Life in the pits

The wear and tear of the Tougher than Dirt Tour

Alex Eisen/MDN Drivers and their crew prepare in the pits for racing at Nodak Speedway on July 4.

Vibrant splashes of colors on the cars shined in the sun before a special night of racing on July 4 at Nodak Speedway.

It was the final night of the Tougher than Dirt Tour. A grueling slate of five races in five days for the IMCA Sport Mods and IMCA Hobby Stocks. Exhausted faces were scattered up and down the pits before the races.

The rev of engines, along with the buzzing of four-wheeler ATVs and golf carts masked the lethargic fatigue being shown by drivers, crews, friends and family.

“It’s a lot of racing crammed into not a lot of time,” said Erik Laudenschlager, who won the Sport Mods main feature race later that evening. “Normally, we race once or twice a week and we can space out the effort that we got to put toward the car throughout all those weeknights. But, when you are running five nights in a row, all that gets compacted into this short time frame that we have to deal with. So, it’s really stressful on the guys that help.”

The tour made stops in Underwood, Dickinson (for the Sport Mods), Estevan (for the Hobby Stocks), Williston and Minot’s Nodak Speedway twice. Those that competed for the championship had to race consistently each night. Many drivers didn’t even make it to the finale Tuesday night because of torn up machines or were just too far out of the point standings to risk damaging their rides even more.

Those that made it to night five were greeted by the sweltering heat at Nodak.

“Today, it’s hot,” said Brock Beeter, who also went to victory lane later in the evening by winning the Hobby Stocks main feature. “Usually we just hang out and get ready (before a race). Today, we did everything at the shop, so we are pretty much ready. Now you just play the waiting game.”

While Beeter and his crew stood in the shade chatting an hour and 15 minutes before the first heat races would roll out onto the track, other drivers spent their time making last-minute adjustments from fixing minor body damage to tinkering with the tires.

It was a long, yet rewarding five days for eventual Sport Mods Tougher than Dirt Tour champion Robby Rosselli.

“The first night, Friday in Underwood, we had to come from a ‘B’ main, started 18th in the feature and got up to fifth,” Rosselli said. “The next night was Dickinson and we got second in the feature there. Got third in the feature in Minot on Sunday. Last night, we had an unfortunate call on us. We got put to the back of the pack after starting second, so we got put back to about 21st and ended up fifth.”

Rosselli came into the last night of the tour with 14-point lead in the standings and got lucky on the draw to start on the pole. He slowly slipped down to seventh in the main feature, but that was still more than enough.

While Rosselli collected a towering trophy, Andrew Bertsch wasn’t as fortunate.

Bertsch and Tyler Lucy came into the Hobby Stocks championship night tied on points, and a costly error made in the garage hurt Bertsch dearly.

An incorrectly inserted performance chip forced Bertsch to pull off the track after his first lap in his heat race, which made him start the main feature nine rows deep while Lucy started seventh in row four.

Bertsch got all the way up to Lucy’s bumper, but couldn’t make the pass. A title was lost. Who knows what the outcome could have been if Bertsch didn’t start in the back of the field.

“The car has been holding up good,” Bertsch said before the race. “We had quite a few good nights. We had a lot of work after Underwood because we broke some stuff. But, other than that, it’s not been too bad.”

Hindsight is 20/20. But, second overall isn’t too bad either.

While some drivers celebrated the Fourth of July with champagne and a large check, others packed up their haulers with fireworks in the rearview mirror. That’s racing.

“I just like to race in general,” Rosselli said when asked if there was anything special about racing on Independence Day. “A lot of people on the Fourth of July like to go to the lake. I’m not a lake person. I’m not a fisherman. I don’t know how to swim, so another reason why I could care less about the lake.

“I was born at the race track and I’m here on the Fourth of July to race.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.