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Tribune file photo The Minnesota Corn Growers Ethanol Special in July 2013 filled the grandstand at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds.

Willmar notebook: KRA among tracks caught in a tax pickle

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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

If it does dry up in May, the KRA Speedway will hold a Test-n-Tune on May 8 with the green-flag dropping May 15. There will be a season.

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True, these are troubling times for the volunteer-fueled, non-profit. The track is saddled with a state tax debt of around $40,000 for non-payment of sales tax on admissions from 2003-2009. KRA is not alone among Minnesota stock car ovals the state insists overlooked the tax code regarding a sales tax on tickets.

A dozen WISSOTA tracks were similarly audited and face a liability, I’m told. Individually, they have engaged the same law firm to negotiate with the state. The KRA debt is expected to run $35,000 to $42,000. The state’s Department of Revenue came down hard on tracks, including many in the WISSOTA network.

At Willmar, KRA pays sales tax on both the front and back gate and has for three seasons since the audit. 

The track absorbed the admission sales tax the past three summers. This year the grandstand ducat will bump from $10 to $11. The taxable portion of the $25 pit fee will go from $10 to $11.

The historic fairground’s oval is pinched by geography between West Foot Lake and the Northside. KRA tries to be a good neighbor, KRA board president Justin Hedtke said: the shows are designed to run tight and finish early as reasonable, depending on the car count. Efforts are being made to reduce noise and air pollution in the staging area.

The track always has operated close to the margins.

“We’re planning fundraising and are seeking donations,” said Hedtke, an automotive machinist and racer from Atwater. “We feel the track is an asset to the Willmar community.”

Donations may be sent to KRA Speedway, Box 1723, Willmar, 56201. Hedtke said the board welcomes questions and comments at kraspeedway@yahoo.com

500 wins

Mary Holmberg made her way through high school at Murdock just prior to the modern dawn of interscholastic athletics for the “weaker” sex.

Minus the school sport, she played on LeAnn Steffl’s slow-pitch team in Benson, then went on to play for Moorhead State 1973-77. She began teaching special education at Morris in ’77 and would start Tigers’ fast-pitch in 1980.

Last Friday, Holmberg attained her 500th career victory, in Morris/Chokio-Alberta’s 12-9 win over visiting YME. Her career record through the weekend is a sparkling 502-233; her 34 seasons include six state tournament trips, three in succession from ’90-92. For 17 years, she ran the athletic department, too, handing off to Mark Ekren three years ago.

In 2013, she was inducted into the Minnesota Softball Coaches Hall of Fame and the Moorhead State HOF along with the pioneering Dragon women athletes of the 1970s.

She was honored last Saturday evening at a gathering that included many softball alumni. And there were 500 cupcakes, naturally with black-and-orange frosting.

Asked about her durability in the coaching profession, she responded: “It’s a love and a passion; it doesn’t seem like work.”

In her tenure the program has benefit from the continuity of the head coach having only three different assistants: Janelle Bright, George Graff and Mary Asche.

A coaching life

Bob Knutson resigned after eight seasons guiding the Ridgewater College men’s basketball program. He’s coached 39 years.

There’s a theme that runs through these two coaching pieces: love of the game, appreciation for those you work with most closely and small-town roots.

Bob grew up in the small community of Adams, not much north of the Iowa border in southeast Minnesota. He rattles off his colleagues and assistant coaches like naming his children. Perhaps the affection is similar.

At New London-Spicer High School, he listed Ron Dobbs “The best A.D. you could have,” and other assistant coaches Jeff Tufto, Chad Gustafson, Matt Reimer (the new men’s head coach at St. Cloud State), Mike Jensen and Kevin Fredrick. At the college, he named assistants Rick Houske, Joe Anderson and Barry Besonen. He also coaches with Louie Pirrotta, Bob Kennedy, George Toops and Dave Peterman.

“It’s just the right time,” he said of his resignation. And what will he do now? There’s travel, a part-time business and volunteering. And there’s family: three children, five grandchildren and a large extended family to reconnect with. He and Julie, a Glencoe native, will have been married 40 years in June and they can still spend time with their respective moms, each in their 90s.

He was Peterman’s boys hoops assistant in the 1980s when the Wildcats’ were stopped just short of State by formidable foes such as DeLaSalle and Crosby-Ironton. Knutson took over in the 1990s and had a great run of athletes that produced five section finals and three state trips, two of those during the short-lived “Sweet 16.”

After graduating from Adams in 1967, Bob went to Waldorf CC and then Augustana. He came to NLS in 1975, starting the first girls hoops program which before the end of the decade would be handed to Nancy Powers and then Mike Dreier. He was also head football coach for three years prior to Pirrotta.

That first year of girls basketball, he coached Cindy Haugejorde calling her “one of three best players ever” in Minnesota.

Her college results at Iowa (1976-80) support such a claim: She’s the all-time Hawkeye career scoring leader, men’s or women’s, with (2,059 points and women’s all-time top rebounder (1,067) in just 95 games. 

Knutson radiated enthusiasm, though he could be incisive and blunt when evaluating his team’s performance, very helpful to reporters. He gave up the NLS boys post in 2001 and retired as a P.E. teacher in 2008.

“I loved it at New London,” he said. “I loved coaching college even more. You could treat the athletes as adults. I enjoyed the league. It was one of the best Division III leagues in the country.”

Spring trials

This is the second straight year a harsh April has forced countless postponements and a few cancellations. The already short six- to seven-week regular season has now been shrink-wrapped pretty much to a couple of weeks in May prior to playoffs.

John Vraa, NLS A.D., said the Wright County Conference, which also includes Litchfield, has made the east/west crossover games in baseball and softball optional. This allows a wider window for makeup dates for division and key section opponents. Still, ballgames are spilling into Saturdays and doubleheaders. Golf and tennis are using Wednesdays, also a washout this month.

Vraa must also take into account AP testing the first week of May when rescheduling contests with early dismissals.

“I feel really bad for our players and coaches — this has been two years straight for them. It is really hard to perform at a high level with inconsistent [competition dates] and no outside practice time, not to mention the mental wear you feel after weeks of bad weather. It looks like next week is better and we’ll go like crazy for two weeks and then start post season play.”

At Montevideo, A.D. Bob Grey responds “It’s all part of the job.” To date, the T-Hawks have lost just one track meet and one tennis meet.  

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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