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All you need to know about the Gopher 50 Late Model Race

The Gopher 50 Late Model Race has taken a two-year hiatus -- it wasn't held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year's scheduled show was rained out. This year, for the first time the race will be a three-day show, with the winner of Saturday's Late Models finale receiving $50,000, the largest payout in the race's 40-year history.

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Jonathan Davenport, from Blairsville, Ga., won the feature race the last time the Lucas Oil Late Model Series made a stop at Deer Creek Speedway, in May 2019. Davenport and the LOLMS will be back at Deer Creek this weekend for the annual Gopher 50 this week.
File photo / Lucas Oil Late Model Series
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The Gopher 50 Charity Late Model Race was an idea that came to life in 1980.

Jerry Ingvalson convinced his fellow Blooming Prairie Jaycee members that they could run a race and raise money to help the Blooming Prairie Nursing Home buy a van.

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The event originated in 1980 at the Chateau Speedway in Lansing, where it was held again in 1981, but there was a problem: The crowds had outgrown the facility, so the search was on for a new venue.

In 1982, the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna became the Gopher 50’s new host. It had a huge grandstand, which is what event organizers needed to allow more race fans to attend. Crowds jammed the historic half-mile facility to see the best late model drivers in the country.

In 1998 the ever growing and fan-popular modified class was added to the race.

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Billed as the “Modified Shootout,” only the best of the best were invited. That portion grew into a fan-voted driver selection, which made it even more desired by the racing community.

In the early part of the new millenium, the Gopher 50 had run its course in Owatonna. So, Ingvalson and now the Blooming Prairie Lions, needed a change to bring back the excitement the race had taken on in the past.

They looked to the Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley.

In 2005, the Gopher 50 once again changed venues and moved to Deer Creek. Not only did the venue change, so did the sanctioning choice. In the past, the Gopher had run under U.M.P., open rules and WDRL. Now the World of Outlaws Late Model Series was the sanctioning body of choice.

With the venue change, the Deer Creek Speedway and Blooming Prairie Lions teamed up with a great corporate partner in Napa Auto Parts. Drivers and fans from all across the country have raced and attended the event. The Gopher 50 received the World of Outlaws “Event of the Year” award in 2009. The World of Outlaws sanctioned the Gopher 50 through the 2019 event.

The race was not held in 2020 due to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

In 2021, the race had two big changes: One, it was now a two-day event and two, the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series was the new choice of racing groups to be at the Gopher. Unfortunately, only a portion of time trials took place for the Friday portion last year before rain washed out the entire weekend.

New year, new look

For this year’s edition of the Gopher 50, more changes are in order. The 2022 version will now be a gigantic three-day extravaganza. The Lucas Oil Late Models will race three complete shows for $5,000 to win on Thursday and Friday, and a whopping $50,000 to win on Saturday. This will make it the largest purse in Gopher 50 history.

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The USRA Modifieds will still be on the card with complete shows each night. They will run for $1,000 to win Thursday and Friday, along with a $5,000-to-win show on Saturday. Tralo Companies of Owatonna is offering a bonus for the Modified drivers. If a driver can win two of the three nights, they will receive a $5,000 bonus. If they can sweep all three nights, the driver will take home a $10,000 bonus.

The gates will open at 2:30 p.m. each day with hot laps at 6:30 p.m. Time trials and racing will follow that. For ticket information go to the speedway’s website at www.deercreekspeedway.com or call the track office during business hours at 1-877-DCS-RACE.

Gopher 50 History

The first Gopher 50 champion back in 1980 was Leon Plank from Mondovi, Wis.

That first race drew 52 cars and the show was delayed a day due to rain.

In the 39 previous Gopher 50s, there have been 309 different drivers who have started the feature race.

Of those drivers, they came from 26 different states and one Canadian province.

Jimmy Mars from Menomonie, Wis. and Lance Matthees of Winona are tied with the most Gopher 50 starts at 25.

There have been 23 different winners in the 39 races run.

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From 2015 to 2019 there have been different winners. Darrell Lanigan from Union, Ky., won in 2015, while Josh Richards from Shinnston, W.Va., won in 2016. In 2017, Chris Madden from Gray Court, S.C., won the race, followed in 2018 by Mike Marlar from Winfield, Tenn. The last Gopher 50 run was in 2019 and Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., won the event.

Bigelow Homes Gopher 50
World of Outlaws Late Models Series driver Brandon Sheppard won the Gopher 50 charity Late Model race in 2019 at Deer Creek Speedway.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin file photo

Mecca Of Modifieds & The Gopher 50

Deer Creek has been dubbed the “Mecca Of Modifieds” because of the reputation the facility has for a high quality of drivers and racing. This shows up in the statistics from the Gopher 50 as well.

There have been 15 Gophers for the Modifieds at Deer Creek and there have been 13 different winners. Only Brandon Davis from Hayfield and Zack Vanderbeek from New Sharon, Iowa, have more than one win.

There have been two father & son duos to win Gopher 50 titles. Jimmy Davis, then of Austin, won in 2002 at Owatonna, and his son Brandon won it twice. Mike Sorensen of Rochester won the Gopher in 2010 and his son Dustin was the most recent champion in 2019.

Things To Do At The Gopher 50

While at the speedway, there will be a number of various vendor trailers located outside the front gate. There will be driver and series apparel available there along with some products as well.

After the races on Thursday, there will be a bonfire with a D.J. providing musical entertainment.

Friday and Saturday mornings there will be a breakfast served by the Deer Creek Lutheran Church in the Beer Garden from 8-11 a.m.

On Friday, the popular country-rock band Troubleshooter will perform after the race program is completed.

For the first time ever at Deer Creek, there will be a church service on Saturday morning with an approximate start time of 10:30 a.m. in the hospitality tent.

On Saturday, July 9, a bean bag tournament is scheduled. There is no entry fee, though participants must show a race ticket or pit pass to sign up.

Sign-up is at 10 a.m. and play starts at 11 a.m. The first 24 teams to sign up will compete in a double-elimination tournament. First place offers $500, second place is $250, third place is $150 and fourth place is $100.

Also on Saturday, there will be a driver autograph session in the hospitality tent that begins at 4 p.m. Fans will be given a ticket to drop in a bucket for the driver they feel will win the feature race in both classes. If their ticket is drawn, they will get the Napa pail and if their driver wins the feature, both the driver and fan will receive $250 from Napa.

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