I grew up going to small town racetracks. They remain such a vital part of stock-car racing and are part of the sport’s roots so naturally I have a soft spot for them.
When I mean smaller communities, I mean rural tracks with populations under 6,000 people who are not closer to a larger metro area, like Fargo-Moorhead or Rochester, Minn., for example.
I think of Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon, ND or Norman County Raceway in Ada (pictured above) or Greenbush Race Park in NW Minnesota. Outside the area more I think of Madison (Mn) Speedway, Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo, Minn., Murray County Speedway in Slayton and Redwood Speedway in Redwood Falls, Minn. (which currently does not have a promoter). One track I grew up going to — Canby Speedway in Canby, Minn. — only has a race during its county fair now. The last weekly racing at the track was in 2007.
There are many racetracks in larger cities (Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, River Cities in Grand Forks) or close to bigger cities (Buffalo River, Cedar Lake, Deer Creek, Proctor, Superior, etc.). Some are located in decent-size communities — Jamestown, Viking Speedway, KRA, Bemidji, Hibbing, Brown County, Casino, to name a few.
In those smaller towns, racing is a big deal. We used to joke that you could race til 3-4 a.m. in the morning in Madison and the town wouldn’t care a bit. In the early 1990s Madison was really on a roll; if you didn’t get there at least a half hour before you were SOL when it comes to seats.
Madison was a track I grew up going to in the 1980s and 1990s. I saw some crazy stuff there — guys climbing the fences to yell at the flagman; a car that was black flagged intentionally blocking the leaders; fist fights; you name it. I wish I had a video camera to document those things. I will never forget them.
Madison is similar to Sheyenne — a lot of pride has gone into keeping that track going. Many of my best racing memories are at that track (and some of the best fights I ever saw, too.). It is a 3/8-mile track, shaped well and still produces some of the best racing around I’m told.
The advantages of this were most of the tracks were less than an hour drive from our house. Canby was a half-hour, Madison 40 minutes (30 if you could speed on the backroads, ha), and Redwood less than an hour. Montevideo was 15 minutes tops. It was nice to have those options. The other plus is you knew many of the drivers competing at those tracks and became very familiar with them. That didn’t mean you liked them all, though, but you knew of them.
As populations have dwindled in rural areas, it’s been tougher to keep a racetrack going in small towns. There are less local drivers racing at those tracks and naturally less local following. It also means potential for less local sponsors.
Sheyenne Speedway is all volunteer run, and the track works hard to keep local interest. It helps there is a good amount of local drivers who race there, but it is a source of pride for those who work at the track. And I know the local drivers appreciate the time and effort put into keeping that track running.
Norman County Raceway is a bit retro with the old-school wood grandstand at the fairgrounds. It is a challenge to draw fans and drivers on a Thursday night, especially at a rural track. But there is something about that place that brings me back to the days when I was a kid — I can’t really explain it. NCR is like Buffalo River Race Park in that the track has more of a grassroots feel.
Redwood Falls was another good racing town, but there were several towns close by (Olivia, Sleepy Eye, Morgan, etc.) that had a lot of drivers. One of the great draws at Redwood was the bomber track — a 1/5-mile flat track that was mainly in the infield but also was also used the front stretch. It was literally a run-what-you-brung class — roll cages and fuel cells and that was it. The flagman let a LOT go by as far as bumping and banging, and for a while, if a car went off the track, there was no yellow. Very old school, and in the 1990s, was highly popular.
I love it when racing is a BIG DEAL to a small town. Like Madison. Like Lisbon. Like Ada. Like Slayton.
I hope racing never loses its small-town roots.