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Speedway's return 'exciting' during Red River Valley Fair

Cole Schill will be racing at the Red River Valley Speedway in the NLRA Late Model class that will be joining the NOSA Sprint Cars along with the IMCA Hobby Stocks and Pure Stocks on July 17.David Samson / The Forum

Though Cole Schill has never won a track championship, there wouldn't be much better feeling than winning on his home track.

Especially because he has a hometown track for the first time in four years.

Schill leads the late models points standings at the Red River Valley Speedway going into the races at 5 p.m. Sunday as part of the Red River Valley Fair.

"For us to be on top at the hometown track we race, it's pretty awesome, I'm not going to lie," Schill said. "It definitely feels rewarding."

The Red River Valley Speedway, which first held races beginning in 1967, closed in 2012.

Sixteen-year driver Dan Dowling of Wheatland considered it his hometown track.

"I was really disappointed and angry," Dowling said. "I loved that racetrack, grew up on that track, watched a lot of famous names up in the races. It was like a piece of you was gone when there was no more racing. I would drive by it and know there was a nice piece of real estate for racing."

Jeff Hapala, who's in his 22nd year of racing, was born and raised in West Fargo, so seeing Red River Valley Speedway close was disheartening.

"It was really hard to stomach and hard to see," Hapala said. "I get the money and market. It's tough to make ends meet ... But the reality is there are other things in Fargo for people to go to."

Hapala, who first competed at the Red River Valley Speedway in 1999, still raced in the area after 2012—but he was excited when he heard it would come back this season.

"You can't beat having a track in your backyard," Hapala said. "It's your home track. You can bring your friends and family, and it makes it easier for them to come see you."

Schill, who raced go-karts since he was 8 years old, then drove his father's car for hot laps when he was 14, said racing is a family affair. His father, Howie, raced for 19 years and has given Schill, now in his seventh year of racing, plenty of advice and has given him a support system.

So to finally have a hometown track makes the sport even more enjoyable.

"Whenever we get a chance to race there, it's awesome for us," Schill said. "It's a five-minute drive. You don't have to travel across the state. It's awesome to have them back running again."

Dowling, who races pure stocks, said the Red River Valley Speedway is one of the best dirt tracks around.

So when he found out races might come back there, he was in disbelief.

"It's nice and close for me to go there on a Friday night," Dowling said. "Working on a farm and ranch with cattle, it's tough for me to make it, but I've made every show. We've made it our mandatory Friday night."

The track is now 3/8 of a mile long as opposed to half a mile, which is a new challenge for the drivers who raced there before.

But from what Hapala's heard, fans are enjoying it.

"I was really tickled when I heard about it (coming back)," Hapala said. "I don't get to set up in the stands and support them every week, but from what I've seen, the racetrack is good and the people in the racing community have been saying it's good. It's a positive if you can keep people talking good."

Schill, who won the only late models feature of the season, said he was excited to hit the track again when he found it was opening.

"I hope there's a huge crowd," Schill said. "That's good for our sport. We get the town back into it. It's pretty exciting just to be racing in front of our home crowd. We haven't done it since 2012. It's really exciting."

Though fan turnout has been positive, Dowling said auto racing can only further boost the local economy, so he hopes it continues to grow.

"If you've got the glass-half-full attitude, it can only get better from here," Dowling said. "The sky is the limit for (the organizers). It's just what the those guys decide to do, but for now, if we keep racing out here, it's the best thing for everybody."

As part of the Red River Valley Fair, Hapala suspects empty seats won't be a problem.

"It's going to be great. It's going to be a packed house," Hapala said. "I just think it's going to be an exciting night and good show for the fans for sure."

But despite the excitement, Dowling is still looking forward to passing his fellow drivers on the track.

"That's what everyone wants to see," Dowling said. "Door to door, racing for positions, it's going to be exciting to be able to race when the fair is going on. There's a lot of people who probably wouldn't think about it and say, 'What the heck, let's check the races out.'"

Colton Pool

Pool is a reporter for The West Fargo Pioneer covering city sports and community news. He was the sports editor for The Dickinson Press covering Dickinson State athletics, high school athletics and Southwest Speedway. He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in journalism and a minor in English. You can reach him by phone at 701-451-5715 or tweet him @CPoolReporter. 

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