Nodak Speedway ready to roll with Opening Night on Sunday
Nodak Speedway is coming to the green flag to start the 2020 season.
After postponing the action for four weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drivers will return to the track on Sunday for a long-awaited Opening Night at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds.
“I’m nervously excited, if that makes sense at all,” Nodak Speedway president Brandon Beeter said. “(There was a lot of) pre-planning and work that we have done to put the proper steps and measures in place so we could follow all the guidelines. Hopefully, everything goes smoothly on Sunday night as we have planned.”
Numerous safety precautions will be in place for everyone in attendance to follow social distancing guidelines.
Spectators will be allowed.
Nodak Speedway recommends wearing a mask while attending the races, but it’s not required. Also, they are asking spectators to sit 6-feet apart from other groups in the grandstand.
“Going to the races is a choice you make,” Beeter wrote in a Nodak Speedway Facebook post. “If you are considered a high-risk individual, we recommend you stay home. If you are feeling ill/sick, please stay home. If you have been in contact with someone that has been ill/sick, please stay home. Darntv.com will be streaming the races live so you can watch and stay up to date.”
Beeter is expecting between 100-125 race cars in attendance and an increase in out-of-state drivers who have expressed interest in coming over to compete because their home tracks are still shutdown.
All five classes will be competing with the heat races starting at 6 p.m.
The top-flight class will have another new champion this season. Tom Berry Jr. dominated with five race wins last year on his way to the track title. The once Newburg native has since moved back to Iowa.
That opens the door for Williston native Travis Hagen, who won three races in 2019 and finished second in the points behind Berry Jr.
“The front runner has to be Travis Hagen,” Beeter said. “If Jason Wolla makes his return to running weekly here, he will be tough to beat. Then you have the rest of the local guys you see every week like Robert Hellebust and Justin Medler.”
IMCA Sport Mods
The championship came down to two points last season as Erik Laudenschlager recovered from a late spin out on Championship Night to fend off a hard-charging Robby Rosselli.
Laudenschlager won the track championship without winning a single feature race last season. His return to Nodak Speedway for this season, however, is up in the air due to COVID-19.
“Sadly, I may not be hitting the track this year,” Laudenschlager wrote in a text message. “With limited sponsor dollars due to oil and COVID related economic concerns, (I have) concerns about how the races will operate. (For example), reduced payouts for drivers, reduced or the possibility of no fans in the stands and tracks limiting the number of crew guys allowed to help in the pits on race night. And a few other reasons probably too petty to list.”
Laudenschlager continued: “We race for fun. And if the requirements placed upon us to be able to race no longer allow it to be fun, myself and my crew will keep our car in the garage until normalcy resumes and we can have fun again. My situation is unique as well as everyone else’s is, and I don’t judge their decisions to race or not to race. It sucks to be the defending Nodak champion in the sport mods division and not plan on showing up to defend it. Eventually, everything will return to normal, and that normal for us will be racing on Sunday nights at Nodak Speedway. Just not sure when my crew and myself will get back to ‘normal.'”
Other notable results from last season include Jeff Hooker winning three features but missed three main events to curtail his championship hopes.
“I’m hoping to see this class rebound,” Beeter said. “The car count kind of fell off toward the end of last year. I don’t know the reasoning for that, but I know Chase Conway was out here on practice day and he will be strong (this year too).”
IMCA Stock Cars
The two stock cars to beat in recent years has been the Williston father-son duo of Joe and Dalton Flory. Mike Hagen and Austin Daae did precisely that last season by finishing 1-2 in the point standings ahead of the Flory’s.
Hagen and Daae combined to win seven out of the eight feature races a season ago. Other regulars who featured inside the top 5 more than once last year include Brett Woznicki and Joren Boyce.
“This is my 34th year doing this, and I think I’m somewhere in the middle,” Boyce said about his preparation level heading into the new season. “I’ve been better, and I’ve been worse. But, I’m pretty excited to get back on the track, that is for sure.”
Expect the same front runners to have a little more competition this season.
“I think this is another class that is wide-open, like the hobby stocks class,” Beeter said. “Anyone of 10 guys could win on a given night.”
IMCA Hobby Stocks
Brad King and Andrew Bertsch are back for a sequel. King won the 2019 track championship in an intense Championship Night showdown that left King four points to the good for the whole season.
“I think the racing is going to wide-open,” King said. “I think these guys are going to be like ravenous dogs because they’re going to be hungry.”
In total, five different drivers won the 10 feature races last year: Bertsch (twice), Brandon Honrud (twice), Adam Goff, Tim Anderson and King.
“Anything can happen,” King said. “A lot of the time, you have to hide your eyes and go for it. And, a lot of the time, that is what it looks like they do. The competition is stiff.”
Beeter also mentioned another possible wildcard in the mix.
“Alex Tvedt came on the middle of last season, so I think he might be a force to be reckoned with,” Beeter said. “But, I think there are like 15 different cars that could win in the hobby stocks on a given night.”
IMCA Sport Compacts
The sport compacts class featured more participates last season, but only two drivers managed to race all seven features: track champion Christopher Zenz and runner-up James Gilbert.
Zenz won the title by five points over Gilbert.
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.