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Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends

Notes: Rookie forges ahead in Mom's memory

June 20, 2024, 12:11 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor
Tucker Pederson (speedway-shots.com)
Tucker Pederson (speedway-shots.com)

When Tucker Pederson on June 15 enjoyed the thrill of his first Late Model victory, the 20-year-old from East Grand Forks, Minn., knew there'd be plenty of folks to join his celebration in victory lane at Devils Lake Speedway in Crary, N.D. He also vividly knew who wouldn’t be there.

Pederson’s mother Julie was often the first to greet him in victory lane during his successful street stock career, but there would be no such greeting on this occasion. After enduring a grueling, three-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, the woman Tucker called the “glue” to his family’s racing died in April at the age of 49.

“Up until things really got tough for her (healthwise), she was always one of the first ones down there to come down and give me the big hug and say, ‘Good job.’ Yeah, she was always one of the first ones down there,” Pederson said, recalling Devils Lake's emotional victory lane ceremony. "I knew when that first (victory) came that I wouldn't be able to hold myself together. Just because she was such a big part, played such a big part in my life and even in my racing, she kept me level-headed, and when I was starting to get riled up or anything she would always have her way of talking me back down.

"I knew that it was gonna be a really emotional one. It’s just hard when one of your biggest supporters isn't there anymore, you know?”

His mother’s death leaves a gaping hole in a racing family, and not just any racing family. Tucker’s parents met while racing super stocks in the 1990s at North Dakota and Minnesota tracks. Father Joey became one of the region’s top Late Model drivers and an 11-time winner on the Northern LateModel Racing Association while Julie’s trailblazing career — her male counterparts often trying to "rough her up (because) they didn't want her on the track,” Tucker said — ended in 2001, a year after she married Joey. Her final victory came in Hallock, Minn., when she was unknowingly pregnant with Tucker’s older sister, Kelsi, who became a go-kart racer along with her brother and now is a regular winner in the lightning sprint car division.

It's no wonder that Tucker Pederson’s No. 27P Late Model carried a pink scheme paying tribute to not only his mother’s favorite color but also breast cancer awareness. While failing health prevented her from seeing the car in person, Tucker made sure to show her a picture of it from the Home of Economy Racer’s Showcase car show once he completed the design with fellow racer Cole Babcock of Wicked Wraps, who is Kelsi’s boyfriend.

After Tucker’s victory at Devils Lake, which puts him atop DirtonDirt.com's Weekly Notebook presented by FK Rod Ends, everyone surrounding that car in victory lane knew the Pedersons’ heartbreak.

“It’s really crazy how much the racing community is a second family,” Tucker Pederson said. “We had some other families that were really, really close with that. They all came down there running and hugging their cheering like crazy and even other racers that came down there in the victory lane and they're giving me hugs and congratulations and stuff and it was. It was pretty crazy.

“It’s all, it's just the extended race family, you know? They were all here to support (the family) through mom's deal. It was fitting that they all got in for one picture.”

Pederson’s first Late Model victory came in his eighth start in the division and, after a few weeks off, his next start is next month at Dead Horse Creek Speedway in Morden, Manitoba. He’s accustomed to winning, piling up 50 victories during his street stock career, including a WISSOTA-best 26 last season while finishing third in the organization’s points.

Pederson is adjusting to his Late Model — and a lighter schedule after racing his street stock four times a week among 19 tracks as far away as Billings, Mont., the previous season — while making recent improvements to his car's handling thanks to an assist from MB Customs.

“We just couldn't get the thing to rotate right,” Pederson said. “It was hard, being new, on whether or not you chalk it up as being a new driver in the class and trying to figure it out, or if it’s the car, or if it's both. And so it was definitely kinda discouraging because, I'm just, like, ‘Gosh, I know, I'm not that bad. I know what I'm feeling in my butt.”

A week after his car’s battery died, robbing him of a top-five finish June 8 at Devils Lake, the setup changes made his car “drastically different” in racing to his first victory. He hopes there are more victories to come locally, regionally and perhaps beyond.

"I think it's every racer's dream that they could go travel with the Lucas Oil (Series) or the World of Outlaws (Late Models),” Pederson said of his long-term racing goals. “If the opportunity came, oh, my gosh, I would love to try to pursue something like that. But you gotta have the right connections and honestly deep enough pockets to make that stuff happen. So for now we'll just keep focusing on racing regionally and kinda just see how that goes. And I don't know, maybe if we have enough success, the sky is the limit.”

While Pederson is studying physical therapy at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, he’s certain to stay tightly connected to racing thanks to his family’s history going back to his maternal grandfather, Dean Osowski.

“It's pretty much kinda been engrained into our blood. It's just been what our parents raised us with,” he said, recognizing that his late mother knew exactly what it meant to be a short-track competitor.

“She completely understood everything and especially her, racing herself when she was around my age, she knew everything for the most part to do with the cars. She didn't always help us but she knew what we were doing,” he said. “She was one of our biggest supporters, and for sure, kind of the glue to our family after my grandpa had passed because he was really a really big part of our racing, too.

“She was a huge support and, especially when me and my dad tend to butt heads sometimes, she was really good at alleviating all that, kind of keeping us all straight, and just making sure that the biggest thing about our racing was that it stayed a family thing.”

Amid his 2023 WISSOTA championship pursuit in street stocks, Julie Pederson didn’t let her frequent health struggles with sepsis and a weakened immune system keep her away from the track.

"I'll be damned, she, more often than not, would take off work in spite of her cancer diagnosis and struggling with all the stuff that she had going on,” Tucker said. “She still got in that pickup and would drive five hours and — oh my gosh — I don't know how she did it, but she stayed strong and no matter what she wanted to keep it a family thing.”

While racing continues, life without mom will never be easy.

“We’re getting by,” Tucker said. “It’s been a really, really, really big adjustment. And of course, you know, we were all expecting that when the day finally came. We're doing OK. It's just readjusting to a different lifestyle.

“We try to do everything we can to honor her and to keep her alive, in a way. She’ll never soon be forgotten.”

Weekly highlights

Tyler Carpenter of Parkersburg, W.Va., swept the June 14-15 Rumble on the Ridge weekend at Skyline Speedway in Stewart, Ohio, including the finale’s $3,000 top prize. Opening night was eventful for Carpenter as he headed home during a rain delay to swap motors, only to return and win the Super Late Model feature.

• Winning June 15’s Super Late Model feature at Elkins Raceway in Kerens, W.Va., Jacob Hawkins of Fairmont, W.Va., picked up a victory nearly 20 years to the day of his first Elkins triumph in modified competition on Father’s Day weekend in 2004.

David Parker of Sinclairville, N.C., swept June 14-15’s Crate Late Model features at Stateline Speedway in Busti, N.Y., and Eriez Speedway in Hammett, Pa.

• Scoring a June 14-15 weekend sweep in 604 Crate Late Model competition, Mark Whitener of Middleburg, Fla., scored home-state victories at Ellisville’s All-Tech Raceway and Barberville’s Volusia Speedway Park.

• Leading every lap at Lake View Motor Speedway in Nichols, S.C., Michael Batten of Rocky Mount, N.C., earned $2,500 for June 15’s Sandra Miller Memorial victory.

Kyle Moore of Mansfield, Ohio, on June 15 won his fifth consecutive Super Late Model feature at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio.

First things first

Recent first-time occurrences at the dirt track:

• Winning his first Limited Late Model feature, 30-year-old Sanders Overman of Edonton, N.C., took the checkers June 14 at Dixieland Speedway in Elizabeth City, N.C.

A.J. Cooley of Wheatfield, Ind., notched his first Crate Late Model victory June 8 at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.

• Twin Lakes, Minn., driver Jesse Aho captured his first career Crate Late Model start June 11 at Eagle River (Wis.) Speedway. The 42-year-old Aho, a 10-time track champion in the B-mod division, moved into Crates for 2024.

Tucker Walker of Moultrie, Ga., won June 15 at Needmore Speedway in Norman Park, Ga., for his first victory in the 602 Crate Late Model division.

 • Winning June 16 at Casino Speedway in Watertown, S.D., Konner Sperle of Aberdeen, S.D., notched his first career Limited Late Model feature.

Weekly news briefs

• East Grand Forks, Minn., Late Model racer Nick Minske suffered severe injuries in a June 15 motorcycle accident. He’s being treated at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, N.D., after his motorcycle struck a car that rolled through a stop sign, according to police reports. The 17-year-old driver of the Pontiac Vibe may face charges. A GoFundMe account has been established to support Minske’s family.

Hidden Valley Speedway in Clearfield, Pa., has rescheduled its Limited Late Model special for June 28. The race pays $1,000-to-win.

Mountain View Raceway in Spring City, Tenn., is mourning the June 11 passing of Glen Varner, a longtime spectator and racing supporter who died at the age of 82. The Rhea County road superviser was a participant in community events including the Rhea County Fair.

• Chris Cheek of Hamptonville, N.C., donated his $1,200 winnings from June 16’s 602 Crate Late Model victory at Ultimate Motorsports Park in Elkin, N.C., to the Sidney Langston Memorial Scholarship Fund. The inaugural Sidney Langston Memorial paid tribute to the 18-year-old daughter of Matt and Jenifer Langston who died in a 2022 automobile accident.

• Dacotah Speedway in Mandan, N.D., is paying $2,000-to-win and $300-to-start apiece for July 26-27 North Dakota Governors Cup races. The band Booz N Tuna is playing after the opening night.

• Longtime Kentucky Dirt Late Model racer Rod Carter Jr. of Woodbine, Ky., died from injuries suffered in a June 13 automobile accident when a tire blew out and his car struck a concrete median. The 2024 inductee into the South Central Kentucky Dirt Racing Hall of Fame was 54. Carter was a multitime track champion at Lake Cumberland Speedway in Burnside, Ky., most recently in 2020. His 2008 championship season at the 3/8-mile oval included nine Super Late Model victories. He was also a two-time winner of Lake Cumberland Classic features and collected multiple $3,000 victories at the track.

Weekly points

DIRTcar (Supers): Rusty Schlenk of McClure, Ohio, has 1,011 points to lead Ashton Winger (797) and Jason Feger (775).

IMCA (Limiteds): Evan Miller of Silvis, Ill., has 655 points to lead Jesse Bodin (552) and Andy Nezworski (476).

POWRi (Limiteds): Alan Westling of Fulton, Mo., has 3,400 points to lead Tucker Cox (3,220) and Kyle Graves (2,160).

USRA (Limiteds): Matt Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., has 2,885 points to lead Cade Nelson (2,538) and Jason McFadden (2,284).

WISSOTA (Limiteds): Tyler Peterson of Hickson, N.D., has 1,672 points to lead Kevin Burdick (1,475) and Cole Schill (1,269).

American All-Stars (Crates): Brandon Fouts of Kite, Ky., has 382 points to lead Braeson Fulton (290) and A.J. Hicks (280).

Crate Racin’ USA (602 Crates): Colby Ponds of Caledonia, Miss., has 578 points to lead Josh Parkerson (574) and Heather Lowe (556).

Crate Racin’ USA (604 Crates): Shannon Lee of Lumberton, Miss., has 523 points to lead David Williamson (515) and Sid Scarbrough (484).

DIRTcar (Crates): Jim Moon of Grand Prairie, Texas, has 70 points to lead Chase Osterhoff (635).

Fastrak (Crates): Luke Hyre of Rock Cave, W.Va., has 368 points to lead George Casto (360) and Braeden Dillinger (351).

RUSH (Crates): No weekly points have been reported.

Upcoming weekly specials

Among non-touring and independent special events coming up for Late Models at dirt tracks around the country:

Sugar Creek Raceway, Blue Ridge, Ga. (June 21): The opening round of the two-race Battle of the Mountain pays $3,000-to-win for Super Late Models and $1,500-to-win for 604 Crates and three other divisions in action. A $500 bonus goes to Super or 604 Crate drivers sweeping Sugar Creek and North Georgia.

Gondik Law Speedway, Superior, Wis. (June 21): The KME Late Model miniseries event pays $1,500-to-win with the Badger State Hornet Nationals also on the card.

Ohsweken (Ontario) Speedway (June 21): The Late Model Open is sponsored by FS Partners & County Line as the Late Models top a card with four other divisions.

Tyler County Speedway, Middlebourne, W.Va. (June 22): The Earl Hill Memorial pays $5,080-to-win for the Super Late Model division; the Steel Block Late Model Series ($3,000-to-win) is also on the 50th Midsummer Classic card.

Shawano (Wis.) Speedway (June 22): Late Models will chase a $1,500 winner’s purse. Ellis Dees is paying $50 apiece to the night’s heat winners provided cars have a Dees-provided sticker.

North Georgia Speedway, Chatsworth, Ga. (June 22): The second half of the Battle of the Mountain weekend pays $3,000-to-win for Super Late Models and $1,500-to-win for 604 Crates and three other divisions in action. A $500 bonus goes to Super or 604 Crate drivers sweeping Sugar Creek and North Georgia.

Pine Ridge Speedway, Guntown, Miss. (June 22): The 602 Crate Late Model division will chase a $2,500-to-win purse with the Rumble at the Ridge. Weekly divisions are also in action.

Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway (June 22): On Pack the Track Night, Limited Late Models will be running double features, including a $2,500-to-win topless feature. Three other divisions are in action.

Brighton (Ontario) Speedway (June 22): Brighton Automotive sponsors the Late Model Open with four divisions on the undercard.

Correction: Fixes details regarding Nick Minske's motorcycle wreck.

Tucker Pederson file

Age: 20 (birthday May 27)
Hometown: East Grand Forks, Minn.
Girlfriend: Grace Miller
Family: His father Joey Pederson, 49, is also a Dirt Late Model racer; his sister Kelsi is 23. His mother Julie died in April.
Education: Rising junior on track for a doctorate in physical therapy at University of North Dakota
Chassis/engine: MB Customs/Tim’s Automotive & Machine
Sponsors: R&R Farms, Amy Dallum Photography, North Dakota Eye Clinic, Ad Monkeys, Dahlstrom Motors, Markit County Grain, Trilogy Ag Group, PRO Land Snow, Bad Boy Mowers, SouthlineFarms, InVision Ag, Hilleshög Seed, Northern Valley Fertilizer, Don & Darleen Votava, Phil Thompson & Associates, Turf Pros Lawn Care, Lloyd’s Lawn Care, Big Jim's Tire, Channel Seed, B&E Meats, HOPE Church, Applied Hi-Performance Products, Energy Release Products, Eagles Dacotah Aerie 350, Dynamic Welding and Machine, Sky-Vu Drive-In, Mark Sinn, Levi Babcock Construction, Pit Light Solutions, Wicked Wraps, Race Bodies and Fabrication.
Crew members: Eli Sczepanski, Cody Noreikis, Cole Babcock and Justin Schill
Racing career: After racing gokarts as a youngster, he moved into the street stock division for several seasons, culminating with a 26-victory campaign in 2023 when he finished third in overall WISSOTA points. He owns 50 career street stock victories. He rose to the Late Model division for 2024 and won in his eighth start June 15 at Devils Lake Speedway in Crary, N.D.

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