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WARRENSBURG- Owners Earl and Susan Walls are set to begin their 30th year of owning and operating the Central Missouri Speedway with their first races beginning on April 20.

Earl, 87, and Susan, 82, first took over CMS in 1994 after both being in different lines of work. Earl started Aspen Paper Products, a manufacturer of disposable paper plates, cups, bowls and lunch bags, in 1977 in Lenexa, Kansas that has since boomed to owning plants in Kansas City, Georgia and Virginia. Susan, meanwhile, worked in sales at the United Rotary Brush for 17 years.

Through his time in business, Earl was still a racer at heart. He raced quarter midget cars and loved the atmosphere created at a race track. So, he and Susan bought CMS once its previous owners put it up for bid, although it was in rough shape both physically and culturally.

“The only thing I knew about race tracks was I didn't like the way most of them operate,” Earl said. “And so we do a lot of things differently.”

“When we bought the track, there was dirt underneath the wood bleachers,” Susan said.

Upon buying the track, the Walls needed to upgrade it by keeping up with the latest technology. Their solution, produce one major project every year and give fans something to look forward to.

“We did lighting one year. Another year we put the jumbotron in,” Susan said. “It looks a lot different than before.”

Going away from the status quo of dirt race tracks found across the country, CMS disciplines its drivers with its negative points system. Fights, infractions on track, and verbal abuse towards officials all get penalized based on the severity of the action. There are several reasons for this, mainly maintaining some of the track and its owner’s dignity, but also showing its dedication to a quality product for its fans.

“I personally don't agree with foul language around women and kids,” Earl said. “When we bought it, it was known as a fighting track. Drugs, alcohol, the worst of the worst.”

For the Walls, the word favorite does not apply to the teams, drivers, or even their staff. Respect is not only expected, but earned at the speedway. Earl made sure of that in the early stages of operation, as he had enough of the fisticuffs, having to be the impasse that broke them up, and the endless sores he found when he woke up the next morning.

“I've tried to treat drivers the way I like to be treated,” Earl said. “Into the second or third year, I decided that I’d had enough fighting. The (next) drivers meeting I told anybody that wanted to fight (should) line up and we can get it over with. And that was actually the end of the problem.”

The treatment worked for the speedway, forcing everyone to stay on their toes and giving the action on track more consistent and competitive action. Word spread of the track’s policies, and drew in more teams, drivers, and crowds. As of today, 14 states have been represented, along with drivers from Canada, equalling close to 300 annual drivers. The decorum at the track has also helped bring in new machinery with as many as 14 different classes of racecraft taking the track in 2014.

Coming from a business background, Earl knows how to lean into his customers’ interests. Whether they are young or old, poor or rich, it didn’t matter to Earl because CMS was there to entertain.

“I figured out that it didn't have to run (like) a racetrack, it had to be run (like) a business and that I knew how to do,” Earl said. “Contrary to the way that most tracks are run, we run it mostly for the older people. Anybody who's 70 or older gets in free. Anybody that is handicapped in any way gets in free.”

“I think it's important for your crowd to know that they can be entertained for a couple of hours and not cost a small fortune,” Earl said.

While Earl has proven to be the figurehead of racing and business at CMS, Susan has been the person who has provided him and the track a steady foundation. According to an article written in 2015, “(Susan) instills great pride in those around her and is easily approachable in a business sense. (She) possesses both a down-to-earth, yet whimsical and charming personality.”

Along the way, the Walls have been supported by employees and family through the thick and thin. With many having former military and trackside experience, CMS has remained steady-handed behind people like chief scorer Karen Darling, who has been in racing for four decades, staging official Walt Farwell and his 10 plus years, and plenty of other familiar faces.

Their public relations manager Sam Stoecklin has been at the track for 20 years, previously serving as its announcer and now as its race official.

“I started out as a fan in the stands basically, me and a couple buddies,” Stoecklin said. “And here I am, now 56 years old. I really liked the racing there. It was always close, fun, fast and they didn't mess around. When that program starts, we keep it moving and keep the fans entertained.”

Twenty two years in the military didn’t take away Stoecklin’s love for racing as he said, “that was in my blood.” So, when he was stationed in the Warrensburg area, he found the CMS to his liking. He officially joined the team in 2003, where he found a new family that loves every person the same.

“They're like another set of parents to me,” Stoecklin said. “They've treated me like a king and not just me. They treat everyone like you would want to be treated. That's almost unheard of across the entire United States in racing.”

During his 20 years at the track, Stoecklin has tried his all to bring in business. Writing articles like the Walls’ 20th anniversary of ownership in Dirt-Modified Magazine in 2015, updating the speedway’s social media and website, and taking interviews for local news outlets, Stoecklin still finds himself befuddled when he hears someone hasn’t heard of the speedway.

“When I hear people say (that), I feel like a failure as a PR guy,” Stoecklin said.

That’s not to say they are bringing in a small crowd, however. Packing in 2 to 3,000 people a night, the track remains a constant presence in the community, even if some haven’t heard of its whereabouts.

When asked what the future holds for the track, the Walls said they hope to keep it in the family and continue spreading the racing atmosphere in Warrensburg.

For the moment, however, they are more concerned about a smooth 30th year of operation, reopening the track side restaurant that closed after a kitchen fire, and 22 races filled with fun, family and friends in 2024.

Central Missouri Speedway kicks off its 2024 campaign with a car show and a testing and tuning session on Saturday, April 13. For the full schedule of events and other information, visit the speedway’s website https://centralmissourispeedway.com/.

Zach Bott can be reached at 660-747-8123.

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