For nearly 20 years, Waine Eklund worked tirelessly on his son Kevin Eklund's cars.
The elder Eklund lost his battle with cancer at the age of 65 in September.
In the following months, Kevin Eklund, 35, wasn't sure if he'd have his hobby stock car ready for this season at the Nodak Speedway.
Kevin Eklund leads a pack of drivers during the first heat of Sunday’s IMCA Hobby Stock division at Nodak Speedway. Eklund won the feature race and honored his late father, Waine Eklund, with a photo on the back of his car.
The Sawyer native's car was more than ready for Sunday's season opener in front of about 750 fans. Eklund won the IMCA Hobby Stock feature race with a new decal on his No. 63 car - a photograph of him and his father in victory lane last season.
"He was there ... Every minute I was working on my car, he was right with me, and that's tough to lose someone like that," Eklund said. "Anything and everything, I mean, he was right there, it didn't matter what we were working on."
Eklund was second after the first of 15 laps, but blew his right rear tire on the next lap. A caution with eight laps remaining allowed Eklund to creep back toward the front and he took the lead from Minot's Brandon Beeter two laps later.
IMCA Hobby Stocks
Heat 1: 1. Brandon Beeter, Minot; 2. Dana Brandt, Minot; 3. Michael Vennes, Minot.
Heat 2: 1. Kevin Eklund, Sawyer; 2. Eric Sinness, Williston; 3. Brad King.
Feature: 1. Eklund; 2. Beeter; 3. Sinness; 4. Vennes; 5. King.
IMCA Sport Modifieds
Heat 1: 1. Justin Medler, Minot; 2. Jordan Huettl, Minot; 3. Robbie Conway, Minot.
Heat 2: 1. Rusty Kollman, Carrington; 2. Scott Bintz, Jamestown; 3. Chad Hassan, Minot.
Feature: 1. Huettl; 2. Bintz; 3. Kollman; 4. Medler; 5. Jimmy Ness, Minot.
Heat 1: 1. Donavin Wiest, Wishek; 2. Steve Pankowski, Minot; 3. Shane Williams.
Heat 2: 1. Andrew Sommerfield, Bismarck; 2. Paul Morman, Wishek; 3. John Huettl, Minot.
Feature: 1. Wiest; 2. Pankowski; 3. Huettl; 4. John Sommerfield, Bismarck; 5. Andrew Sommerfield.
Heat 1: 1. Nathan Burke, Minot; 2. Wyatt Olson, Minot; 3. Gregory Gutt.
Heat 2: 1. Justin Striefel, Burlington; 2. Shawn Kuhnhenn, Minot; 3. Matt Lang, Turtle Lake
Heat 3: 1. Kelly Henderson, Minot; 2. William Matejovic, Minot; 3. Randy Fyllesvold, Plaza.
Feature: 1. Burke; 2. Brett Woznicki, Burlington; 3. Joe Flory, Williston; 4. Olson; 5. Henderson.
Heat 1: 1. Allen Kent, Minot; 2. Tyler Wagner, Bienfait, Saskatchewan; 3. Marlyn Seidler, Underwood.
Heat 2: 1. Drew Christianson, Minot; 2. Robert Hellebust, Kenmare; 3. Josh Muller.
Feature: 1. Christianson; 2. Steven Pfeifer, Minot; 3. Seidler; 4. Hellebust; 5. Kent.
Nearly even at the race's final turn, Eklund held off Beeter in the homestretch. Eklund fought back tears in victory lane as his four-year-old son Kyle hoisted the winner's trophy.
"This means a lot," Eklund said.
The second feature race was the Nodak Speedway premiere for IMCA Sport Modified cars. Minot's Jordan Huettl won in his first race in the car and was unchallenged for the final three laps. Jamestown's Scott Bintz finished second, holding off Carrington's Rusty Kollman.
Donavin Wiest took the checkered flag in the INEX Legends feature. Wiest, a Wishek native, lost the lead with five laps remaining to Shane Williams. Wiest took the lead right back after a few turns and held on despite two cautions in the final three laps.
The final two races - IMCA Stocks and IMCA Modifieds - tested drivers with muddy conditions following a brief downpour. The caution flag came out on the majority of laps with turn two giving drivers the most trouble.
Minoters Nathan Burke and Drew Christianson won the Stocks and Modifieds races, respectively.