old.
Sienna Small is in 5th grade. She just started racing this summer season:
“You gotta keep your focus,” says Sienna. “And if there’s a crash, try to avoid it.”
For the Small family, racing is a family event. Many generations come together at the speedway to watch who can build the fastest car and drive it to victory. For Sienna, the family racing tradition is obvious, all the way down to the race-car’s sponsors, which are her grandparents.
Gene Williams has been the speedway’s promoter for the past few seasons and spectators say Gene and his wife, Sissy, really focus on getting kids involved. For example, they started the Kid’s Shack at the speedway. The Kid’s Shack is just a little kiosk that sells everything from snow cones to glow in the dark bracelets to soda… you name it/and more. But most importantly, no kid walks away from the shack empty handed, even if they don’t have enough money.
Rusty Bryan is one of the speedway’s staff members who helps out at the kids shack. He says helping the kids is what the racetrack is all about:
“There's a lot of bad things that happen in Cortez, and a lot of kids come out here from zero to 25,” says Bryan. “They all come out to have a good time.”
Many parents say the speedway isn’t just a fun event, it’s an event that teaches structure for their kids.
“They have to work on their car to get it ready the whole entire year, you know,” says Bundy. “They have to earn money and work towards building it and learn how to put the motors together, ordered tires, you know. It's a whole year's process to run for four or five months.”
That’s Andy Bundy. She’s been on the racetrack since she was five years old -- thanks to her dad showing her the track here in Montezuma County. And now, Bundy has a kid of her own that loves going to the racetrack. And she also knows how important it is to have hobbies in rural areas.
“Drugs is a huge thing here in Cortez,” says Bundy.
And at the speedway, drugs and even alcohol are strictly prohibited.
Melanie Begay works with Communities That Care, which is a part of the Montezuma County Public Health Department. Communities That Care, is an evidence based prevention model that promotes healthy youth development, improves youth outcomes and increases positive youth behaviors in Montezuma County with the goal of preventing substance abuse.
“It's important for all youth living in rural or urban areas to have safe community spaces, because when they have an area for youth to go it's also associated with lower risk of substance use,” says Begay.
Begay says Communities that Care did an assessment with residents and found that there are a lot of unknown activities outside of school for kids, so they developed a youth activity calendar to help promote prosocial involvement. Prosocial involvement is when youth can participate with others and make connections with them -- something that Sienna, the new 10 year old race car driver, enjoys doing at the race track:
“You get to make lots new friends,” says Sienna.
As for when exactly the fairground’s next season will be, that’s unknown. In the meantime, the county says it is looking for a new promoter while still remaining open to negotiations with Gene Williams.