Rick Aukland’s first feature he ever raced became a great indicator of what was ahead in his racing career.
Aukland was leading the first feature he ever raced down at Lisbon in 1978. He had at least a quarter-lap lead before an axle broke and went flying off the car. He didn’t win that particular race but it was a taste of what was ahead for his racing career — and that was being fast and running up front.
Then came the winning. A lot of it.
A 2005 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee, Aukland — who raced for many years out of the Fargo, N.D., area in his famous #12 machine — has won more than 800 features in a 40-year racing career. He’s won several prestigious big-money late model events across the country in an illustrious driving career.
He is considered by many fans to be one of the best to ever wheel a race car in the upper Midwest, and certainly in the Red River Valley Region. And he proved he could win in any division — late models, modified and even sprint cars.
“All the race cars I drove were fun, especially when the cars worked well,” Aukland said in a phone interview. “We were able to get our car working pretty well all the time and that’s what translated to victories.”
Aukland grew up around the sport as his father raced. Not to mention that he put on a lot of miles working around the farm driving pickups and trucks before even getting his driver’s license. He eventually began helping good friend Bob Sagen work on his race car.
“Rick and I go back a long way all the way to our high school years; both of us were wild-eyed kids always pushing the limits so naturally we became good friends,” Sagen said. “We both love fast cars and racing.
“Rick’s dynamic personality — when you meet him and get to know him you can’t help but like the guy. He’s one in a million.”
Sagen and Aukland would partner up to form Pro Chassis in 1985. That venture turned into one of the top modified chassis businesses in the country.
Aukland bought Sagen’s car for his first ride — he used to drive hot laps with it as a pit man — and soon was a force to be reckoned with in racing in the region. Before enjoying success as a national touring late model driver, Aukland was one of the elite drivers who set the standard for racing in the Upper Midwest. That started at his home track at the Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo where he piled up wins. He won many Wissota elite events — the Wissota 100 at Cedar Lake, the Silver 1000 at Proctor, the Jamestown Stampede, the Hibbing Labor Day Shootout among them.
“One of the things Rick loved to do was hot lap the car. It was obvious at that point this guy can really drive,” Sagen said. “Rick didn’t have to learn how drive/race, that came naturallly. One of the things I admire about Rick — he could take a car that was very ill-handling and figure out how to drive it and win. A rare talent.”
As his racing career developed, Aukland became focused on getting the chassis itself to work. He said he relied on the engine builders to do the engine work.
“Determination as much as anything. I had immediate success and that gives you an extra boost of ambition,” Aukland said. “You put in more effort when you see immediate success. I had a good starting point; I knew what the car liked to do.”
He won the USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway (Wis.) in 1991, and as the years went on, the big late model wins piled up. Aukland’s 1997 season was one of the best a touring late model driver could ask for and what he considers his best season.. Aukland won the USA Nationals at Cedar Lake Speedway, the Show-Me 100 in Missouri, the North-South 100 in Kentucky, the Pittsburgher 100 and the Gopher 50, which was held in Owatonna, Minn. in those days — all in one year.
“Your best years reflect how good your car was,” Aukland said. “And there’s a little bit of luck. There’s a lot of factors. The car was good. You make enough rounds across the country that you’re going back to some places for a second or third time. We had a good motor program, good car — everything.”
He had several top five finishes at the World 100 and Late Model Dream events at Eldora Speedway and also won some UMP races.
Most recently, he was inducted into the River Cities Speedway Hall of Fame in Grand Forks this past summer.
Aukland now lives in Zanesville, Ohio, where he has lived for nearly two decades. At age 62, he doesn’t race full time any more and now races a modified at special events in the Ohio region, saying “we hit some specials here and there.” The 2018 season was Aukland’s 40th behind the wheel of a race car.
“I’ve had a lot of hobbies — boating, four-wheeling, going to games,” Aukland said. “Nothing gives you the adrenaline rush a 700-800 horsepower race car does.”