Old School is Still Cool

by Marilyn Stemp

There’s a long tradition in the Midwest of filling gloomy days with revving engines and exhaust fumes at indoor venues, to feed the speed jones while marking winter’s days. So it’s no surprise that the inaugural War of the Twins Race, held March 23 at the St. Paul Fairgrounds’ Warner Coliseum, was well attended – and a darn good time. IMG_9497

The races enhanced an already stellar weekend for gearheads in Minneapolis/St. Paul, falling the night before the 31st Annual Donnie Smith Bike & Car Show, a two-day wintertime staple that makes its home at St. Paul River Centre. Show promoter and head of Indoor Flat Track (IFT) Neil Ryan has consistently added features to the Show over the years, such as a swap meet, happy hour, and tattoo expo. Friday night’s racing was the latest addition and, judging by the strong attendance and enthusiasm, the War of the Twins was a hit. IMG_9501

Over 200 racers filled the grid in classes that included Amateur Open, Vintage, Amateur Hooligan, Pro Hooligan, Pro Singles, and Mad Dog. They competed on a half-mile oval prepped with soda syrup for enhanced traction. Die hard fans showed up early in the afternoon to witness a plethora of heat races, then the stands got fuller in anticipation of the mains. IMG_9338

One explanation for the stellar turnout is the area’s strong connection to races of the past, specifically the still-present memory of  “Indoors at the Armory,” a series that ran in Minneapolis for 13 seasons from 1968 to 1980. In fact, racers from the heyday of The Indoors volunteered as organizers and track officials at the War of the Twins. Their wives and daughters kept score analog fashion in the infield, just like back in the day. Race manager Peter Hook and his core group of one-time race pals, Tom Lorentz, Randy Triplett and Cory Kleven, shared a mindset guided by their own race experiences.IMG_9455 IMG_9444

“When we raced, our three favorite nationals were Lima, Peoria, and Springfield because they always ran on time. So we worked hard to make that happen,” said Hook.

Promoter Ryan applauded the effort. “It was a great first year. We had all the right ingredients. the race organizers, the racers, the crew, the spectators, the promoter, the sponsors. We’ll repeat it next year, without a doubt.”IMG_9351

Added Hook, “Neil did a good job of getting people in the stands and we did what we did what we were supposed to do to make them want to come back.”IMG_9356

Cementing the event’s connection to the regional race heritage, just before the mains a dozen race bikes from the glory days were paraded around the track, followed by an Armory Indoors Alumni Gathering featuring intros and interviews with former Armory riders. Some, such as Billy Hofmeister, were on hand to campaign teams and several others had sons on the roster to race. Still more participated as staff or simply turned out to enjoy their glory days. Minnesota race legend Buzz Arndt was recognized in a special tribute, too. Said Hook, “Buzz was the guy to beat in flat track for many years. He’s getting up in years and I thought it was important to honor him.”IMG_9490

Hook also credited announcer Erik Brouhard, who knew the region’s race history and brought it to the forefront for spectators.IMG_9473

You might say the event was managed by racers for racers—and the excitement was contagious. On Saturday, the buzz at the Donnie Smith Show was all about the prior evening’s races. Estimates put attendance at just over 4000, impressive for any first-time event anywhere. Better still, more than 300 parents took advantage of free tickets for kids, bringing along the next gen of race fans. Said Ryan, “With any luck they’ll be hooked for life.”IMG_9357 IMG_9390 IMG_9406 IMG_9340