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Eric Peterson, Published June 25 2010

Skytland still soaking in win over Tony Stewart at speedway

Cody Skytland appeared calm on the exterior, but the adrenaline had yet to leave his system.

His hand started shaking as he signed an autograph in the pits after Wednesday night’s races at Red River Valley Speedway.

Earlier in the evening, Skytland cruised to victory in the Late Model feature, beating a 24-car field that included Tony Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

“This for sure is going to be the biggest one forever,” said Skytland, a 25-year-old driver from Fargo.

“It’s one of those deals where you don’t beat Tony Stewart every night. It’s something I will talk about when I’m 80 years old. I will tell my kid, and he will tell his kid.”

A third generation racer, Cody is the son of Dale Skytland, a well-known area Late Model driver who last raced in 2007. Dale was a 25-year race veteran, who drove Late Models for 20 of those years. From Edmore, N.D., Dale called Grand Forks’ River Cities Speedway his home track.

Dale beamed after watching Cody outduel Stewart.

“You’ve got to be a pretty proud dad right now, there isn’t a whole lot more to say about that but being proud,” Dale said.

Cody said his father has played a key role in his racing career.

“I went with him since I was small and watched him race and watched him accomplish a lot of things,” Cody said. “He taught me how to be a champion and how to win.”

Stewart started in the front row of the feature after winning his heat race.

Skytland, who also won his heat, started in Row 3.

Stewart was strong early, racing ahead of the pack before Skytland started his surge. Skytland contested for the lead around Lap 10 of the 25-lap feature.

After dueling for a lap, Skytland passed Stewart, forging into the lead for good. Stewart finished third in the feature.

“When I was running him down, it crossed my mind it was Tony Stewart,” said Skytland, who has raced Late Models for seven years. “Then when I got beside him, I just let it go; just another race car just another number out there when I got beside him. When I got by him, it crossed my mind again and I took a deep breath, calmed myself down and started hitting my marks.”

Skytland’s car owner Jake Bitker was thrilled with the outcome.

“It’s really neat for me because it’s in my home area and it’s the biggest spectator night,” Bitker said.

Skytland has previous experience against big-name drivers. He’s raced against Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader. Both of those drivers have also raced NASCAR.

Skytland was thankful that Danny Schatz and his son, Donny, were able to bring Stewart to the RRVS.

The dirt track was in jeopardy of not running this summer before Danny took over track operations in the offseason.

Donny races for Stewart on the World of Outlaws sprint car circuit.

“Schatz has done an amazing deal here this year,” Skytland said. “Without that, we wouldn’t be here. … I’ve got to thank them.”

Danny Schatz said on Thursday he didn’t have an exact attendance figure for Tony Stewart Night. The grandstand, however, that holds around 8,500 people was packed.

“It was a great crowd,” Danny said.

In a post race interview, Stewart told the crowd: “I think I’ll be a little better when I come back.”

Danny his hopeful the track can draw more big names. Schrader is already scheduled to race at RRVS later this summer.

“I would hope that we can continue to get participation from people like Tony,” Danny said. “Naturally, it strengthens our race base.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513. Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com.