Modified Class Full of Talent, Past and Present in Region

2000 M 23 RYAN MUZIK
Ryan Muzik (23) was a top runner in the modifieds in west central MN (Western Wanderer Photo)

Some of the best memories I have as a race fan came as a result of the NASCAR/Wissota Modified division at Viking Speedway in Alexandria, Minn.

Scott Hillig of Long Prairie, MN and Rysn Muzik of Alexandria had what I felt was a great rivalry back in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the modifieds at Viking Speedway. Hillig loved to run the high line and Muzik ran whereever he needed to. I don’t know either personally but as a fan it seemed those two weren’t buddy-buddy. Dave Storck of Morris was also a top runner back then and was a fan favorite but didn’t generate the controversial crowd emotions that the Hillig-Muzik rivarly did,for example. If you ever saw a Hillig-Muzik-Storck modified battle you were in for a heck of a treat in the feature. All three were outstanding at the big half mile.

Muzik and Storck also raced at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo and won track titles there. Storck also ran well for many years at Madison Speedway.

I fell in love with the modified division as a result of those days at Viking. Guys like Jay McDonald of Fargo would come into Viking in his familiar 96 car and be tough as well. In the mid 1990s Brian Strand of Bemidji — who’d later win the Wissota Modified national title — would come in and give the locals all they could handle in his machine (he drove a #54 for a while, then 171).

As 1990s progressed another driver had surfaced — Scot Danzeisen of Herman in the 5X machine. He drove a Pro Chassis for a few years built by Bob Sagen (who also was a tough as can be when he showed up at Viking in the 1990s in his 99) and went on to have an unprecedented run, winning nine straight track titles and piling up dozens of feature wins. Danzeisen was as smooth as could be and could run the lower lines with such ease.

When McDonald, Sagen, Mike Bruns, Corky Thomas and Jon Bachmeier pulled in from the Fargo-Moorhead area, you sure had some big-time feature races in the mods at Viking. Dell Arneson of Fargo also won a track title at Viking in 1994 and was really fast. You could pick 10-12 drivers who could win the feature.

Dennis Bitzan was very good in the 14X car for many years, too. Soon the 52 of Jason Thoennes emerged as a formidable foe and he remains one today along with his brother, Josh, who won the 2017 track title at Viking. Dalton driver Travis Saurer and Zach Johnson of Kensington became top mod runners in the 2000s and still are, and now there is another young talent who has emerged — Brady Gerdes of Villard in the 2X, who beat the USMTS drivers a few years back in impressive fashion. Gerdes has won three of the last four mod titles at I-94 Speedway in Fergus Falls. Add to that list Jeremy Nelson of Alexandria and Blake Jegtvig of Hawley and you have quite a field at both Viking and I-94 Speedway in Fergus Falls.

I am sure people got sick of Danzeisen winning so much, but I also think there is another aspect to his succes — he made the other drivers better. He set the standard for many years there and the task was to try and catch him. When you are doing that, your car and driving naturally will get better, and the competition as a whole is better. I am reminded of some of the street stock drivers who raced against Tim Johnson of Brainerd in recent years saying that racing him made that better. Danzeisen’s modified run at Viking was similar.

Storck, Muzik, Bitzan and Hillig have retired; all but Bitzan are in the Viking HOF and he will be soon. Dusty Bitzan runs the 10B modified while Storck and Muzik have sons in the B mods. Danzeisen doesn’t race as much weekly anymore. The times have changed but the quality of the competition has not in the region.

I would take the top 10-12 cars at I-94 Speedway anywhere in Wissotaland and they might be the best and deepest group around.

If you want to look beyond West Central MN, there is modified talent everywhere. Tyler Peterson and Jesse Skalicky and the Arneson brothers are really good driver in the Fargo/Moorhead/Glyndon/Ada area, among many others like Brady Petermann, Bryce Borgen, Tyler Hall, Mike Johnson, Dave Shipley and Dale Kraling. Jamestown Speedway has several strong runners and if you go to eastern MN it is loaded with modified talent. Jamestown had Johnny Corell for many years and further to the west, the flying 8-ball driven by Leo Burkhardsmier.

It is sure a fun class to watch.

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