Small neighborhood park turned into area’s newest raceway with bit of childhood imagination

Oliver and Hazel Whitman at their creation in Empire Estates Park.
Oliver and Hazel Whitman at their creation in Empire Estates Park.

One family has turned a small neighborhood park with a limited offerings into a new attraction for children with a bit of imagination and love of racing.

Oliver Whitman, with paintbrush in hand, had the idea to create the racetrack.
Oliver Whitman, with paintbrush in hand, had the idea to create the racetrack.

Just two blocks south of Prairie Village, the Empire Estates Park at Roe and 97th Street has some playground equipment and an odd circular sidewalk that may have at one time surrounded some play equipment. That sidewalk has been transformed into a racetrack, which was the idea of Oliver Whitman, age 6. With the assistance of sister Hazel, 5, and some parental guidance, Oliver turned his vision into a reality by painting a raceway complete with a checkered finish line.

Oliver and Hazel are students at Trailwood Elementary. The Whitman family, which has been doing annual brush clearing projects at the park, got permission from the parks director in Overland Park for the paint job and Oliver and Hazel painted all of the stripes and checkers. They live about two blocks away from the park and their parents report that more neighborhood kids began using the track as soon as it was finished: “Kids know what to do as soon as they see it.”

Bikes, tricycles, remote control cars and foot races now are used on the circle. As evidence, Monday afternoon a youngster with a bag of toy cars in tow was racing them around the track with full sound effects.