Jeff Lovdal and his high-speed family
Jeff Lovdal’s mind was racing.
For five years, the then-27-year-old Bismarck native accompanied his father Bruce on his two-hour drives to the Magic City International Dragway in Minot. Although he never got behind the wheel himself, Jeff still watched in awe as Bruce and his 1972 Ford Mustang sped down the 660-foot track, leaving both clouds of smoke and his worries in the rearview mirror for a few seconds of pure bliss.
But this trip was different.
It was Motor Magic, the biggest two-day racing spectacle during the summer of 2000. After competing on Saturday, Bruce told his son that he wasn’t up for an encore on Sunday. On a whim, Jeff threw out a suggestion.
“If I pay the (entry fee), can I race your car?” Jeff asked, half expecting to be turned down.
But he didn’t get turned down. Instead, he got a shocking green light.
“Sure, go ahead,” Bruce said nonchalantly.
It took a moment for the response to sink in. But, once it did, Jeff realized exactly what he had just gotten himself into.
“I was overwhelmed,” Jeff said. “I had never been down the dragstrip before in my life, and now my first time was about to be in a competition. But I knew the sport really well. I helped my dad build his car, so I was excited to have my first go.”
Jeff got behind the wheel of the Mustang and made his way to the starting line. The car’s engine roared with even the slightest tap of the gas pedal.
But, despite being just a few seconds away from a high-speed showdown, the young racer didn’t feel nervous. He was focused on those lights in front of him.
He was ready.
A series of yellow lights flashed in front of him, and then came the green light. Jeff quickly responded by stomping on the gas. The Mustang sped forward, and the race was on.
With adrenaline coursing through his veins, Jeff created some separation from his competitor and crossed the finish line to secure his first ever win. A feeling unlike anything he’d ever felt before swept over him as he basked in his victory.
He was hooked.
“Once that green light came on, that’s when the fun started,” Jeff said. “(To win) was just a great feeling. It was a really cool experience.”
Nineteen years later, Jeff can still be found speeding down the dragstrip at MCID. But he isn’t alone.
What started as a father-son tradition now runs three generations deep as Jeff and his two sons, Andrew and Gabe, are all regulars.
From doing oil changes to taking welding lessons, Andrew is a miniature version of his father.
The 10-year-old racing prodigy got his first taste of the action at the age of eight. Since then, it’s nearly impossible to keep him off the track.
Sporting a blacked-out junior dragster car with the white text “The Next Generation” fittingly written in cursive along the side, Andrew claimed first place at a competition in Jamestown last year and even earned himself the nickname “Lucky Lovdal” in the process.
Despite only being 10, Andrew and the handful of other kids that race at MCID are in a highly-regulated environment that puts every vehicle through a standard International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) inspection and has registered emergency medical technicians on site at all times.
“It was really fun (taking first place),” Andrew said. “But my dad told me the first thing is to be safe, and the second is to have fun.”
Gabe, 7, hasn’t gotten behind the wheel just yet. Although that is the age when kids can start racing, Jeff is no rush to see his youngest son’s debut. But, when that time does come, there’s a junior dragster just like Andrew’s ride that is waiting for him.
Rooting the three boys on the whole time is Jeff’s wife, Amber. She knew a life centered around racing was a part of the deal when she began dating Jeff 15 years ago.
The two have now been married for 13 years, and Amber has come to enjoy the weekend trips in the family’s recreational vehicle to Minot. As long as the family is together, she’s happy.
“I’m just a cheerleader,” Amber said. “But it’s a good time with lots of fellowship. It’s great to have the kids out here, too. That’s the best part.”
While his sons have their junior dragsters, Jeff sports a car that’s older than all three of them combined.
His 1936 Ford Sedan, sometimes referred to as “the black beast,” is an icon at MCID. Jeff and his father came across the shell of the car nearly 20 years ago when they were out hunting one day and paid the owner $50 for the rusty hunk of metal. After two years of restoring the vehicle from the ground up, the two finally got it to track-worthy status.
Jeff actually bought a dragster for himself a while back, but the sleek frame and high-powered engine weren’t enough to make up for the memories attached to that Sedan he and his father worked so hard to bring back to life.
“It just wasn’t the same,” Jeff said. “I had (the Sedan) tucked away, and my wife said, ‘just get your car back out there,’ so I did. People know me by that car. I’ve been racing it for quite some time now.”
Jeff sold his dragster and used the money to buy Andrew’s junior dragster, which the young speedster puts to good use every weekend.
Just how much money has gone into the Lovdal’s vehicles is a bit of a touchy subject for Jeff, especially around Amber, but nobody in the family feels that the price tag isn’t worth it.
Each trip to Minot is a memory they all cherish. If there’s a race going on, the Lovdals are in.
“Some people go camping, but we go racing,” Jeff said. “Rain or shine, we’re out here every weekend as a family. That’s what it’s all about.”
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.