Bitkers Are a True Racing Family
There is very little down time in the summer months for Jake and Sharnel Bitker and their four daughters. There is PLENTY that keeps them on the go.
The Bitkers promote Norman County Raceway in Ada on Thursday nights, and are partners with Nick Skalicky of Fargo in promoting Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo on Friday nights. The family also owns Performance Auto in Fargo, Bitker Tire Shop in Halstad and operate a 10,000-acre plus farm near Halstad as well. That’s not to mention the sports activities for their four daughters, who range from ages nine to 16.
And they don’t mind the fast pace one bit.
“I’m being pulled in every which direction possible,” Jake Bitker said. “On the inside it’s organized chaos. On the outside it looks a well-oiled machine.”
Jake and Sharnel Bitker, who live on a farm near Halstad, Minn., took over the Norman County Raceway in 2011. At the time, Jake Bitker was racing and the previous promoters, Paul and Shelly Engelstad, were getting ready to step away.
“It was my hobby. I didn’t fish, I didn’t hunt, this is what I did — raced,” Bitker said.
“Jake didn’t want to see the track close and neither did I. So we took the track over,” Sharnel Bitker said. “Paul and Shelly were extremely helpful.”
Eight years later, they are still running Norman County Raceway as 2019 is their ninth season at the helm. And they are in their fourth year of promoting, along with Nick Skalicky, the Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo which races on Fridays.
“Having someone that lives closer (to the track) is vital,” Sharnel said. “Having someone in Fargo to handle the day to day stuff is a necessity for us.”
All four Bitker daughters — Lillian, 16, Elzetta, 14, Sharlet, 11 and Adeliza, 9 — are involved in working with both tracks. Lillian works in the concession stand at NCR and the apparel booth at RRVS. The other three do anything from stocking pop to tearing tickets to cleaning.
“It’s truly a family affair,” Sharnel said. “We’re running the race track as a family, so everybody helps.”
“Our kids are involved and it’s a lot of fun to watch them,” Jake said.
In fact, Lillian and Elzetta are in the process of stepping into racing themselves. They are putting together an INEX Legends car, and Sharnel said the goal was to have the car ready by June 27 (which was a rainout at NCR).
Juggling running two tracks, a farm and two businesses seems like a big load. Sharnel Bitker credits the employees for those entities helping keep everything operating smoothly — which allows them to devote time to running the two tracks.
“They all step up. It’s a true group effort,” she said.
Jake handles the track preparation at both NCR and RRVS. Sharnel handles the draw in the pit area prior to the racing program and then oversees the operations side at NCR — fans, food and security, along with taking care of the nightly sponsors. She handles the fan side at RRVS with Skalicky handling the pit area.
“There ’s a lot of behind the scenes that people don’t know about,” Sharnel said.
One thing the Bitkers emphasize is being family friendly at both tracks. The facility at Ada is an older fairgrounds facility with a covered, wood grandstand and provides a unique setting for fans. They want both the fans and drivers to feel appreciated.
“It’s a smaller facility with a sense of intimacy; you get to know everyone,” Sharnel said. “We try really hard to be welcoming and friendly.”
“Our business motto is to have family-friendly environment,” Jake said. “We want all ages from zero to 99 to have fun.”
NCR is one of two Thursday night tracks in Minnesota — joining KRA Speedway in Willmar. The previous promoters tried running on Friday nights, but the Bitkers settled on Thursdays which has allowed them to carve a niche in the area racing scene. There are challenges to get fans and drivers there on a week night.
“A lot of people go to the lake on weekends,” Sharnel said. “Thursdays was better for us. It is hard; we try really hard to make sure we are done no later than 10 p.m. That’s all we can do. We don’t want to compete with other tracks on their nights that are close.”
The Bitkers do get about a two-week break in July when RRVS and NCR are both off, and that serves as the family’s vacation time.
But while their summers are busy, both Jake and Sharnel enjoy rewards from running two racetracks.
“For me, it’s the young kids, and helping out the young racers, and getting new people involved in the sport,” Jake said. “That’s the satisfaction.”
“It’s a lot of fun to entertain people,” Sharnel Bitker said. “I like to make people happy.”