By Mike Spieker
WEST FARGO – Similar to the opening day of baseball, there is something nostalgic about the season openers at the F-M area dirt tracks. Nearly a half-century of racing history is entrenched into the tracks’ rich, black, Red River Valley soil. From the primitive stock cars that kicked up dust in the 1960s to the highly modified, high-performance machines that torch the tracks today, local auto racing has evolved into a very skilled and competitive sport.
On Friday, Red River Valley Speedway (RRVS) will host its 48th season opener. The rumble of a 700 horsepower engine, the intoxicating smells of the high-octane race fuel and the feeling of anticipation and excitement as another season of racing approaches; that’s what it’s all about says Nick Skalicky, COO of RRVS.
“The atmosphere is hard to match,” he said. “It’s been a long, cold winter for everybody and we’re all looking forward to finally go racing.”
RRVS will be the only track in North Dakota hosting its opener this weekend besides Nodak Speedway in Minot. The late spring and cool temperatures in April have forced other tracks to postpone, but the crew at RRVS has worked hard to get the track up and running for Friday’s scheduled opener.
“We’ve been working to get the facility all cleaned up after the winter, get all of our sponsors lined up for the year and get the track in shape. You want everything to go right that first night and our crew strives on that,” Skalicky said. “A lot of that depends on Mother Nature and so far she’s cooperated with us and Friday looks to be a great night.”
The track held a pre-season practice session Wednesday night so drivers could fine-tune their cars before Friday. The laps on the track also helped the racing surface get packed in. A large field of over 70 race teams took advantage of the midweek practice night, indicating that car counts in all divisions at the speedway should be just as good, if not better, than last year.
Entering their third year managing the track, Skalicky along with Jake and Sharnel Bitker, have put a focus on the family aspect for fans this year. The track is now offering a family pack that includes two adult tickets, two kid tickets, two free “Attraction” passes to Thunder Road, and a certificate for a free “Shareable” meal at Buffalo Wild Wings all for $30. The Bitkers and Skalicky know that it’s important to get the young ones home at a decent time at the end of the night, so they work hard to put on an efficient two-and-a-half to three-hour show to be done no later than 10:00 pm.
Bike giveaways and meet and greets with the drivers throughout the season, and a candy toss during intermission each night all highlight the kid-friendly atmosphere at the track.
RRVS is bringing back its stout lineup of weekly racing again in 2018 that includes IMCA modifieds, sportmods, stock cars, hobby stocks and INEX legends.
The track’s premier division, the IMCA modifieds, usually has the toughest competition with the largest car counts each week. Last year, Fargo’s Dave Shipley, driver of the no. 72 IMCA modified, captured his first career track championship at RRVS after competing at the speedway for the last 17 years. Shipley says he’s looking forward to getting back behind the wheel Friday to defend his title.
“It was a long winter,” reiterated Shipley. “It’s going to be great to get back into the car and have a little fun. There are a lot of fast guys around here, though. There’s a lot of good competition. You know when you win [at Red River Valley Speedway], you can pretty much go anywhere nationally and compete.”
While the three-year lease is up at the end of the 2018 season, Skalicky and the Bitkers are looking to expand upon what they’ve built at RRVS and have already locked in dates for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 racing season.
Other big events at the speedway this year are:
May 25: Dakota Cat Modified Shootout – Working in conjunction with Norman County Raceway (NCR) in Ada, Minn., the Dakota Cat Modified Shootout will be a two-night special for the IMCA modifieds.
July 15: Sprint Car Special – Auto racing will cap off the Red River Valley Fair for the third consecutive year, featuring the Buffalo Wild Wings NOSA Sprint Cars, IMCA modifieds and INEX legends.
July 20: Rusty Wallace Night – Former NASCAR Cup champion, Rusty Wallace will make an appearance at the speedway. Fans will have an opportunity to interact with Wallace during a meet and greet at the races.
August 8: Sanders Metal Products Modified Challenge – The sixth edition of this IMCA modified special will begin on Wednesday night at RRVS, before wrapping up the following evening at NCR.
August 18: World of Outlaws Sprint Cars – The vastly popular Outlaws will return to RRVS for the second consecutive year and 32nd time overall.