A national champion and a rookie are just two of the drivers defending 2012 titles as North Central Speedway gets ready to kick off the 2013 dirt track racing season.
Originally scheduled to start April 27, the season opener was pushed back to May 11 due to a snowy, cold spring.
Veteran driver Tim Johnson won the points championship in the Modified and Super Stock classes in 2012, and was also the Wissota national champion in his Super Stock car.
14-year-old Aaron Johnson was the 2012 Rookie of the Year, and also won the Pure Stock points championship in a class that was dominated by veteran drivers.
Hometown hero Danny Vang won the Midwest Modified championship. Fan favorite Jack Peterson captured the Street Stock title. Josh Abrahamson won in the inaugural year of the Mod 4 cars. After selling his Mod 4 ride, Abrahamson may have found a Modified car for the upcoming season.
Add in the beginning Hornet class, with returning champions Jake Hagemann and Brandon Mehrwerth, and there will be plenty of excitement once the cars line up for the opener.
There is one major change in the schedule this year. Four races have been added after the Mighty Axe Nationals, which have typically signaled the end of the racing season on Labor Day weekend. Those races are scheduled for Sept. 8 and 22 and Oct. 6 and 12.
“The idea behind the ‘Fight to the Finish’ four-race mini-series at the end is because we always get asked to run more shows during what our sanctioning body refers to as ‘Specials Time,’” NCS race promoter KT Torbert said. “Track champions have already been finalized. Everything from Labor Day on is basically a bunch of specials so drivers can continue to earn points toward the Wissota national championship.”
The additional four races will feature Late Models, which don’t run a regular series during the summer at NCS.
For the final race Oct. 12, NCS will be the only track where a race is being held, which should increase the car count for that event.
Entering the second season of Mod 4 racing there may be a significant change on the way.
“There is a competing track that may end up dropping that class because of low car count,” Torbert said. “If that happens, we will probably gain more cars right at the beginning of the year.”
The response was mixed after the first year of Mod 4 racing at NCS.
“They are a class the people either love or strongly dislike due to the noise they make,” Torbert said.
The biggest commitment that NCS owner Cliff Sasker and Torbert make each year is for Saturday nights to be family nights. There will be a number of opportunities for families again in 2013.
This is the third year for town nights and, according to Torbert, it has been a huge success. This year, residents of Brainerd, Baxter, Pequot Lakes and Onamia may get free tickets at area businesses for the sponsored nights of racing. Fans can visit the NCS website to learn where tickets can be picked up.
“Just to clarify, a business can sponsor a town night during the season and they pick the night,” Torbert said. “It’s great. We have so many different town nights now. It’s truly an honor to be able to have this position and use my resources and to be able to bring smiles to families in the community, especially in this tough economy.”
Kids will be the big winners with promotions that are planned for 2013. Another key for families is that track staff try to have racing wrapped up by 10 p.m. with the exception of specials nights.
“We do fun games and challenges for different prizes every race and we draw for prizes, junior trophy fan presenters, and pace car riders,” Torbert said. “We do ring tosses to win Power Wheels and this year we even bought fair-type games, like the side-by-side shooting hoops game.
“One that I am really excited about is a Pit Race Challenge, where you race against another kid to change tires, so more for teens, but still lots of fun.”
50-plus bikes will be given away free again this year on June 8. Kids 15 and under are also admitted free that night.
“We really believe racing is something for the whole family to get into, especially when it’s live and your spending that time together,” Torbert said. “With all the video games and technology out there, its tough to grab a child’s attention and keep it. Well, this they can’t resist.”