Fantastically powerful engines beating their pistons back and forth with zero abandon. Black rubber tires clinging to the hot clay track for dear life. White-knuckled drivers furiously intent on shaving every possible millisecond from their lap times. North Dakota’s biggest racing event of the year! It’s the 32nd Annual Dakota Classic Modified Tour, and it’s returning to the Dacotah Speedway in Mandan this July! Whether you’re a fanatical motorhead or just love a good show, this is one summer night extravaganza you cannot miss.

“Car racing is more than just a thrill,” said John Gartner, former racer and one of the founders of the Dakota Classic Modified Tour. “To me, it’s about family heritage. My dad started racing in the 1950s. He passed away just a few weeks before I started my 25-year career on the track. My kids all race now, and my daughter Missy is raising my grandson to become one of the fourth generation of Gartner racers. That’s why his number is four.

“I helped to start the Dakota Classic Modified Tour in 1990. Back then several tracks in North Dakota wanted a real tour, so I proposed the idea during the Racing Promoters Monthly Conference at Florida Speedweeks in Daytona Beach. 

“Everyone thought I was a little nuts to ask for such a big thing in our state, myself included. But we got our inaugural tour sanctioned by the WISSOTA Promoters Association, and before we knew it we were welcoming drivers from throughout the region to local tracks in Mandan, Minot and Jamestown. 

“Today the Dakota Classic Modified Tour is sanctioned by the International Motor Contest Association and draws drivers from Texas to Canada. We have six consecutive nights of racing, including one all the way up in Saskatchewan. 

“These nights are a huge deal for the local guys who usually only get one week of vacation to race every year. For the week of the Dakota Classic Modified Tour, they’re racing like pros – and right alongside actual pros, too. Some of our country’s best professional drivers come to North Dakota to compete, and even though the matchup is kind of like David and Goliath you still have to root for the guys who spend their time off the track fixing roofs and milking cows.

“The stakes are huge. The prize money across all six tracks is $160 thousand, and if a local wins the point championship he’s almost guaranteed to get featured on the cover of a national racing magazine. He’ll probably drive for a racing chassis manufacturer’s pro team next year, too. That’s absolutely life-changing – but to get it, you have to drive like a bat out of you-know-where.

“That’s what makes the Dakota Classic Modified Tour so fun to watch. We pack the grandstands to the brim at the Dacotah Speedway every year, with no less than 2,000 people cheering for the creation of a new hometown hero.

“I’ve been organizing this tour for 32 years. And after every tour, I say I’m going to quit. I’m just getting too old. But they keep talking me into coming back for the next tour, especially now that my own kids are racing. This thing could keep going until my grandkids are racing around in electric cars. Who knows?”

The Dakota Classic Modified Tour is coming to the Dacotah Speedway in Mandan on July 15th. It will be the sixth and final round of the annual tour. To learn more about North Dakota’s biggest race of the year, please visit


By David Scheller