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Published June 19 2012

Wildung works to build a car fit for NASCAR's Stewart

WEST FARGO – It’s a memory Jeff Wildung doesn’t often bring up, but it is relevant given his current situation.

Wildung, in his first race, used someone else’s car and the seat belts broke. Many years later, he’s hoping three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart has a better experience.

Wildung is the man responsible for setting up Stewart’s late model car for today’s race at Red River Valley Speedway.

“My biggest fear in this whole deal is having Tony drive this car and it doesn’t work well,” Wildung said. “I feel I have the best pit crew in all of Wissota.”

Stewart makes his sixth visit to RRVS since 2010. He will be looking for his first win at the speedway.

“We’ll be flying into Fargo (today) and then we’ll be heading out to the track,” Stewart said. “I want to catch up with Jeff Wildung and his guys. This will be the first time I am driving their car.”

It’s the first time anyone will be driving the car, Wildung said. Stewart will race in a car that until Tuesday afternoon hadn’t even been tested.

Wildung, who lives in Nassau, Minn., and his pit crew arrived at the speedway a day early to get a few laps in the car. Sprint car standout and Minot, N.D., native Donny Schatz was also set to test drive the car, Wildung said.

“It is a car that is 110 percent ready to go,” Wildung said. “He’s going to jump in and it’s going to be 110 percent ready and the safest car we could ever put him in.”

Stewart said in an email he has a “pretty good” feel for the track. He said his dirt racing background allows him to figure places out.

“Racing is my passion,” Stewart said. “The Schatz family (which operates RRVS) has that same passion. They have put a lot of effort into the race track, and spending some time in Fargo is something I look forward to.”

Given Stewart’s schedule, it appears he’ll be happy to spend time in one place.

Stewart participated in a sprint car race in Indiana and then finished second on Sunday in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart, who already has two wins this season, is eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

He returned to his native Indiana on Tuesday for another race and will fly into West Fargo today.

“Thursday we’ll head back to the airport,” he said, “and fly to California for this week’s Cup race in Sonoma.”

Wildung said he has a lot of respect for Stewart and how he’s willing to race on dirt tracks. Wildung, who will also race against Stewart, said the memory he’ll take from this is getting a chance to hang out with both Stewart and Schatz.

He hopes it goes a lot better than the memory he had from the broken seat belt.

“They broke and me being the guy I was back then, I didn’t care,” Wildung said. “I am 49 years old now and my brain works a little bit better now.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com