Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Prairie Dirt Review, The COVID Years


Like many, the past 2 years have been a struggle due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The above photo serves as a reminder of what life has been like in Manitoba during this period of time.  

It's been quite a while since I've written anything and I felt it was time to get back to it.  If I miss my marks, I apologize in advance, but I'll try not to cause a yellow

This edition of Dirt from the Stands will feature general observations from both 2020 and 2021.  Let's begin...

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

Most North American dirt tracks had the difficult decision of either shutting down for the year or attempting to work within government regulations to try to run some kind of adjusted program in 2020.

While some US tracks were opening for business and running weekly programs with limited attendance, most Canadian tracks were not able to open as quickly.

Those who did eventually open for business decided that if the fans were unable to come to their venue, they would bring racing to the fans via online streaming services. Dirt tracks were able to bring their all-Canadian racing programs to fans basically at the cost of a single admission.

With the gradual relaxing of some restrictions, 2021 was a much better year for most. Fans were once again able to attend live racing at their favourite venues. 

BORDER CLOSURE SLAMS DOOR ON DAKOTA MOD TOUR

The most disappointing racing news to come out of Saskatchewan was the loss of the much-heralded Dakota Classic Mod Tour dates at Estevan Motor Speedway. This was not just a speedway loss, but a community and revenue loss for the city of Estevan. The city was prepared to add community events to make their visitors feel welcomed. The Mod Tour draws big numbers of competitors and big names. The prolonged closure of the US-Canadian border resulted in the Tour reworking their schedule to remain south of the border.  Hopefully 2022 will see the Mod Tour return to Estevan.

TYLER FEDYK MEMORIAL - THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Due to the border closure, the Fedyk family of Estevan was unable to be in Minot, North Dakota for the running of the annual Tyler Fedyk Memorial sprint car race for the second consecutive year. They were, however, able to watch the races at Nodak Speedway courtesy of DARN TV. I’m sure they were appreciative to be able to watch this way but to not be there must be difficult for them. Kudos to Nodak Speedway and to the sprint car teams who chose to support this racing event and carry on the tradition in Tyler’s memory. 

The 2020 and 2021 Tyler Fedyk Memorials were won by Minot, North Dakota's Greg Nikitenko.

REDHEAD RACING

Shoutout to Criss Jeffries of Redhead Racing. In September she captured a checkered flag at the IMCA Super Nationals at Hythe Motor Speedway, AB. The Street Stock Border Battle series event trophy dash was her first win on an asphalt oval track. 

The Saskatchewan racer is no stranger to travel as she is a regular competitor at Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon and runs at King Park Speedway in Regina. Prior to this season, Jeffries could be found at Saskatchewan community dirt tracks such as Outlook. Going forward, Criss will be concentrating on her paved oval racing. 

THANKSGIVING IN OUTLOOK

When a race track ties in with events in the community good things happen.  Such was the case in Outlook, Saskatchewan as the town celebrated Thanksgiving weekend with a series of events including an outdoor trade show, a harvest street dance complete with live entertainment, food trucks and a shuttle service between the Outlook Stock Car Track and the town's Heritage Museum. Combine that with the traditional Fall Classic featuring 2 days of dirt track racing and you have yourself a party in the heart of the Canadian prairies. 

V IS FOR VICTORY 

What’s old is new again. For those old enough to remember, before the corporate sponsorship of Red River Co-op, the dirt track South of Winnipeg was called Victory Lane Speedway

Victory Lane has returned under new ownership. Their online presence, especially through social media, has been energetic and exciting. They are taking a very proactive approach to engage with racing fans and I for one LOVE IT. 

One great promotion from this season was the Pick-A-Race/Pick-A-Class concept.  For $40.00, you received a free admission into the speedway, plus your entire contribution goes toward the purse of your car class of choice. What a deal!

As well, prize giveaways and candy toss for the kids are always fan favourites.

Building on what was established this season, the 2022 dirt track racing season in Manitoba can’t come fast enough. 

PAT MOONEY

Pat Mooney recently retired from his announcing duties at Victory Lane Speedway. He and partner Darren Pallen were always a joy to listen to on race nights. I also recall Pat’s days on the microphone at River Cities Speedway. 

Pat and Darren also recorded the Prairie Dirt Digest podcast a number of years ago. In 2009, I was interviewed by Darren Pallen about the upcoming Alberta 360 Sprint Car Tour at (then) Red River Co-op Speedway. At the end of my segment, Pat gave a very positive endorsement of that race. I never really told anyone before, but Pat’s words lifted a weight off of my shoulders that day. I valued his opinion and his kind words meant the world to me in that moment. 

Thank you, Pat! 

ALL IN THE FAMILY

St Adolphe, Manitoba's Audette Racing caught my eye this year. This racing family competed regularly at Victory Lane Speedway and Lake of the Woods Speedway this season. They field 4 cars on race nights, WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds (Nick), 4-Cylinders (Mercedes and Taylor) and Super Trucks (Chris). 

Audette Racing also has a fun and interesting YouTube account, Canadian Dirt. Definitely worth a follow.

PLAYING FAVOURITES 

If you were to ask me who my all-time favourite sprint car driver was I would tell you Gary Wright of Hooks, Texas.  

If you were to ask me who my favourite local driver was, you might be surprised to hear me include Richard Rogers in that conversation. On a shoestring budget, Richie was no stranger to traveling outside the territory. This included running from Winnipeg to Edmonton, Alberta to be part of Castrol Raceway’s Gold Cup 360 sprint car event. 

Richard Rogers was also a big supporter during my time with open wheel racing. This is something I was always grateful for and will always remember.

Having said that, I am very thankful for all of the drivers and their teams who chose to be a part of the race nights I was involved with. They all mean a lot to me. 

Winnipeg used to boast about a half dozen sprint car teams. To the best of my knowledge, Thomas Kennedy is the lone representative now. 

TOO CLOSE TO HOME

Two racing incidents occurred in July of 2020 that reminded me of just how unpredictable and unforgiving racing can be at times. They also showed me, once again, how the racing community comes together when bad things happen. The first was a bad crash involving Grand Forks ND sprint car driver Mark Dobmeier during a World of Outlaws event on July 3rd. The other was Winnipeg's own Amber Balcaen who was injured when her car flipped violently during a POWRi midget race on July 11th. Thankfully, they survived their ordeals. Both were hospitalized until they were able to return home to rest and recover from their injuries. 

Mark has since returned to sprint car racing.  Amber has returned as a full time driver for Bill McAnally racing in the ARCA Menards Series West in 2021.

HUSET'S SPEEDWAY

Finally, the long wait is over. Brandon, South Dakota's Huset's Speedway resumed operations under new ownership in 2020. Since it’s grand reopening, the legendary sprint car dirt track has hosted a variety of open wheel groups, including NOSA from Grand Forks, the World of Outlaws and the USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets.

KNOXVILLE NATIONALS 2021

I decided to purchase the full Knoxville Nationals Pay-Per-View this year and I'm glad I did.  The quality of the broadcast was excellent and the racing took on it's own unique identity each night.  The eventual winner was Kyle Larson, followed by Fargo, North Dakota's, Donny Schatz who is always a threat to win.  

Kyle Larson’s growing list of accomplishments in such a short period of time will never be matched in my lifetime. Appreciate what he is doing in racing right now. 

One favourite Nationals moment that struck a chord with me was video footage of Danny Lasoski's comments to interviewer Wade Aunger. When asked how much Danny missed being in the seat of a sprint car, he expressed that there was no word to describe how much he missed it.  Lasoski went on to detail how he was staying involved with the sport of sprint car racing and loving what he was doing working together with Brian Brown.

TRADITIONAL SPRINT CARS

In my final writing of 2019, I had expressed excitement about the coming of the Western Renegade Non-Wing Sprint Car Series starting up in 2020.  They have not disappointed.  With North Dakota's Devil's Lake Speedway as their home track, the Renegade brand of sprint car racing has quickly grown in popularity. The affordable open wheel car class has a great presence on social media, and is not only growing it's number of racers, but also it's fanbase the right way.

Congratulations and best wishes to Myles Tomlinson and everyone involved with promoting traditional sprint cars in our region. The future looks bright from here. 

AMANDA JO ENRIGHT

In 2019, I praised then second-year regional motorsports blogger Amanda Jo Enright for her excellent write ups about the Grand Forks racing scene.  Since then Amanda has expanded her hands-on involvement with the open wheel racing community by working together with the Northern Outlaw Sprint Association and the Minn-Kota Lightning Sprints. Her journey is reminiscent of 2009 for yours truly and I could not be more proud of her energy and commitment to the racing community.  "Living the Dirt Life with Amanda" is available on Facebook.

LAPS4MD

Once again, I was very pleased to support Muscular Dystrophy Canada through LAPS4MD this year. For as much as 2020 and 2021 were a struggle for many people, myself included, I felt it was important to continue to support this worthwhile cause. It takes teamwork to make the dream work.

50 YEARS OF RACERS FOR CHRIST

Racers For Christ celebrated it’s 50th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, the non-denominational motorsports ministry published a book containing a variety of well-written stories, devotionals and prayers. 

FAITH AND RACING

Overall the motorsports community is a faith-based community. The presence of a chaplain at the speedway is as important as any other aspect of the racing experience. From prayer at the driver's meeting, to invocation, to comforting those in times of trouble, this service to the racing community is needed and welcomed.

In my own private and dirt track racing life, I have been witness to the power of prayer and the good that it does.  

If you’re in search of some uplifting words, I recommend following Tim Pippus. Tim is a minister at the Estevan Church of Christ and volunteers at Estevan Motor Speedway during the racing season. His YouTube account and blog, Consider This, presents a positive message and leaves you with something to think about. 

MUSINGS

Although my involvement in racing was mostly to do with open wheel, I enjoy watching all of the car classes. Good racing is good racing. 

2022 will mark Lake of the Woods Speedway’s 5th year of racing. Anthony Leek has got a good thing going on in Kenora, Ontario and it keeps getting better. Racing teams love travelling out and competing at the 3/8 mile dirt track plus the feedback is consistently positive. If you haven’t been to this speedway, you’re missing out. 

I enjoy following the POWRi Minn-Kota Lightning Sprints these days.  From all accounts, the car class appears to be doing well just south of the border.  I still have fond memories of the Northern Lightning Sprint Association which after a 5 year run, sadly disappeared from the Manitoba dirt track racing scene.

Austin Pierce was the man to beat at River Cities Speedway this season. Pierce was dominant at the Grand Forks, North Dakota bullring with an impressive 9 Northern Outlaw Sprint Association victories.

Rod Pedersen has been promoting the racing in Saskatchewan with appearances at Kings Park Speedway, Estevan Motor Speedway and the drag strip at SIR. The host of The Rod Pedersen Show is best known for his involvement with hockey and football. It’s great to see him giving love to the racing community too. 

Rod Pedersen is also a Certified Recovery Coach and hosts The Recovery Hour show on Facebook.  

At the age of 65, Sammy Swindell racing a sprint car is great to see. I wish for that same fire when I get to that age.

From local tracks to touring groups, there appears to be a greater presence of women in racing these days and it's great to see.  If a person has the desire to race or get involved in another capacity, and he or she is willing to put in the time and effort, then they should equally have the opportunity to get involved with the sport.  

2022 will mark my 20th year as an International member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum.  Words cannot express my gratitude for the support and encouragement I have received, especially during my sprint car years. The most simple way I could say thanks is by continuing my annual membership. 

My intentions of cutting back from blogging and using Twitter more worked out reasonably well the past 2 years. It’s not the same as writing but it will do at the moment. 

Truthfully, I miss being at the track and visiting with my racing family, where we would exchange cheerful greetings, share stories and enjoy a night of racing. In my reporting days, I immersed myself in the sights, sounds and smells of the speedway. I would find my favourite vantage point to watch a story that I was about to write unfold before my very eyes.  These moments are only memories now, yet I'm happily finding other ways to stay connected with racing and the racing community. 

My bucket list has changed in some ways since COVID.  I made a promise to myself that I wanted to visit/revisit the race tracks that I have covered in Dirt from the Stands and that has now become the focus of my priorities.  God-willing I would like to get started next season.

 If you haven't found me on Twitter yet, please follow @SaskDirtRacing .

As we conclude 2021 and look forward to the coming year, let us take time to relax, reflect and pray for a better 2022. Enjoy the upcoming holiday season with family and friends where possible and cherish every moment with each other. 

Until next time, race fans… Take care and God Bless.