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Elaine Thoennes makes history as a Hall of Famer at the Viking Speedway

Thoennes becomes the first female in Alexandria speedway’s Hall of Fame.

Elaine Thoennes
Alexandria's Elaine Thoennes takes her spot in the scoring tower at the Viking Speedway during the races on July 9, 2022. Thoennes has devoted countless hours over nearly 50 years of being involved at the Alexandria track. For her effort, she became the first female ever elected into the Viking Speedway Hall of Fame when she joined longtime Farwell driver and car owner Dennis Bitzan as part of the 2022 class. Thoennes and Bitzan will be honored at the speedway during Hall of Fame Night on July 30.
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ALEXANDRIA — Alexandria’s Elaine Thoennes did not know exactly what she was in for at the time during her first trip to the Viking Speedway race track more than 45 years ago.

Her husband (fiance at the time), Dave Thoennes, took her to the track in what she thought was just a normal date night. Little did she know back then how much that would be the start of the Viking Speedway holding such an important place in her life.

“I dressed up really nice and looked really good,” Elaine said with a laugh. “I didn’t know you wore jeans and a T-shirt to the race track, but now I do.”

Elaine learned much more about the local dirt-racing track over the next nearly five decades.

She knows the ins and outs of what makes things run out there as well as anyone. All the behind-the-scenes things — ordering and distributing supplies needed, checking in drivers, getting their checks to them, on and on it goes — Elaine has a hand in it.

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Her work in keeping things organized at the track does not go unnoticed. It earned her the track’s highest honor as part of the 2022 Hall of Fame class at the Viking Speedway.

Elaine and longtime standout driver and car owner Dennis Bitzan of Farwell will be honored for their induction at the track’s Hall of Fame Night on July 30 during that Saturday’s races.

“It puts me in tears almost to talk about it,” Elaine said. “I have given them 200% of myself from the day I started this. I never knew a thing about races until (Dave) brought me there. I can still remember sitting at the west end of the grandstand watching these fast cars go around, and I never would have dreamt that I would have ever got this honor. I’m so overjoyed, thankful I can do what I do. I just don’t even know what to say.”

The honor is special to Elaine because of the extra significance it carries.

“I always thought it was a boys club,” she said of the Hall of Fame.

Stock-car racing is a sport typically dominated by males. The Viking Speedway has honored Hall of Fame members dating back to the inaugural class in 2001 with Gerry Geris and Frankie Herzog. Until Elaine, there had never been a woman inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame.

“I’m just so thrilled. I’m overjoyed,” Elaine said of the significance of that. “You think it makes the boys out there to make the cars go fast and make this program run. They do their thing, and I’m in my own area. I love every driver that I deal with. You got your ups and downs in everything you do in life, and all these drivers, they’re my family. They’re my racing family.”

Going the extra mile

Elaine’s work for the track starts in January with ordering the many supplies needed for the following season. There are mandatory classes she takes to help operate MyRacePass -- the live-scoring tool the Viking Speedway uses to post results, point standings, schedules, etc.

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On race nights, she checks every driver in and makes sure they are registered correctly and hooked up to MyRacePass Live so fans can follow along online. She distributes heat lineups, and lets drivers know of their finishing order so the features can be lined up.

At the end of the night when many are winding down, Elaine is getting the checks ready for drivers. If someone does not pick up their check, she makes sure to mail them. She doesn’t have to do that, but it helps her complete each week before moving into the next one.

Elaine Thoennes
Alexandria's Elaine Thoennes works in the scoring tower at the Viking Speedway earlier in her career.
Contributed photo

When her time at the track is done, it’s back home to enter all the financial information into QuickBooks. Her day starts at the track every Saturday around 2-3 in the afternoon and doesn’t end sometimes until 2 a.m.

“I am paid, but if you want to add up all my hours all year, I’m lucky if I get $2 an hour,” Elaine said. “You got to love what you do to do this. I’ve worked with so many different board members and not so many announcers because they hang around a long time. You just need a good team of people to be working with you and be honest with you, show up every week like you do. One person can’t do it all, so you got to have a good team of people to make this work.”

Elaine, 69, said she naturally feels the need to always be doing something. Her normal work day consists of leaving the house at 6:45 a.m. to get to the bank and post office before working from 7:30 to 4 p.m. at Billmark’s Insurance. Then it’s home to get her scrubs on to work at Alexandria Assisted Living from 4:30-9:30, sometimes later.

“Then I go home and do my husband’s bookwork, the banking and all that so when I get up in the morning and have a deposit, I can drop that all off,” Elaine said. “I can’t sit still. My daughter takes me on vacation for my birthday every year. She makes me sit still a little bit, although she did have me jumping out of an airplane here two years ago. I’d do it again.”

Racing is in the family

That need to be doing something and being able to mix it with spending time with family is ultimately what keeps bringing her back to Viking Speedway. Dave and Elaine have two children, Jenny and Rick, and racing is simply a part of their life.

Rick has two point championships behind the wheel in Alexandria in 1997 and 2000. Dave, a longtime racer, builder of race cars and car owner, was inducted into the Viking Speedway Hall of Fame in 2017. Their nephews, Jason and Josh, have eight point titles between them in Alexandria.

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Dave Thoennes and Dennis Bitzan are co-owners of the 10x Modified that Dustin Bitzan races near the front of the pack almost every week at both Fergus Falls and Alexandria.

This weekend epitomized how close things are between these two local drivers as Bitzan held off Gerdes in a photo finish at Fergus Falls on Friday night before taking a second win in Alexandria on Saturday after an electrical malfunction on Gerdes' car cost him a win on the final lap.

“It’s just what we do,” Elaine said. “People don’t get married in the summer time. They have to save it for later because it just doesn’t work out. Half our family would be missing.”

It all started with one date night at the track that turned into a lifetime of memories.

“My husband is the main instigator of this whole thing,” Elaine said with a laugh. “He’s the one who got me there and all the Thoennes boys. Anyone who is related to me, you can blame it all on him because he started this all. Then he got me into it, and it’s really a family affair. You have good quality time with your family. I just can’t quit. They got it in my blood. As long as I can make the stairs, they got me a really nice office now, so I can’t quit now.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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