Auto racing: Proctor's Lofdahl proves that nothing beats the first time
Veteran driver and track maintenance man captures first Modified feature win at a track with plenty of family history.
DULUTH — As veteran dirt-track racer Donnie Lofdahl made his way around the track in the Modified feature July 17 at Halvor Lines Speedway in Proctor, Jack Rivord pressured him for the lead for much of the race before Darrell Nelson came on late.
Lofdahl’s wife, LeAnn, watched from the pits with their three-year-old son Revin as the tension built.
“I was happy for him,” LeAnn said. “I was trying to be calm and not be overly dramatic. Anything can happen in 20 laps, but with three laps to go I knew he had it in the books, so I ran down and was waiting and jumping around with the kid in my arms.”
How did LeAnn know Donnie had it? After all, a driver can break or wipe out at any time, even with no other cars around.
“I just knew,” LeAnn said, crossing her fingers and then laughing.
“Hoping,” she added.
A short time later, there was no more need for hope. Donnie Lofdahl got it done.
Lofdahl, 39, captured his first Modified feature after years of trying. Afterward, the 2001 Proctor graduate thanked his sponsors and everyone, especially the McDougal family for all their help not just on his car but at the track he calls home.
Lofdahl doubles as Halvor Lines Speedway’s maintenance man, a job he inherited from his late grandfather, Don Roseen.
Special doesn’t begin to describe this win … this was one where grown men cry.
“I don’t remember half of what I said. The emotions were just huge,” Lofdahl said. “It was not something I never expected to do. You always dream of it but let’s be real. You’ve got $50,000-plus race cars and I’ve got my $15,000 race car. We do the best we can, and we do pretty good with what we have. I think I get a lot of respect from other drivers because of that.”
Low budget, high hopes
Lofdahl stood in the pits by his blue 1L race car last Friday at Gondik Law Speedway in Superior. He was talking about his race team, but his father, Jason, described it best the day before when they worked on the car at the family shop just outside of Proctor off Highway 2.
“We operate on a budget that is about a quarter or a third of the top guys but we know how to make (stuff) work,” Jason Lofdahl said.
Donnie Lofdahl agreed.
“We’ve been able to take junk and go have fun with it,” he said. “What we have now isn’t junk. We’ve spent more money on this than I think we’ve ever spent racing but we’re not a showboater. It’s a ’96 trailer and a 2001 motorhome, but it gets us from A to B.”
Just then, almost on cue, a luxurious hauler came rolling through the pits that could have eaten Lofdahl’s trailer for breakfast, it was that huge.
Lofdahl is perfectly fine getting by in ham-and-egger fashion. That’s the way his grandpa did it, too. One man’s junk is another man’s gold.
“We’ve put some good combinations together, and just a lot of good people have helped us, too,” Lofdahl said. (Driver) Jody Bellefeuille has given us so many parts over the years, parts he wouldn’t use any more and they’re perfectly good. He just hands them over to us. And Darrell Nelson, too, any time I’ve needed something he’s had it.”
Lofdahl, who is fourth in the season points standings at Proctor and sixth in Superior, said the competition on the track is more like brothers fighting.
“Racing is a big family,” he said. “You could hate each other one day and the next day something bad could happen and everyone is going to be there for you. Everyone has their feuds and sometimes you get over it and sometimes you don’t, but at the end of the day you’ve got to look forward.”
Raised at the track
In addition to maintaining Proctor’s track for years, Don Roseen also helped out in Superior. He literally died at the Superior track while working out there in the spring of 2013. He had a heart attack at the entrance onto the track, a stone’s throw from where Lofdahl was pitting Friday. Roseen was 73.
Lofdahl recalled how he pitched in to get the Superior track ready for their opener that year.
“We graded and ‘sheepsfooted’ it,” Lofdahl said, referring to the heavy, toothed rollers used for compacting the clay. “It was rougher than heck but we got the first show in of the year. It was just something that needed to be done.”
Lofdahl started maintaining Proctor’s track a few years after his grandfather passed. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There was that connection there, that bond.
“I used to be seven or eight years old driving the grader with my grandpa, and then the water trucks,” Lofdahl said. “My grandma rolled in one day and I was driving the grader around and she was freaking out on my grandpa because he was just standing there watching.”
Roseen was also a former driver, promoter and president of Wissota, the sanctioning body of dirt tracks across the Upper Midwest. Donnie’s uncle, Steve Roseen, raced for many years as well. Donnie wasn’t even a teenager yet but he would already be underneath Steve’s car changing gears so they could hit another show.
“I’ve always been on the pit crew,” Lofdahl said. “We got pictures of me in the garage when I was just a little kid with my grandpa. I was raised in the garage.”
Night to remember
It wasn’t long before Donnie was racing. Lofdahl has raced 23 years, including since 2014 in Modifieds. While he had some success in the entry-level classes, he hadn’t had a feature win since 2015 in Ogilvie, Minnesota, racing a Super Stock for friend Joe Vorek. That was almost seven years to the day of his Proctor victory July 17. He was reminded when the anniversary of that win popped up on his Facebook page.
“I was going to share it on Facebook but then was like, ‘No, then everyone’s going to get really confused,” Lofdahl said, drawing a laugh.
No, Lofdahl will celebrate one win at a time, even if they’re few and far between.
“There are some guys out here who win several features but there’s only a select few,” Lofdahl said. “You’ve got your Nelsons and Bellefeuilles and (Shane) Sabraskis that are winning all the time, but you go through the pits and there’s more drivers that have zero wins or just one or two. We’re out here every week, and if it wasn’t for the little guy or the top guy, you wouldn’t have racing anymore.”
That sentiment, along with the fact Lofdahl maintains the same track he won at, wasn’t lost on Trevor Arens.
Arens, a former Hibbing Raceway track president and competitor of Lofdahl’s, made a point to come over and congratulate Lofdahl in the pits last week in Superior.
“I’m just really happy for him,” Arens said. “When I was the president up at Hibbing, I know what it’s like to have a guy like that. It’s pretty important. Every track needs a guy, and he’s the guy. He’s the heart and soul of the place, so for him to get a win, and get a win there, that’s pretty good.”
Lofdahl is an easy guy to root for, jovial and down to earth. Lofdahl’s Sundays at Proctor in the summer are incredibly long, going from 8 a.m. until as late as 10 p.m. There are times where he has gone right from racing to watering the track for the very next race.
Lofdahl has driven glass trucks for 17 years for St. Germain's Glass Company. He and his mother, Tammy Lofdahl, also serve on the Halvor Lines Speedway board.
“So I pretty much live there, but now I’m having to cut back a little bit because I have a wife and kid,” Lofdahl said. “I got to make them more of a priority, but we’re still there all the time.”
It’s a good thing his wife is a huge racing fan as well. They met four years ago at a race in Humboldt, Kansas, and LeAnn, a native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, started driving up here every other weekend.
“Then when we went off to South Dakota as part of the RV Modified Tour, and that just kind of set it right there.
LeAnn even bought a Midwest Modified just before they met. That’s not exactly a beginner vehicle but she said “go big or go home.” She dabbled with it but realized racing wasn’t for her. However, she has proven extremely valuable in the pits.
“When we were in South Dakota, and it was just me and her, we had a tear down coming and she was under there pulling tie rods and bumpers and everything else,” Donnie said.
Lofdahl drew a big laugh with his next comments.
“Some people got it and some people … they just can’t do it,” he said. “It’s no different than I could never be a reporter.”
Maybe not, but he sure makes for a good story.
Especially when he wins.
While the wins might not come as easy for Lofdahl, when they do come, rest assured, he earned it.
“We jumped to the lead and never looked back,” said Lofdahl, who started on the outside of the front row. “Just everything worked in our favor for once. The track was to my liking and it was just racing. We had the dominant line but the bottom was right there, too.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into it. It’s not something I thought we were ever going to do. We’re in that league where we can be competitive but we’re not in that league to pull off feature wins. It’s just not there, but everything fell into place. It was just the perfect night.”