Most people who are race drivers or fans as adults got hooked on the sport as a kid and have a place where the memories just piled up. That was the case for me.
And most of us in that category had a track that was special to us as kids. A lot of people say that about the old half-mile at West Fargo (which I miss) and Buffalo River Speedway near Glyndon, for example.
For me, it was Madison Speedway in Madison, Minn. If you wonder why I have an affinity for small-town racetracks like Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon or Norman County Raceway in Ada, Madison was a big reason why.
My dad raced in the late 1970s and early 1980s and briefly for one year in 1987. I don’t remember watching him race a whole lot. Most of my memories are from going with him to the tracks in the region. And we were regulars, almost every week, at Madison Speedway. It was about a 40-minute drive, give or take, from home.
I made it to Madison for the first time since 2007 last Saturday. The drive was a little different coming from Fargo, but you got a nice tour of small-town USA on the way. A flood of memories came back when I got to town. Some just made me sit back and laugh. A night of racing at Madison was rarely dull.
Oh, and I recommend stopping at the Dairy Queen after the races in Madison. It used to be open late, and it was packed with people grabbing ice cream or supper. I got hooked on Butterfinger blizzards there.
The town, in the latest census, is down to 1,376 people. In 1990 the population was 1,951. That’s a huge drop in people.
Madison is a true 3/8-mile track that I would describe as semi-banked, and the racing surface there gets rave reviews from a lot of drivers I talk to. Usually there are two or three lanes.
The names are different than when I used to go there many years ago. By my count, there is only one racer from the 1980s still racing at that Madison — that is hometown driver Scott Tofte, whose car is pictured above. He raced in the modifieds for a long, long time and recently returned in the midwest modifieds. He also has had some big wrecks there, too.
I’ve seen some spectacular wrecks there. Some fights. Some controversy. And some intense rivalries. Some incredible racing.
I remember a challenge series race there once where Tony Leiker of Wyoming and the late John Seitz ran side by side almost the entire race, to the finish. It was the best challenge series race I’ve ever seen. I also saw Pat Doar blow a motor in his car in the heat, borrow Tommy Thompson’s second car, started dead last in the feature — and came through the pack and won. I have countless memories of the IMCA Stock Car battles between Mark Hoffman of Belingham and the Schuelke brothers from Milbank. Milbank used to have a lot of fans come down weekly. And the crowd was usually half for Hoffman and half for the Schuelkes.
There was a USMTS show there one year that was incredible. The modifieds have always put on a good show at Madison.
I’ve barked the flagman more than a few times at Madison. Trust me. Madison, years ago at least, had accusations of favoritism and politics, and that ignited the crowd. One story my dad told me was a driver climbing the flagstand to argue during a race. Apparently there was a scoring error, where a lapped car was scored first, and it led to some furious people.
I’ve seen fights. There was one when a current late model driver, who is still racing, was in his car and a crew member of another car tried to grab him and put him in a headlock.
In the 1980s there was a late model special that attracted Lakefield, Minn., driver Willy Kraft, and two guys I’d never heard of — Rick Egersdorf and Rick Aukland. It was an incredible display those guys put on, driving harder than I’d ever seen. I was in awe as a kid.
Future Wissota Late Model national champion Jeff Wildung of Nassau got his start racing in Madison in the 1980s. He ran an IMCA Stock Car before moving to the late models, which he eventually ran at Viking Speedway. His brother, Dean, was also a good racer there. There were the Arneson brothers, Bryan and Swede; Swede is still racing a sport mod out of the Pillager, Minn., area. Brad Tollakson and LeRoy Schuelke were among the late model drivers who raced there.
Madison had some great years in the 1990s in terms of car counts and crowds. It’s had some lean years, too. But it’s persevered, in spite of significant population losses in that area.
Saturday was fun to see that while some things changed — a lot hasn’t. Cars still pit in the infield, one of the few tracks that does that anymore. There is a wall around most of the track; used to be a guard rail in turns one and two way back in the day. The enclosed trailers pit off of turns three and four, compared to off of turn one like years ago. And you buy your tickets as you drive in, not at the gate. The grandstands remain the same as they’ve been for decades.
Besides the DQ, one other thing hasn’t changed. Sun Drop soda is still sold at Madison. That’s because of Madison Bottling located in town. If you need an instant caffeine high, Sun Drop supplies it.
The irony of last Saturday is, two drivers from my hometown of Clarkfield, Mike Jans and Alex Grinager, won feature races. The track was in nice shape, and it was a fun evening.
There are some other tracks I’d like to get back to from years ago, too. One is Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo, which I have not been to since 2013; another is Murray County Speedway in Slayton, which I have not been to since 2007.
It’s fun to recall the days of the past as a race fan, and how those experiences shaped how you love racing today. Madison Speedway, in terms of racing, always has a place in my heart