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Hayes and Stranger own, operate Bemidji Speedway

It's a family affair at Bemidji Speedway. From left are owners Randy Hayes, Idella Hayes, Tonya Stranger and Mel Hayes. They have operated the track for 11 years. Pioneer Photo/Dennis Peterson

When Mel Hayes was just a little boy he remembers watching his dad, Myron, racing stock cars. Little did he realize back then that someday he would own and promote the speedway he enjoyed so much.

For the past 11 years Mel, Idella, Randy Hayes and Tonya Stranger have owned and operated the Bemidji Speedway, a speedway that has been in continuous operation in Bemidji for more than 50 years.

Mel began racing himself in 1971 and raced until 1986. In 1993 he resumed his racing career and added a few more years to his racing resume.

He counts a third-place finish in the 1977 Late Model season points chase as a highlight of his racing career.

Tonya also has a career behind the wheel as she raced from 1989 to 1994. Her accomplishments include a Super Stock season points championship in 1993 and second-place finishes during the 1992 and 1994 seasons at Buffalo River Speedway.

As owners/promoters of the Bemidji Speedway Mel and Idella run the track with Idella working as its business manager. Randy runs the track's Chicken Shack and tells everyone that he is the "head chef" at the Speedway.

Tonya said that she does, "a little of everything" and enjoys being a liason to the drivers.

Excitement for the 2011 racing season is very high and officials are anxious to show off the many improvements to the facility. A $40,000 face lift to the track has the drivers smiling and anticipating great racing during the summer.

Among the improvements are a wider track surface and eight to 10-feet high banking in the corner. There is also banking on the straightaways.

Also new are the entry gate and exit to the track for the drivers, lighting in the pits, an updated communication system and a website (

The flagman for the 2011 season will be Lynn Johnson and Dustin Puffe will be doing the Tech Inspections.

An exciting summer schedule includes the Memorial Weekend doubleheader with races beginning 5 p.m. Sunday and 4 p.m. Monday in Midwest Modifieds, Super Stocks, Mod Fours, Streets, Pure Stocks, Minis and Hornets.

The track will also feature races in all the divisions on July 3 and July 4.

Kenny Schrader of NASCAR plans to come to the Speedway sometime this summer to drive against the locals in a Modified special.

On July 24 the track will feature an AMSOIL Qualifier with the Wissota winners racing for the right to compete in the Wissota Race of Champions later in the fall.

The season will conclude with the annual Paul Bunyan Stampede Oct. 1-2.