With only two more weeks remaining in the Murray County Speedway season, there is a lot of excitement in the air, but perhaps nothing as electric as the anticipation for the grand finale - the Wissota Late Models Invitational - scheduled tonight in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Murray County Fair.
MCS promotor and board member Josh Schafer expects a packed grandstand and a spectacular show.
"We're bringing in the Wissota models," Schafer said. "The late models haven't seen the dirt here in 13 years. We're expecting at least 20 late models, and we're bringing in some big names. Scotty Ward is running. He's Wissota's 'wild child'. John Winge, who runs at Daytona Speedway, is also coming."
Other possible late model drivers planning to attend are Chuck Kelly, Don Shaw, Jeff Wildug, Brian Schultz, Seth Brede, Ardy Eilers and sons, Jon Chrest, Shawn Kirwin, Nate and Nick Beyenhof, Justin and Marshall Fegers and Joe Waba.
"The late model is a whole different style of car," Schafer said. "They have 800 horse power engines and they look like a bat mobile. They're extremely fast."
Schafer said that the show is drawing drivers and fans from a good distance away.
"I've heard talk from here to the Canadian border," he said. "We have guys that race from Canada that are toying with whether or not to come down. People from Iowa are also coming. We have a good amount of money put up, too. It's a good prize if you win."
Canby's Corey Nelson is also expected to be in attendance. Nelson has a 35-point lead in the points standings (401 points) in the late model class at Fiesta City Speedway in Montevideo. Trailing behind are Chrest (366), Eilers (342), Schultz (341) and Wildung (339).
"Corey will be there (tonight)," Schafer said. "He's been racing a long time. I started in 1998 and Corey was racing then. He's evolved up the ladder to the late model. He travels within a three-state area, and he started out as a little farm boy from Canby."
And with the added glitz to the racing week - one that featured the Luverne Johnson Memorial Race Friday in addition to the late model event - comes the media frenzy.
"If we get 12 late models, they're going to put on a show like no other," Schafer said. "The last time we had late models here, it wasn't Wissota. This will be a well-covered event. All the dirt magazines will be here, including the Hawkeye magazine. Ever since Ken Schrader was here a few weeks ago, people from all over are requesting media passes."
In addition, MCS will also have its weekly television coverage that airs its footage on "Talkin' Dirt."
"All our drivers know they're being filmed and it seems to bring out some character," Schafer said. "The drama on the track that plays out is better than any reality show you'll see on TV. It's fun."
With the anticipated increase in attendance, Schafer said special arrangements had to be made to accomodate everyone.
"We'll pack the house," Schafer said. "We're expecting a big crowd this weekend and we've prepared for it. We have extra bleachers that seat 250 people and we have the infield area where people can drive right in and enjoy the races."
Schafer suggested that families should try out the infield because of its convenience and its excitement.
"It's a different look at racing when the cars are eight feet away," he said. "It's the same price as the grandstand. People can bring their own chairs or sit in their car. It's smack dab in the middle of the speedway, but people can bring their own grills. It's fun to see the drama up close."
In addition to the late models, the Wissota Midwest Mods will be racing with the USRA B-Modifieds.
"We're no stranger to holding top series here," Schafer said. "Drivers love the track and the Minnesota nights. We've had some big events here, but this year, we've had some of the biggest. Racing here is kind of a hidden secret because we don't advertise very much. But once people attend a race or know someone who races, they come back."
The Hot Rod Tour Vintage Car Club will also be racing tonight.
While the special events tend to draw a much bigger crowd, the weekly races have kept plenty of people coming back for more. Some of the nation's best drivers compete at MCS.
"We have some prestigeous racers here," Schafer said. "Out of the top 10 drivers in the nation, at least four are racing here weekly. There's some pretty stout drivers."
The high level of competition may deter some newer drivers at first, but Schafer pointed out that the best drivers had to take their lumps as rookies, too.
"It's tough to show up and compete every week when you're a younger guy getting started," he said. "The competition is very stiff at our track. But our top drivers got that way by racing the best."
With the championship night scheduled for Aug. 27, the race for individual titles at MCS is hot. Besides Don Gerritsen Jr.'s massive lead in the USRA Modified class, the other divisions are still being contested on a weekly basis.
"It goes so quickly from Friday to Friday," Schafer said. "It seems like we were just throwing the first green flag. Five of the six classes could come down to the final show. To win the championship, you have to be dedicated, and to finish in the top five is something to hang your hat on."
Although he is trailing by 11 points, Slayton's Eric Gillete looks to earn his third track championship, while Jon Schmidt, of Cottonwood, hopes to grab his first at MCS. In the Sportsmen class, Chandler's Trevor Holm and Slayton's Derek Platt are still battling for the top honor.
"Schmidt is a five-time champion at a different track," Schafer said. "Rich Gregoire is leading the nation in USRA stock car. There are still a lot of titles up for grabs."
As the year winds down, organizers are getting ready for the year-end banquet, where trophies and cash will be awarded and the Hall of Fame inductees will be revealed.
"We have younger people and older ones on the committee," Schafer said. "Those selected for the Hall of Fame could be drivers or a promoter like Luverne Johnson. Some people leave behind a small legacy, and these drivers know that it's their time to shine. When they win a feature and pull up in victory lane, they have to cherish the moment because it could be a long time before the next one."
But with the outpouring of support, Schafer believes that MCS will continue to be successful.
"There's no way we could be where we are without sponsors," he said. "We even had to add a second row of billboards. Communities from all around the surrounding area have come out in groves, and as long as we keep doing things the best way we know how, it can only go in an upwards direction."