Auto racing: Local dirt tracks bounce back as fans look forward to upcoming season

Representatives of Northland tracks address media Wednesday in Proctor.

Fifteen race cars were on display outside Powerhouse Bar in Proctor Wednesday as drivers took advantage of a promotion where each driver who brought a car received one free entry to all five Northland tracks. (Jon Nowacki /

Longtime ABC Raceway announcer Nick Gima got right down to the point when he addressed the crowd as part of Northland auto racing’s annual media day Wednesday at Powerhouse Bar in Proctor.

“We know all the drivers and fans are excited about this upcoming season,” Gima said, emphatically, “because it can’t be any worse than the last one.”

With restrictions in place last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halvor Lines Speedway in Proctor didn’t race and there wasn’t even a media day, for that matter.

Fans came out in force Wednesday at Powerhouse Bar, almost as if to make up for last year, and there were 15 race cars on display outside. That’s way more than normal for this event and was the product of a little added incentive, with each driver who brought his car receiving one free entry to all five Northland tracks (not to mention free pizza inside Powerhouse).

While COVID didn’t completely put the brakes to racing — Gondik Law Speedway in Superior and Hibbing Raceway actually enjoyed nice seasons, thanks in part to good weather (for once) — no racing at Proctor just didn’t seem right.


Halvor Lines Speedway officials said the year off gave them more time to make upgrades to the track. In the meantime, other tracks were thinking about them. ABC Raceway in Ashland even went so far as to halve a “50-50” drawing in their honor, with half of the pot going to the winner and half going to the Proctor track.

Gima didn’t know the exact amount the track will receive but said “it’s in the four figures.” It will be presented at the Halvor Lines Speedway season opener scheduled for Sunday, May 9, Mother’s Day, with mothers getting in free.

“Because of the way the world is, we’re going to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and all t’s are crossed,” said Tammy Lofdahl with Halvor Lines Speedway. “We’re going with 250 people per section, and we’ll have everything available, masks and hand sanitizer. You can’t make somebody do something, but our announcers will remind them, because this is the only way we’re going to be open.”

Crash suffers cardiac arrest

Crash Carlson started sneaking into races when he was 11 and racing when he was 14. After seven decades, the two go together like a nut and a bolt.

The Northland racing community almost lost Crash two weeks ago when he went into cardiac arrest two weeks ago at Essentia Health while doing a stress test. The last couple stress tests he had done chemically but this time he was on the treadmill. He was fine on the treadmill but went into cardiac arrest afterward.

“I was fortunate they have some pretty professional people doing this,” Carlson said. “The lady said it took them eight minutes to get me back. I guess they padded me three times.”

Carlson was in a medically induced coma for a couple days. He had three stents put in.

“While I was really medicated, I could hear the nurse, ‘Look at his fingernails,’” Carlson said (Crash’s fingernails are colored like Easter eggs).


Carlson now wears a “LifeVest,” a personal defibrillator that can deliver a shock treatment if the patient goes into a life-threatening arrhythmia. He has to wear that for six weeks. He is now in cardiac rehab and is dieting.

Carlson, who has driven truck for 39 years for Halvor Lines, logging four million miles, can’t wait to return to work. He thanked Essentia for his new lease on life.

“I haven’t found a person at Essentia who I’m upset with — nowhere,” Carlson said. “They’re just terrific.”

Thomas looking to get back on track

Jamie Thomas is another colorful character and familiar face at Twin Ports tracks who has dealt with his share of health issues in recent years.

Thomas worked for Duluth Public Schools for 27 years handling various tasks, including custodial. A year after retiring in 2017 he suffered an infection in his right leg and had the leg amputated. He has a new prosthetic and is going through rehab.

While Thomas only made three or four races last year, moreso due to Proctor being closed, he is hoping to get to all of them this year. He takes Stride, a special transit division of the Duluth Transit Authority for people with disabilities.

“I can go all around the Twin Ports,” Thomas said, proudly.

Thomas can move well with a walker but has a tougher time with a cane. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t given up on it. He wanted to thank everyone for their love and support.


“I’ve gotten to know so many people over the years,” Thomas said, “and there have always been great people behind me.”

Start your engines

The idea for the Fast Lane Motorsports Northland Super Stock Series started as an idea eight years ago but is stronger than ever going into its seventh season.

The series wanted to do seven races last year but couldn’t because Proctor and Granite City weren’t operating so they settled for five. This year the plan is, once again, seven races in a 10-day span from July 23 to Aug. 1.

Last year the total purse was more than $30,000 (counting the individual track purses) with Shane Sabraski of Rice, Minnesota, netting $1,300 for taking the series points title, good money for a class that is often overshadowed.

“We wanted to do a little something for our Super Stock drivers, and if I could say so, it’s worked out pretty darn good, for everyone, but the drivers mainly,” Dennis McCauley said. “We had 76 different drivers compete in the series. We’re looking to improve on those numbers. We averaged 43 drivers at each track, basically, that’s No. 1 in all of Wissota. There isn’t a touring series in all of Wissota that brings those kinds of numbers to a track and we’re pretty darn proud of that fact.”

Related Topics: MOTORSPORTS
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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