WEST FARGO – Spring has finally sprung and that means only one thing for the local dirt track racing drivers and fans; it’s time to go racing. Red River Valley Speedway will host its 49th season opener on Friday at 7:00pm. Track operators Nick Skalicky and Jake and Sharnel Bitker are determined to make the 2019 season one of the best in the speedway’s illustrious history.
Skalicky and the Bitkers are entering their second three-year lease with the Red River Valley Fairgrounds to operate the three-eighths mile oval. Skalicky said the first three years was a learning experience, but he is looking forward to a bright future with the track.
“The first year was a lot tougher than we probably anticipated, but we started making gains in the second year. Last year was definitely our best year out of the three from both an attendance and sponsorship standpoint,” he said. “We’ve already got dates scheduled for the next couple of seasons beyond 2019. We’ve made improvements to the track over the offseason with the help of Pioneer Excavating and I think that told the racers we are in this for the long haul.”
Now that the speedway has solid car counts in each of its five weekly divisions, they are looking to expand upon that by bringing in new classes for special events. The track will host a sprint car division seven times this season. The IMCA Sprint Cars will kick things off on May 24th. The Buffalo Wild Wings Northern Outlaw Sprint Association will highlight the Sunday evening program during the Red River Valley Fair on July 14th, followed by a visit by the fan-favorite World of Outlaws Sprint Cars on August 17th. The lightning sprints – a three-quarter scaled winged sprint car with a 1000cc motorcycle engine – will make three appearances this year and non-winged sprint cars will take to the high-banks for the first time since the early 1970s.
“The fans like the diversity of different cars each night,” said Skalicky. “We run a pretty efficient program so it’s easy to add a sixth class every once a while and still get done around that 9:30-9:45pm time frame. We are never going to get away from our core group of weekly classes, but it’s good to keep things fresh and bring in different divisions for the fans.”
Red River Valley Speedway’s family-friendly atmosphere continues to grow as well. This year kids will be able to team up or compete against drivers in various games during intermission, participate in the ever-popular candy toss, or present a trophy to a winning driver in victory lane all in the smoke-free grandstands.
“We want the kids to come out and have a great time and we strive to have everybody home at a decent time,” Skalicky continued.
Defending His Home Turf:
Hickson’s Tyler Peterson began racing at the speedway in 2011 and is one of the youngest champions in the track’s history with his 2012 B-mod (now referred to as an IMCA sport-mod) championship at age 16. Last year, Peterson claimed the track championship in the IMCA modifieds – the track’s premier division – by a mere one point. The championship is just one of many accolades the 23-year-old has collected in his young career.
“I didn’t think we had a shot at the championship early in the year, but towards the end of the season I saw we were still in contention. We were able to snag a couple of wins, which really helped and we ended up pulling it off,” he said. “We race against a full field of 24 cars every week and there are a lot of fast guys who are capable of winning. With the IMCA point invert for the feature, if you win a couple of races, you are starting 12th for most of the season so trying to get by a lot of those guys is tough.”
Despite coming in as the defending track champion, Peterson doesn’t necessarily have his sights set on going back-to-back.
“I’ve found in racing trying to race for points really messes with a guy’s head,” he said. “We are going to see where we are at the end of the year. I’m just going out to win races and not worry about points, but if we are close at the end of the year, we will definitely go for it again.”
Peterson races upwards of 70-80 times each year across the tri-state region but says there is nothing better than racing in front of his family and friends on Friday night at Red River Valley Speedway.
“I went to high school in Kindred so I get a bunch of friends and a ton of family who come out and support the race track about every week,” he said. “It’s awesome to have all of those people come out and I enjoy racing with them.”