Driver Richard Stewart’s car leaves a rooster tail of mud and smoke during the New Year’s Eve Enduro race.

A smaller than usual crowd had exclusive seating last Tuesday afternoon for a few hours of muddy motor mayhem at the New Year’s Eve Enduro race at Mountain Valley Raceway in Hayfork. Fans were certain to have noticed a lack of sporty, numbered hot rod race cars on the track. What they saw instead were family sedans, wagons, SUVs and, yes, even a minivan lining up on the track.

Another noticeable difference was the “totem pole,” a tall, sturdy obstacle constructed of a log and giant truck tires, positioned directly in front of the grandstands. More such tires were left around the oval track at various locations, making somewhat of an obstacle course.

Rather than simply go fast and turn left, drivers had to avoid the tires on the track and then circle the totem pole on every lap.

Some vehicles were recycled for the Enduro, as they had been used before in demolition derbies or enduro races. Some were already so damaged it would have been tough to guess the year make and model prior to the race.

Unlike typical race cars, these had been MacGyvered back to life with I-beams, metal tubing and probably sledgehammers. Others were adorned with bare Christmas trees and stuffed animals that would soon be decorated in mud.

At a pit meeting before the race, Donny Case, president of the raceway board, told drivers he didn’t want to see the race immediately become a demolition derby.

“It’s an enduro race,” he told them, “I’d like to see it last more than 15 minutes.” Drivers agreed to focus on speed over aggressive driving, at least for the first half.

Before the Enduro, a beauty contest gave audience members a chance to vote by applause for the prettiest car. A modest $50 prize went to William Young and his slightly-used Dodge Caravan.

Four drivers drew numbers to race in a three-lap “dash for cash.” JD Hudman, Jeff Drake, Carl Roberts and Jason Gross softened the track up for the rest of the drivers, but Gross took home the cash.

All 15 cars took to the track for 20 loud laps of muddy mayhem, fender fights and car chaos. While the whole track came alive with cars, many fans kept their gaze on the pole, because that’s where the action was happening.

After the first 20 laps, cars limped and steamed their way into the pits for repairs. Announcers conducted a toy giveaway to pass the time.

As expected, the gloves came off when the cars came back out for the second half. Drivers pushed, shoved and bumped each other off the track as they jockeyed for position.

Officials even had to stop the race a few times to get large parts like bumpers and axles off the track before turning drivers loose again. One by one, steaming, smoking cars crawled, spun and chugged to a stop, leaving only one still circling the track.

Upon realizing his was the last running vehicle, winning driver Donny Case made a show of sliding around in the mud and slamming into a retaining tire wall before exiting the car to a cheering crowd. Top prize for the Enduro was $200.

Raceway board secretary Wendy Smith said the track will be closed for a while, but estimated races would resume in spring, possibly as soon as April.

Dirt track racing has been around for almost a century and some would argue it’s the most fun type of stock car racing to watch, as cars drift, slide and spin around the track, resulting in more near misses and contact between vehicles.

Check out Mountain Valley Raceway’s Facebook page for more photos and some video from the Dec. 31 Enduro.

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