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Record cars, record crowds at fair race track

Cloquet's Kyle House leads the compact Figure 8 feature race during Sunday night's Butch Thompson Memorial Races at the Carlton County Fair in Barnum. House won the feature and $1,000 for winning the race. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
Full-size cars compete in Sunday night's Carlton County Fair Figure 8 Races in Barnum. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Cloquet's Annika Hammitt finishes her victory lap with the checkered flag after winning the compact feature during Friday's oval races at the Carlton County Fair. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal3 / 3

The 127th Annual Carlton County Fair wrapped up Sunday night with the Figure 8 car races and a special tribute to a longtime supporter of the races, Butch Thompson, who passed away earlier this year.

"Butch was a major supporter of our racing program for many, many years," said Carlton County Fair Board member Heather Overn. "He always helped sponsor the events, had his equipment at the races to help keep the program running smoothly, he donated cars, he sponsored cars and his family brought cars. Butch was just a huge part of our community and the fair and he will be greatly missed by all of us."

Overn went on to say the racing program would not be what it is today without the support of Thompson.

"The blue tow truck that was at the races was the first of three generations of tow trucks the Thompsons owned," explained Overn. "The Pinto wagon pace car was driven by his grandson Grant with a few other Thompson Motor Service young supporters. We had many community supporters who donated to the pot for the Sunday night memorial race so we could pay our drivers $1,000 to win! Clint and Chad Larson, Widdes Trailer Sales, Minnesota Towing Association, Hamlin-Hansen-Kosloski Funeral Home of Moose Lake, Highway 210 Auto Parts, Gampers of Moose Lake, Como of Barnum and the Rustic Diner all pitched in to help."

Even though there was some troubling weather, the fair set attendance records for the races this year, according to Overn.

"Despite the hand that Mother Nature dealt us on some of the days, we made record-breaking attendance numbers again," said Overn. "As always we had the most spectators on Saturday night for the demolition derby and a half hour before start time there was nowhere to sit in the stands."

The Oval Races on Friday featured 51 cars participating in compact, mid-size and full-size races. Just as the first race was set to get underway, the skies opened up with a strong thunderstorm that delayed racing for about an hour and a half.

"We had the first heat of cars on the track ready to start and a huge storm rolled in with heavy rain and lightning," Overn said. "We moved all the fans into shelter and let it blow over. Once the rain stopped we looked at the track and decided we would try our best to get the race in. We called all the drivers out to pack the track and the track prep crew graded the top to take the slime off, and we were ready to race within an hour after the rain stopped."

Winners on Friday night included Annika Hammitt in the compact division, Jeremy Halvorson in the mid-size class and Andy Leino in the full-size division.

Sunday night the fair wrapped up with the Figure 8 races, and much like the oval races, the number of cars in the event was staggering.

"We ran all three classes on Sunday night, plus a powder puff race. We even had to run a B-Main race," stated Overn. "We ran three compact heats, two mid-size heats and three full-size heats."

The winner of the compact race was Kyle House. Jackie Kwapick won the powder puff race; Fast Eddie Westerberg was the mid-size winner and Kellen Peterson took the full size title.

"Amazingly enough, Kellen has raced 15 years and he has been racing the same car for 14 years!" said Overn.

Peterson has won the full size Figure 8 race for three years in a row.

Not lost on spectators, or racers, is the impressive work that has been done to make the Carlton County fairgrounds track one of the finest in the area which allows racing even when conditions are not perfect.

"One of the fun things about Barnum is we can race on just about any surface," explained Overn. "The track we are racing on today is the best race track we have ever seen thanks to the hard work of Chad and Clint Larson. Our racers have raced in the pouring rain, unintentional jumps, ankle high mud in the pits, and without lights for most of their racing years. Now we have a smoothed, banked surface, flagging lights in three corners and enough room to run four cars wide down the front stretch."

The attendance numbers and the number of cars registered to run in the racing events prove that the Carlton County Fair is on the right track with its racing game. One can only imagine how many people will be trying to file through the gates next year if the weather cooperates.