20 Years Ago, Speedway Was The Place To Be

Every young sportswriter has dreams of covering major league baseball, the NFL and major college football. Around these parts, as a 22-year-old intern at The Forum, the summer auto racing beat was the biggest deal crowd-wise outside of Bison football.

That was me 20 years ago, and my knowledge of auto racing extended to a couple of trips to the local quarter-mile track as a kid in Princeton, Minn.

So my first few trips out to the then-half mile dirt track in West Fargo in 1993 was an entirely different experience. First, it was more popular than I imagined. Secondly, it was louder than I imagined. To prove my point, I typically stood about 5 feet away from the legend of area auto racing announcing, Rod Miller. And EVEN I COULDN’T HEAR HIM.

Its not that I didn’t enjoy the Friday night trips out to the fairgrounds. I eventually looked forward to it. The big reason was the drivers and Miller dazzling me with his racing statistics going back to the early 1900s that he kept in his well-worn spiral notebook.

But the drivers were the characters.

Bob Sagen, Mike Sitzmann, Troy Olson, Mike Bruns, Corky Thomas, Barry Robertson and a young 15-year-old former go-kart racer who eventually got his real driver’s license, Donny Schatz.

If memory serves me correctly, that kid has had pretty decent career and made friends with some no-name big-time NASCAR star Tony Stewart.

Schatz wowed the crowd of 5,600 and other drivers almost 20 years ago to this day, May 1. He took first in his heat, beating the veteran Sitzmann to the line. Although Sitzmann eventually won the feature that night, Schatz’s night sparked his career.

Soon, he was running full time with the World of Outlaws.

Going to the races was the thing to do, and maybe perhaps, one of the only things to do in the summer. There were no RedHawks games or other entertainment options that truly competed with racing. And racing back then was simple. Late models, street stocks, Wissota modifieds and the rough (and sometimes tumble) sprint cars. It was good variety for the price of admission.

How big was local racing? The Forum even sold t-shirts with various racing stories and photos printed on them that year. I still have a couple in a sealed plastic bag.

And that’s how RRVS memories should be kept. Bottled and sealed up. While its doubtful anyone can make a go of it anymore promoting the track as a full-time race facility, anyone who took the checkered flag there will remember those steamy summer nights with packed grandstands and Miller’s voice carrying across the infield.