Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spectacular crashes part of the fun

Red River Co-op smash videos an online hit with race fans

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It might get loud.

In fact, it will -- but this is no rock concert. This is a racetrack, and if you're looking for soaring decibels, furious driving and an addictive rush of adrenalin every Monday and Thursday night, look no further than the Red River Co-op Speedway.

If you've ever driven to North Dakota, the Speedway likely plays the role of that dirt oval you pass on the way to Grand Forks. But to those who have been up the hill to take in a night of action, to those folks who have smelled the ripe dirt and heard the engines growl, it is a sanctuary unlike any other.

"I've been racing for nine years and there just isn't any replacement for it," says Glen Manning, a supertruck driver and one of the track's maintenance co-ordinators.

Manning has been around cars all his life but first got involved with racing at the Speedway when he was part of track-owner Walter Morris's pit crew. The 25-year-old, who was working towards a diploma in automotive mechanics at the time, fell in love with the track.

"After being in Walt's pit crew, I knew I had to start racing my own cars," he says. "The whole thing was just too awesome."

Awesome, however, is a subjective word, and this is especially true when it comes to the crashes -- a good crash, a bad crash, a terrible crash, an amazing crash. They can all mean the same thing and often translate to the same fan reaction: 'awesome!'

"It's not like we cheer for crashes," explains Speedway general manager and promoter Blair Bodley. "But you go to a boxing match to see a guy get knocked out, right? Well, we do our best to limit (crashes), but certainly everyone anticipates them."

If you've ever seen an MPI collision centre line at 8 a.m., you know car accidents are hard to avoid. Imagine driving on a 4/10-mile track with 20 other vehicles, all doing more than 150 km/h and it's no wonder many of the crashes at the Speedway turn into quite a spectacle.

"I've been in some big ones before, but nothing that I haven't walked away from," Manning says. "I rolled my car between corners one and two in a heat two seasons back. Another driver sent me out of control and I flipped three times."

Manning wasn't phased.

"I actually ran my feature race a little later that night and did really well."

While serious crashes are few and far between, the track is always prepared. Along with two paramedics and an on-site ambulance, at least two firemen are always on standby.

"We always have at least four first-responders present or we don't race," Bodley says. "It's as simple as that."

The responders earn their pay, too. The Speedway's website (www.victorylane.mb.ca) often features a Crash of the Week video, and August 12, 2010, saw an 'awesome' crash that sent the response crew to work.

Driver Jamie Vernaus, whose late father built the track in 1973, captured the attention of spectators and safety crews (not to mention more than 2,500 YouTube viewers) when his car rolled violently two and a half times, before coming to rest on its back like a helpless turtle.

Vernaus was quickly pried from his gas-leaking vehicle as he raised his right arm in triumph. Vernaus escaped with a minor concussion and was racing again less than a month later.

Posting online content is one of the ways the Speedway is improving the experience for its fans. Also new this year is the addition of Monday night races (a cheaper and less-competitive evening for those new to the sport), a go-kart track built in the inner oval and pit passes, which allow fans access to the pits for an up-close and personal view of a pit stop.

"You really do not have to like racing to have a great time here," Bodley says. "It's all about the atmosphere. If you come here once, you're going to be a customer for life."

Races begin at 7:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays (weather permitting) and fans will see a minimum of 15 races per night.

robby.frankel@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2011 C8

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