Busy, wild night at Norman County Raceway

Mike Spieker
Dustin Strand of East Grand Forks took his first checkered flag since 2012 at the Norman County Raceway.

    A big field of 85 race teams were checked in on Thursday night as Norman County Raceway hosted the ninth annual Sanders Mod Challenge and the first leg of the IMCA Red River Modified Tour, presented by the IMCA Duel in the Desert, as well as the NLRA Late Models.

    For the third time in his career, Austin Arneson of Fargo, N.D. claimed the Sanders Mod Challenge win after a dominating performance.

    NCR regular Jesse Skalicky of Fargo and Darin Duffy of Urbana, Iowa paced the field to green with Duffy taking the early lead, but it took just two laps for Arneson to charge his way into the lead from the fourth starting position.

    Once out front, Arneson wouldn’t be touched for the remainder of the 25-lap feature. A great battle brewed behind Arneson, however, as Duffy had to content with Arneson’s younger brother, Casey Arneson.

    Despite multiple slide job attempts by Casey Arneson, Duffy was able to hang on to the runner-up spot. Duffy rallied late to turn a three-second lead by Austin Arneson to a 0.6 second lead at the checkers with Casey Arneson finishing three car lengths behind Duffy.

    Behind the top three, there was an 11-second gap back to Michael Johnson of Moorhead, Minn. in fourth. Cody Leonard of Sinton, Texas rounded out the top five.

    The win for Arneson gave his U-Motors Racing team its sixth Sanders Mod Challenge win.

    Casey Arneson, Cody Skytland and Johnny Scott have also picked up Sanders Mod Challenge wins for U-Motors Racing.

    The NLRA Late Models had 22 cars checked in for their first visit to Norman County Raceway since 2017. Don Shaw of Ham Lake, Minn. and Ryan Mikkelson of Alexandria, Minn. led the field to green with Shaw taking the early lead.

    Fourth-place starter, Dustin Strand of East Grand Forks, Minn. pulled even with Shaw on lap five, and the two drivers engaged in a great battle for the lead, running two distinct lanes around the three-eighths mile oval.

    Strand took the point on lap seven as Shaw pulled off the track the following lap with an apparent mechanical failure.

    Brad Seng of Grand Forks, N.D. came from ninth on the grid to second by lap 13 as he set his sights on Strand for the lead. Strand was too strong, however, as the three-time NLRA series champion cruised to his first Late Model win at NCR since 2012.

    The first red flag of the season came out on lap two of the Christian Motors WISSOTA Midwest Modified feature. The No. E85 of Jason Strand of Portland, N.D. suffered a mechanical issue and looked to pull into the infield. Just as he did, Joe Henninger of Grand Forks clipped the left front of Strand with his right rear and barrel-rolled violently three complete times before coming to rest on all four wheels.

    Henninger was okay, but his car was destroyed.

    Hougard led the field until points leader, Brock Gronwold of Fergus Falls, Minn. reeled him in and made the pass coming to the white flag. Hougard did everything he could to regain the lead on the final lap, but Gronwold held on to pick up his fourth win of the season at NCR.

    The Titan Machinery IMCA SportMods were 14 cars strong for their main event. Things got off to a ragged start as outside front row starter, Brandon Tendeland of West Fargo, N.D., got sideways in turns one and two. The rest of the field was able to miss Tendeland except for Greg Schilling of Halstad, Minn. who made heavy contact with Tendeland.

    Both Tendeland and Schilling were okay, but were done for the night.

    On the restart, Chris VanMil of Barnesville, Minn. took command of the race lead and checked out from the rest of the field. VanMil looked to have the race in hand until the final caution flew with three laps to go.     

    A three-wide race for the lead on the ensuing restart broke out between last week’s winner, Andy Wagner of Ada, Minn. and Luke Johnson of Moorhead. With two to go, it became a race between VanMil and Johnson as Johnson threw a slide job for the lead in turns one and two. VanMil countered with a crossover move down the back straightaway, but Johnson cleared for the lead in turns three and four coming to the white flag.

    Johnson held off VanMil on the final lap to claim his second win of the season at NCR.

    Backing up his win Friday night at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, Ryan Braseth of Ulen, Minn. picked up an exciting Seedex INEX Legends feature win. Braseth held off his brother, Alex Braseth, and point leader Tye Wilke of Detroit Lakes, Minn. in the closing laps.

    Todd Heinrich of Fargo dominated the Norman County Implement IMCA Stock Car feature for his third win of the season at NCR.