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Viking Speedway: Dustin Bitzan, Brady Gerdes pushing each other again at the top of the Modified Division

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.

Dustin Bitzan Modifieds
Brandon driver Dustin Bitzan holds up his trophy from victory lane after winning the Modified feature race at the Viking Speedway on July 2, 2022. Bitzan is atop the Modified point standings this summer at the Alexandria track, with Villard driver Brady Gerdes, winner of four straight track titles in the division, sitting just one point behind him.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — Villard’s Brady Gerdes and Brandon’s Dustin Bitzan have been two of the toughest guys to beat at local race tracks in the Modified Division in recent years, and this weekend was a perfect example of how competitive it is between these two.

Gerdes and Bitzan had a photo finish in a Friday night feature at the I-94 Speedway in Fergus Falls where Bitzan held off Gerdes for the win at the last second.

A day later, a field of 10 Modifieds started the final feature of the night at the Viking Speedway as Gerdes and Bitzan rose to the front of the pack again in the 15-lap event.

Gerdes created some distance going into the final lap. He looked well on his way to padding his point lead in the division with a win, but things changed going into the second turn.

“Something electrical went bad,” Gerdes said. “I came out of two and gauges started going everywhere, and I just basically lost power at that point.”

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Jason Thoennes of Garfield captures the win in the Modified feature, while Dent native Ryan Satter wins his sixth feature of the season.

Bitzan was ready to pounce on the opportunity as he shot by Gerdes down the stretch to take his second win of the weekend. It was his first win of the season at Viking Speedway.

Gerdes had built enough of a cushion that he still made his way across the finish line and finished third. Jason Thoennes of Garfield took second in the feature.

“I felt I was closing in on him,” Bitzan said of trying to track down Gerdes on Saturday. “Then I had a mess up, I don’t remember how many laps were left to go, but I recovered. I was closing in again and on that last lap, I sensed that something must have happened to his car because he went off the pace pretty quick. I knew I had to make a move to get by him quick. I didn’t know what was wrong or if he was going to keep going. I had a pretty good head of steam coming out of the corner. I shot right in there.”

Dustin Bitzan Modifieds
Brandon driver Dustin Bitzan comes into victory lane after winning the Modified feature at the Viking Speedway in Alexandria on July 2, 2022. Bitzan and Villard driver Brady Gerdes have both finished in the top five of all six feature races at the Viking Speedway this summer.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

It was not exactly the way Bitzan wanted to take the checkered flag, but both of these guys have raced long enough to know things like this happen.

“I was doing everything I could,” Bitzan said. “If he wouldn’t have had problems, he would have won that race. He had everything working for him. He was on track, and when things are good he’s one of the toughest guys to beat here.”

The feature race in Fergus Falls the night before gave fans an exciting finish. This time it was Bitzan who held a lead as Gerdes closed the gap in the final seconds.

“It was less than a foot. That’s a lot of fun,” Bitzan said of his win on Friday. “He closed in on me at the end of the race. He was right there, and when you’re out front, you really don’t know where you should be. The guy in second can watch you and move around and try to find fast places on the track. The guy in the front really doesn’t know.”

Gerdes said the issue with his car should be a quick fix and he’ll be ready to go again this coming weekend. He is still searching for his first win of the season at Viking Speedway.

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“Just been tinkering on the car. We’ve been getting closer and closer,” Gerdes said. “Now I feel like we got something good. Now we just need to find some luck. Car has been good. Just haven’t found the luck. Has to turn around eventually.”

Brady Gerdes
Villard driver Brady Gerdes races at the front of the pack during the Modified feature at the Viking Speedway on July 2, 2022. Gerdes led most of the race before an electrical problem with his car on the last lap allowed Dustin Bitzan of Brandon to get by him down the stretch. Gerdes, a five-time track champion in the Modified Division in Alexandria, and Bitzan are separated by just one point in the overall standings this summer.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Gerdes’ consistency from night to night had still allowed him to sit in first place in the Modified point standings going into Saturday’s races. All six feature races have resulted in top-five finishes this summer. The same is true for Bitzan.

“It’s one of those deals, we’re both pushing each other,” Gerdes said of Bitzan. “There’s other guys out here obviously who are fast that you got to beat, but it seems like us two are the most consistent I would say. If you lose to the one, you go to the shop and get better, and if it’s the other way around, they do it.”

Gerdes has won four straight Modified point titles at the Viking Speedway and five of the last six after getting his first in Alexandria in 2016. Josh Thoennes is the last driver other than Gerdes to win the division when Thoennes took the title in 2017.

Bitzan has been right on the cusp of catching Gerdes in recent seasons, and it looks like it will come down to the wire again this summer. Bitzan’s win on Saturday gave him a one-point lead over Gerdes in the standings. Jason Thoennes is close too, sitting just 9 points off the lead.

“It only takes one bad night that can knock you out of that (track championship race),” Bitzan said. “You got to be consistent and you need luck on your side too. (Gerdes) didn’t have it tonight and had an issue at the end. I think we found something that works and that I can drive. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.”

Saurers, Satter and Robinson add feature wins

Justin Vogel and Ryan Satter
Justin Vogel, left, of Brooten and Ryan Satter of Dent share a laugh after Satter held off Vogel in the Street Stock feature race at the Viking Speedway in Alexandria on July 2, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

It was a good night for the Saurers on Saturday as well as Travis and Trevor both grabbed feature wins.

Travis, out of Elizabeth, started the features by taking the 14-car Midwest Modified win. Shawn Olson of Alexandria was second, and Avery Anderson of Alexandria finished third.

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Trevor, out of Dalton, won the Super Stock feature. Jack Koranda of Bluffton was second, and Glenwood’s Matt Miller finished third.

Shawn Robinson of Dalton won the Short Trackers feature ahead of David Wahl of Fergus Falls in second place. Donnelly’s Austin Raths was third.

The tightest feature race across the finish line came in the Street Stock Division between Dent’s Ryan Satter and Justin Vogel of Brooten.

Shawn Olson, Brady Gerdes and Trevor Saurer earned point championships at the Viking Speedway this summer, but none had quite as dominant of a run as Satter in terms of nightly wins. At 26-years old, Satter has established himself as the guy to beat in Street Stocks on many nights.

Satter, the 2020 and 2021 track champion in Street Stocks, held off Vogel in the final seconds to get his fourth win of the season in six starts. Vogel, the 2014 track champion himself, ran into Victory Lane with a smile on his face to congratulate Satter as he celebrated the win.

Satter looks well on his way to a third straight point title in the division. He has an 80-point cushion over Jason Thimmesh of Garfield in the overall point standings.

Up next at Viking Speedway

Next up at the Viking Speedway is the Advantage RV Modified Tour and Fallen Lineman Special on July 9. Midwest Modifieds, Modifieds, Street Stocks, Super Stocks and Short Trackers will all run this coming Saturday night with heats starting at 6:30.

TOP-THREE VIKING SPEEDWAY POINT STANDINGS (As of July 2, 2022): MIDWEST MODIFIEDS - Brendan Blascyk, Hoffman - 596; Travis Saurer, Elizabeth - 595; Shawn Olson, Alexandria - 592

STREET STOCK - Ryan Satter, Dent - 625; Jason Thimmesh, Garfield - 545; JJ Nieuwbeerta, Alexandria - 531

SUPER STOCK - Trevor Saurer, Dalton - 648; Matt Miller, Glenwood - 625; Karter Reents, Glenwood - 586

MODIFIEDS - Dustin Bitzan, Brandon - 616; Brady Gerdes, Villard - 615; Jason Thoennes, Garfield - 607

SHORT TRACKERS - David Wahl, Fergus Falls - 610; Kevin Wahl, Fergus Falls - 601; Tristan Raths, Donnelly - 581

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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