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Eric Peterson, Published June 24 2010

Stewart puts on a show at RRVS, finishes third in feature

Tony Stewart put on a show Wednesday night at the Red River Valley Speedway that wasn’t limited to his performance on the dirt track.

Stewart signed autographs, waved to fans as he was paraded in front of the grandstand during an intermission break and fraternized with local drivers in the pits.

The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion cruised to victory in the Late Models heat but finished third in the 25-lap feature before an estimated 8,000 fans.

Cody Skytland took first in the feature, while Jeff Wilding took second place.

“It’s been cool to come to Fargo and get a chance to run here,” Stewart said earlier during an intermission break interview after he won his heat.

Stewart was impressed with the revamped three-eighths-mile dirt track.

“They’ve done a real good job here,” Stewart said. “It’s nice and smooth. It’s really first class.”

Lance Hagman drove 250 miles and also helped with cleanup from a natural disaster on his way to the West Fargo track so he could see Stewart race.

A high school teacher from Hinckley, Minn. (which is located 80 miles north of Minneapolis), Hagman had never been to RRVS prior to Wednesday.

“I found out about it this spring and just had to be here,” said Hagman, a 50-year-old race fan. “It shows where his heart is as far as supporting local racing. It shows what a really good guy he is, contrary to what a lot of people think. That’s one thing about Tony; you either love him or hate him.”

There was no doubt Stewart was the fan favorite at RRVS, drawing cheers from the loud crowd throughout the evening.

Stewart was just as appreciative.

“You guys have been awesome. I just appreciate you guys coming out and hanging out with us tonight,” Stewart said to the crowd during an interview conducted over the public-address system.

A RRVS special edition T-shirt with a printed “Tony Stewart” autograph on the back sold out in about an hour and a half.

Matt Aukland, a Late Models driver from Fargo, was excited to get the chance to race against the NASCAR star. Stewart was driving a car owned by Aukland’s racing team.

“In my mind it’s kind of like borrowing Tiger Woods a golf club,” Aukland said.

Hagman started his trip to RRVS early Tuesday. He drove to Wadena, Minn., where he spent most of the day helping with cleanup from last week’s tornado. Hagman then continued on to West Fargo and camped by the speedway Tuesday night. Hagman, who had VIP tickets, got a chance to meet and get an autograph from Stewart.

Hagman gave Stewart a stuffed squirrel, which was dressed in a red racing suit, patterned after Stewart’s.

“He actually stopped and said, ‘Oh my God. That’s the funniest thing I have ever gotten,’ ” said Hagman, who was wearing a red “Tony Stewart” hat and white “Tony Stewart” T-shirt.

“What I think is going to be fun is going to be for the local guys to get in there and mix it up with him.”

Bev Lund-Schmidt, 55, didn’t get a chance to meet Stewart prior to the race, but couldn’t wait to see the Stewart take the track.

“I just like him,” said Lund-Schmidt, who is from Moorhead. “A dirt track racer, made it big. He’s a little guy that made it big. I like him. I respect him.”

Mike Slaughter, a 33-year-old racing fan from Moorhead, had the chance to meet with Stewart prior to the race. Slaughter arrived at the speedway at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and said there was already a long line to get into the VIP area.

Wearing a white and red “Tony Stewart” cap and a red “Tony Stewart” T-shirt, Slaughter was grateful the NASCAR star came to race in West Fargo.

“I appreciate the stuff he comes up here and does, trying to save this race track and everything,” Slaughter said. “I think it means a lot because (Stewart) is a humble person. This community is full of humble people.”

Aukland appreciated the large crowd.

“It’s been a long time since (West Fargo) had a full grandstand,” Aukland said. "It used to be that way when I was growing up.”

The RRVS was in jeopardy of not running this summer until Danny Schatz took over track operations in the offseason.

Donny Schatz, Danny’s son, races for Stewart on the World of Outlaws sprint car circuit.

“When I heard that Schatz was taking over the race track, I knew Tony would do everything in his power to help him,” Lund-Schmidt said.

RRVS track announcer Ron Krog, who has been a race announcer for 24 years at various tracks, felt having Stewart race brought a different dynamic to the track.

“It’s almost like a rock star coming in, one of the big concerts,” Krog said. “It’s amazing how they can energize a town.”

Midwest Modifieds

Heat 1: 1, Zach Naastad. 2, Jarrett Carter. 3, Tyler Hall.

Heat 2: 1, Steve Houle. 2, Dev Malmlov, Moorhead. 3, Scott Bintz, Jamestown, N.D.

Heat 3: 1, Mike Anderson, West Fargo. 2, Bryce Borgen, Perley, Minn. 3, Charles Jensen, Glyndon, Minn.

Heat 4: 1, Austin Arneson, Fargo. 2, Brian Krog, Fergus Falls, Minn. 3, Travis Saurer, Elizabeth, Minn.

Heat 5: 1, Rick Pavlicek, Casselton, N.D. 2, Brady Gerdes. 3, Cale Arneson, Fargo.

Feature: 1, Naastad. 2, A. Arneson. 3, Gerdes. 4, Saurer. 5, Borgen.

Modifieds

Heat 1: Blake Jegtvig, Hawley, Minn. 2, Jason Thoennes. 3, Chris Prussman.

Heat 2: 1, Jason Grimes, Jamesotwn, N.D. 2, Blake Borgen, Perley, Minn. 3, Corky Thomas, Fargo.

Heat 3: 1, Bryce Bjerke, Gardner, N.D. 2, Corey Seckerson, Jamestown, N.D. 3, John Nord, Enderlin, N.D.

Heat 4: 1, Mike Greseth, Harwood, N.D.. 2, Alex Engelstad, Beltrami, Minn. 3, Danny Bayer, Elrosa, Minn.

Heat 5: 1, Scott Danziesen, Herman, Minn. 2, Robert Sagen, Arthur, N.D.. 3, Steven Pfeifer.

Feature: 1, Jegtvig. 2, Greseth. 3, Danziesen 4. Thoennes. 5, Engelstad

Late Models

Heat 1: Mitch Johnson. 2, Jeff Provinzio, Hibbing, Minn. 3, Jeremy Keller, Mandan, N.D.

Heat 2: 1, Tony Stewart. 2, Michael Johnson, Moorhead. 3, Joel Cryderman, Thunder Bay, Ont..

Heat 3: 1, Jeff Wilding. 2, Pat Doar. 3, Kyle Olson, West Fargo.

Heat 4: 1, Cody Skytland. 2, Ricky Weiss, St. Francios Xavier, Manitoba. 3, Shawn Kirwin, Morris, Minn.

Heat 5: Chad Williamson. 2, Zach Johnson. 3, Matt Aukland, Fargo.

Feature: 1, Skytland. 2, Wilding. 3, Stewart. 4, Williamson. 5, M. Johnson.