American Royal BBQ moving to Kansas Speedway

Posted at 11:57 AM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2018-12-12 14:08:37-05

In yet another sign of the changing dynamics of Kansas City, the American Royal is moving its World Series of Barbecue to the Kansas Speedway.

WATCH: Hear from organizers and learn more in the video player above.

For the second time in two years, the American Royal's biggest fundraiser is moving.

“Arrowhead, from Mark Donovan all the way down, has just been amazing," said American Royal chair-elect Charlie Tetrick. "But it’s a scheduling conflict for this fall, so we had to look for a new home for this year and are really grateful the Speedway stepped up. We think the infield is going to be a majestic place to have it."

The 2016 event, which draws hundreds of barbecue competitors from around the country, will take place October 26-30.

This is a huge development in the ongoing tug-of-war between Kansas City’s historic past and its dynamic future.

The American Royal’s history in Missouri

The American Royal has been a Kansas City, Missouri tradition since 1899. Its home has been the West Bottoms, Hale Arena and Kemper for years.

As Kansas City’s government debated whether or not to put money into that area — a debate that continues to this day — the American Royal found a new venue last year for its ever-growing and hugely popular barbecue competition. 

The organization partnered with the Kansas City Chiefs and moved the competition to Arrowhead Stadium.

Both the American Royal and Arrowhead were excited about the change. The event was held in October 2015, and there was more room for the 618 teams who would eventually participate.  

The location change came with a “but.”

For the second year in a row, the Royals were playing at Kaufman Stadium well into October. There were record crowds for Royals games as the team approached its postseason with an undeniable hunger for a World Series title.

The fact the World Series of Barbecue would happen at the same complex as the Royals’ World Series run seemed poetically appropriate.

Moving forward, though, holding the world’s largest barbecue competition at the same time as October baseball and during football season presented huge logistical challenges. 

The reason for Thursday’s announcement: scheduling conflicts.

According to the American Royal Organization:  

“A move to the Speedway location was necessitated due to the American Royal’s fall dates and scheduling conflicts at the Truman Sports Complex.”

Everyone involved knows this is big.

"This is huge for the American Royal. The World Series of Barbecue is our largest fundraiser," said Lynn Parman, President and CEO of the American Royal. "This venue and the partnership we have with the speedway will allow us to fuel our mission and to reach more kids."


Reactions to the move

Dave Eckert has been attending the American Royal for the past 27 years. 

He says the parking lot of Kemper Arena will always hold a special spot in his heart. It was the first venue for the American Royal Competition. 

"What worked and what would continue to work is the history, the connection with the history of Kansas City barbecue,” said Eckert. 

Last year the event was switched to Arrowhead to give competitors more space, but traffic proved to be an issue. 

"We tried to get back there before 7 p.m. and we left Smithville here about 6:30 p.m. and we didn't make it to our spot till 9 p.m. that night,” said competitor Greg Vincent. 

Competitors also dealt with electrical outages. 

"We were at the end if the circuit last year, so we blew the electricity a few times on Friday night,” said Vincent.

Now Vincent and the “Gonna Get Messy” team is all about preparing for the end of October. Last year competitors had over a year of preparation. Now, they have less than six months. 

"Here we are in May and we are just finding out the dates when it's going to be the day, puts us a little bit behind the eight ball,” said Vincent.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James told 41 Action News on Thursday he understands why the American Royal is moving its biggest fundraiser to Kansas.

"The speedway is accessible, I wish them luck and success in what they are doing,” James said. “We talk about being regional. They're not going to Texas. So they are in the region, and as long as they're in the region, I think everything is cool."

The future of the American Royal barbecue competition

While there are no doubt mixed emotions about the changing dynamics of the city, the American Royal and the future of both, there are also people getting excited about it.

"The speedway is 16 years old. A lot of people think of us as still being new – which we are, relatively speaking. But being able to partner with something that's such a rich Kansas City tradition is something that's neat for us," said Pat Warren, Kansas Speedway President. 

Todd Johns, Pitmaster for one of the long-time competitors, Plowboys, says the competition is a reunion for many other participants, they have their neighbors in the competition and they don't want it to feel too big. Organizers say they will work hard to keep the feel the same.

Johns says the date change actually works really well for competitors because there are other events around the country in which many of them compete, and the new date makes Kansas City the finale.

"They get to finish it all right here in Kansas City at the American Royal, so this is the unofficial end of the season,” he said. "I think it’s positioned perfectly with the calendar."

So, is this a sign of the future of the American Royal?


“We want to find a home for the American Royal that allows us to expand and grow and support our mission. And where that is, we’re not sure,” said Chairman of the board Angie Stanland.

“Right now we’re exploring all options and we will do what’s best for the American Royal,” she added.

The Kansas Speedway folks are excited.

“Every year, people from around the city and around the country circle this event on their calendar. We’re looking forward to showing all the contestants and fans a great time at our unique venue,” said Pat Warren, Kansas Speedway President.

The Chiefs understand the move but hope to get the event back.

“The 2015 World Series of BBQ was an incredible partnership with Arrowhead and the American Royal. We will continue to partner and support the event with the hope of bringing it back to Arrowhead in the near future,” said Chiefs President Mark Donovan.

The World Series of Barbecue is just one of many events and activities put on by the American Royal each year. This move won’t be the last change as the organization tries to determine how to remain relevant and grow in a city they feel very much is their home, even if they aren’t sure exactly where their home will eventually be.