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Auto racing: Local tracks won't rush 2018 season

Joe Stariha has any easy way to remember the last time the local auto racing season started on schedule. "It was the last time we lost by $5,000 in the stands," Stariha said, laughing. Nick Gima of ABC Raceway in Ashland agreed "I think we all op...

Mark Carlson
Mark Carlson

Joe Stariha has any easy way to remember the last time the local auto racing season started on schedule.

"It was the last time we lost by $5,000 in the stands," Stariha said, laughing.

Nick Gima of ABC Raceway in Ashland agreed

"I think we all opened on time last year, but we all took it in the shorts," he said.

At least they can laugh about it now. Representatives of the Northland's five dirt tracks converged on Powerhouse Bar in Proctor on Wednesday for their annual media day and car show. An event-record 10 race cars were lined up outside along Highway 2.

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Stariha, with the newly named Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, said the track isn't going to rush into the 2018 season. The season opener was schedule for Friday, May 11, but now will be May 18 as the track is soft and wet, especially along the inside.

Wissota requires 12 race nights for drivers to receive full Wissota pay at the end of the season, but Superior's opener is usually wishful thinking.

"We put the early date out there knowing that there's an 80 percent chance we're probably not going to race that night, but it's scheduled and it counts as one night," Stariha said. "It's more of a strategic date than anything else."

Fans don't want to come if the weather is bad, and drivers don't want to race on a track that isn't ready.

"If we knew it was going to be 75 and sunny, or 68 and sunny, fine, but it rarely works that way," Stariha said. "Less than three weeks ago, we had 18 inches of snow on it."

As it stands now, ABC is scheduled to open first, on May 13.

"We're all going to have more than our fair share of work to do," Gima said. "It'll be hit or miss. We're going to be very dependent on good weather, but if anybody can put a race track together and get it ready to go, it's our crew. But it'll be a challenge for all of us."

Carlson keeps his cool

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Mark Carlson of Duluth represented Hibbing Raceway on Wednesday. He was in his first season as Hibbing track announcer last summer for a big Fourth of July fireworks show when the track's lights suddenly went out.

"Pfffft," Carlson said. "Just like that."

Fortunately for Carlson, he inherited the gift of gab from his father, Crash Carlson, a longtime Twin Ports track official. Mark kept the crowd calm the half hour the lights were out.

"I didn't realize how mad people get at you," Carlson said, laughing, "but fortunately, we got the lights fixed."

Carlson, 55, is a carpenter for Kuepers Architects and Builders.

"And I've been in racing just 55 years," Carlson said. "My parents brought us into the grandstands when we were babies."

Crash Carlson had knee replacement surgery a little over a month ago and is using crutches, but he was in attendance Wednesday and has already returned to truck driving.

"Carlsons heal fast," Mark Carlson said.

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Carlson went to Brown Institute in the Minneapolis for broadcasting. He said he's no Freddie Frand, the beloved Northland track announcer from Hibbing who died in July 2012, but he tries to convey the same passion for the sport.

"Freddie is absolutely my hero," Carlson said. "To be standing in that booth where he did his thing has been amazing. It's awesome. I love it up there."

Hibbing, which moved its weekly race time back a half hour to 7 p.m., is set to open May 19.

"The thing I think is missing in race announcing is excited people in that booth," Carlson said, speaking fast. "I don't have all the statistics, but when you come to that track and you listen to me, you have a good time and you are on the edge of your seat and you're wondering what you're missing."

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 jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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