By Tim Leeds
A complex east of Havre is attracting motor-sports enthusiasts from around the state and across the border, and only shows signs of growing.
"We've had people from across the mountains come for the mud runs and the sand drags," said Roxana Mangold, who owns the Lohman Motorsports Complex with her husband, Bill Mangold.
The complex is busy through the summer, and is hosting an Auto Moto Xcross, or AMX, competition on Sept. 4, following an Aug. 28 competition in Lewistown.
The Mangolds opened the Lohman complex in 1999, originally for motorcycle clubs to use, Roxana Mangold said. They decided to add a mud run track that same year, and have now expanded to include sand drags - drag races on a dirt track - and AMX racing - automobile racing on a dirt track with curves, jumps and bumps.
"We did it to try to help motor-sports enthusiasts," Mangold said.
The mud runs have probably had the largest audiences - Mangold said there were more than 1,000 people at the September 2003 mud runs - but the Mangolds didn't start the track to make money.
"We did it, more or less, to put a playground in. It's a playground for little kids to grownups," she said.
The track is also used for practice by motorsports enthusiasts throughout the year, including young riders and racers.
The people who operate Lohman Motorsports Complex organized Motor Mania at the Great Northern Fair this year, which included sand drags and the Motorcycle Rodeo for young riders.
Several of the competitors in the rodeo said they practice regularly at the Lohman complex. Tanner Shipp, age 4, of Havre said riding at the track is his favorite thing to do with his 50cc motorcycle.
"It's lots of fun," Shipp said.
Larry Nitz of Havre said he started racing this year because of the Lohman track. His son, Jason Nitz, persuaded him to come to an AMX race there in June, Larry Nitz said.
"I'd never seen that kind of racing before, so I kind of got hooked on it," he said. "My son decided for me that we were going to build a race car."
With a little extra work, Nitz, his sons, wife and several friends got a car ready for his first race, at Lohman on July 24.
The car had to be specially prepared for Nitz, who is a paraplegic.
"I use hand controls, which I use every day," he said.
He uses them well. Nitz took a first with his Ford Escort station wagon in the mini-stock category at Lewistown on July 31.
Bobby Vanek of Havre said he is from Lewistown, where motocross is a major sport and where the Auto Moto Xcross Association is based. He appreciates having a track close to Havre.
"You don't have to travel all the time," Vanek said.
The Lohman complex is one of three tracks affiliated with Auto Moto Xcross, where competitors can earn points in an annual AMX competition. The other two tracks are at the Fergus County Fairgrounds in Lewistown and the Phillips County Fairgrounds in Dodson.
Administration of the events at the Lohman complex are split between organizers: Tony Dolphay organizes the AMX races, the Mangolds do the mud runs and Curt Wood and his wife, Carol Bachini-Wood, handle the sand drags, Roxana Mangold said.
She said the people involved in the different events at the Lohman complex meet on the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. in Northwinds Athletic Club in Havre.
People from up and down the Hi-Line are involved in the events, Mangold said.
"We have close to 30 or 40 people involved who volunteer their time," she said.
Dolphay said organizing the events takes work. Running the AMX races includes lining up flaggers and safety personnel, handling registration the day of the races, setting up technical inspections and more.
The turnout hasn't been high for the AMX races so far this year, the first full season at Lohman. Dolphay said the track was lucky to have 20 cars at an event, but he hopes to have more for the final race, and in the following seasons.
"Our last race of the season I expect to see 35 cars," he said.
The attendance is likely to increase, as it has in Lewistown over the last 11 years, Dolphay said.
"I would say it's starting to grow," he said. "I think everybody's going to start coming to it. As we get more cars built up here on the Hi-Line, it's going get more people involved."
Vanek said the same.
"It's a very big event at Lewistown, but it started out about the same," he said. "The more people find out about it, the more people will come."
Mangold said that as more people find out about the different events at Lohman, more will attend.
"It's a good afternoon of entertainment," she said.
Nitz, who has been a paraplegic since he was injured working for Montana Power Co. in 1983, is glad he discovered AMX racing.
"It's essentially a poor man's dream as far as racing goes," he said. "I have always been interested in racing. I didn't believe I would ever be able to race."
He said it took very little investment to start racing.
"We started with a $75 car. We've got considerably more into it now," he said.
Nitz estimates getting the car ready to race cost between $2,000 and $2,500.
The racing seems to have evolved from a bump-and-run kind of event, and now the rules don't allow much contact, Nitz said.
"It's skill driving and how fast your car is and how good you are driving it," he said.
The races build camaraderie as well. Dolphay said he regularly attends races with about four or five people from Havre.
It also builds comaraderie among drivers.
"Once they get their own car squared away, they'll probably be over giving you a hand. They might not even know who you are, but they'll be there," Nitz said.
On the Net: AMX Association Web Site: www.automotoxross.com