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Lights, camera, racetrack action

Lights, camera, racetrack action

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55-minute film focuses on Mission Valley Speedway

PABLO - With a rock band thumping "Motorheads - The Song" in the background, "Motorheads - The Video" gets under way with video clips of the Saturday night stock car races at the Mission Valley Speedway near Pablo, an institution in the Mission Valley for 31 years.

"To our knowledge, Mission Valley Speedway is the only driver-owned speedway in the nation," Frank Tyro, Salish-Kootenai College director of media and public television, said Wednesday, the day of the video's official public release.

Tyro is producer and videographer of this 55-minute labor of love about the life and times of an all-volunteer-run, not-for-profit automobile race track on a little traveled back road in western Montana.

Obscure, it might be. Local, it certainly is. But Mission Valley Speedway is not ashamed it does not have the national status of a NASCAR-affiliated track. Nor is it lacking in pride for not having a Walter Petty or other big racing name among the drivers.

The track was good enough to be the featured speedway in a recent Ford Motor Co. promotional catalog and photo layout. So it is not entirely unnoticed by the big dogs of the stock-car racing world. And regionally, it is known as the longest asphalt track in Montana (three-eighths of a mile). Racers come from as far away as Canada to compete at the track.

"We are the only asphalt speedway in the United States run by a club and controlled by a board of directors and on tribal land on an Indian reservation," said Bob Lulow, a speedway fan since the club's first track opened in 1969, and now its official promoter.

In 1997, the track underwent a total reconstruction. It is now a paved three-eighths mile, tri-oval track located about one mile west of U.S. Highway 93 on Reservoir Road between Pablo and Polson. The reconstruction would have cost some $600,000, if you had to pay for it retail, Lulow said. But in keeping with its nonprofit, volunteer status, most of the work and materials came through volunteers and donations. Salish-Kootenai College, the tribal college in Pablo, for example, donated excavating and other heavy-equipment services valued at $250,000, using the track-building experience as part of the college's practicum training in its heavy-equipment-operating course.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also have a long history of supporting the track. The track's first paving in the early 1970s was accomplished through a $40,000 tribal grant, the video states.

The video mentions many other accomplishments, and includes rare archival video clips of racing in the old days on the dirt track circa 1969. Most of the new footage was shot during the 1999 racing season. A racing season runs typically from May through mid-September, with racing every Saturday night.

Tyro said shooting the video gave him an opportunity to "stretch" creatively.

"Most of our work at the college involves interview programs or cultural documentaries. Shooting this video stretched me artistically," he said.

The video not only has its own original song, performed by Chicago rock group Atombomobpocketknife, but Tyro also taped the band playing the music live at the track, so the video has a music video packaged inside the documentary.

Racing officials, fans and drivers do the dancing - sort of - to the music, while the cars race around in the background.

"The world of video and television is constantly changing. It's fun to be involved in something different," Tyro said.

The other collaborator on the video is Walter Simon, who lives in an old log cabin several miles west of Pablo and east of Ronan.

He said he conceived of the idea in the summer of 1998, during a lull in his professional life. A neighbor was a speedway racer, and Simon dropped in for a visit to watch him work on his race car. He kept coming back, and soon he was attending races. He became fascinated by the racing subculture he encountered under the veneer of normal work-a-day life in and around Pablo, a mill town and seat of government of the Flathead Indian Nation.

"For me, with a background in social anthropology, it was an ideal story. I talked to Frank Tyro and we decided to do a tribute to the track. We have told the story of the track right from the dirt forwards - the 31-year evolution of a stock-car-racing culture in the Mission Valley. There are three, now four generations of kids who have come through the track. It's a family sport and great community entertainment."

What's the attraction?

"I've got grandkids and everything, but I get out here (racing) and I swear to God, I'm a 16-year-old again," speedway racer, association board member and grandpa Lynn Olsen explains in a taped interview.

Tyro and Simon said they expect modest sales of the video, and hope that it will return out-of-pocket costs to the college, and reward the racing community with any extra revenue. Their time was donated, and they expect no pay.

The video, 55 minutes long, was written and is narrated by Simon, with a lot of help from his friends at the speedway. Salish-Kootenai College, which owns the equipment Tyro used for taping and editing, owns the copyright.

" 'Motorheads' is about character and determination, attributes that earn speedway racing the title of No. 1 family sport in America," Simon said.

The video is not available in stores, by mail order or via direct-sales pitches on TV. If you want one, you'll have to visit Lulow at his business, Bob's Auto Mart, in Pablo. You can call (406) 675-2277 to reserve a copy. Ask for Bob.

The price is $29.95.

"I've sold 32 copies so far," Lulow said Wednesday.

Copies also will be on sale during the club's annual banquet, scheduled tentatively for Oct. 7 at a place to be announced, Lulow said. Mission Valley Auto Racers Inc. gets one-third of the retail price, and it is a great value, Lulow said.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com.

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