Racing wasn’t really a sport Connie Griffith grew up with. Her son-in-law and grandsons all raced, and she enjoyed watching them, but when her daughter bought Humboldt Speedway in 1990, Griffith was still a bit of an outsider.
And then she started helping out during races, working various odd race-day jobs, and she quickly fell in love with the Kansas speedway and the sport of racing.
That love has kept her coming back, week after week, for nearly 30 years.
Griffith, from Chanute, Kansas, hasn’t missed a race at Humboldt in almost three decades. She’s only ever been late once, and that was only for about half an hour. She’s held several different jobs at the track, from the beer stand, concession stand, ticket and pit gates. She finally settled on the souvenir stand, where she posts up every weekend throughout the summer, finishing the night by helping her daughter pay the drivers.
"I first started helping out just to help them and then I found out how much fun it was and I stayed with it," Griffith said. "I’m just content with any job, but I love meeting the people. We’ve got some really, really nice race fans, and I love to speak with them."
It didn’t take long for Griffith to become a full-fledged racing fan herself.
"I don’t know, there’s just something about hearing the cars start up and everything," she said. "It just makes your heart beat faster. It’s something that really grows on you."
Humboldt Speedway was purchased in 1990 by Ron Whitworth, and his wife, Rhenda, who is Griffith’s daughter. After Ron passed away in 2012, his son, Ryan, Griffith’s grandson, took over duties as general manager of the 0.375-mile clay track. The track races modifieds as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
"It’s been a staple in our family," Ryan Whitworth said of Humboldt. "It’s one of the few racetracks that can say they’ve had the same management over 30 years, for sure."
Griffith has watched Humboldt grow throughout her years of helping her daughter and grandson. When the family first took over, Griffith said they had one "little, bitty" building that housed concessions and souvenirs.
"The floor slanted so bad it was hard to walk in there," she said. "And the track has just bloomed so much and now I have my own souvenir stand, they have a beer stand, and their concession stand is just like the bigger tracks. They just make improvements every year."
Whitworth said he’s only missed one race since his family took over, and that was because he had his own race somewhere else. He now has a 5-year-old son who is also growing up at the speedway.
Working at Humboldt has never felt like a job to Griffith. She’s never had a weekend when she said she didn’t feel like going, or wasn’t excited to see that night’s races.
Part of what makes Humboldt special to Griffith and Whitworth is the family atmosphere. Not only are they able to work alongside their only family during races, but with so many drivers who have been coming there for several decades, and other workers and fans who have been there even longer, everyone at the track feels like an extension of the Whitworth crew.
"I can’t even describe it. It’s so nice," Griffith said. "I’ve watched kids grow up down there. They started out as little ones and now they’re grown and have kids of their own and it’s just fun to watch everybody. It’s such a close-knit family."
"Ninety percent of them are not family, but they’ve been with us long enough that they might as well be family," Whitworth said. "So we just try to take care of them and do everything we can for them. A lot of them are there just to see each other each week. Just to socialize with everybody."
Weather forced Humboldt to push back its originally scheduled opening weekend to March 21-23. Opening night will combine the track’s two biggest modifieds races, The Battle at the Bullring and Kings of the Ring events, into one weekend.
Griffith and Whitworth will have to wait a little bit longer to see their racing family, but they’re more than ready for the new season to roll around again.
"I miss them through the winter," Griffith said. "I just really look forward to seeing everybody."
"Just being able to see all of our drivers again, that’s the biggest deal," Whitworth said. "A lot of our drivers have also been coming for 15 or 20 years. We’ve seen an influx of new drivers here in the past few years, and some of the guys are going away, so every moment you get to spend with those guys you’ve spent every Friday night with the past 15 or 20 years, you just take it all in."