A steady procession of vehicles made their way into the infield at Gondik Law Speedway on a sunny 80-degree Tuesday afternoon in Superior.
Outside, workers prepped for the opening of the Head of the Lakes Fair, while inside, it was quiet and calm, still hours away from that night’s racing.
The steady purr of the speedway’s grader soon gave way to the rumble of a two-seater Late Model race car driven by former track promoter Butch Erickson, with local racing legend Johnny Johnson riding shotgun.
Trailing the Late Model around the track was an olive 1953 Pontiac Chieftain carrying the family of the late Duane “Andy” Anderson, former racer and track historian.
After a couple laps, with longtime flagman Gus Omundson waving the checkered flag as they went by, the two cars made their way into the infield. Nancy O’Neill, Andy’s daughter, exited the Pontiac and walked over to the finish line where in a poignant moment, spread her father’s ashes.
“Now he’s at the finish line at every race,” said Jody Tetzlaff, Lenroot-Maetzold Funeral Home director. “Beautifully done.”
Anderson, 82, died July 3, passing away from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He is survived by, among others, Dottie, his wife of 59 years. Many of the relatives in attendance on Tuesday wore Green Bay Packers or Milwaukee Brewers jerseys, per the family’s wishes. While Andy loved those teams, racing was his passion.
Anderson was always quick to offer a friendly smile or a tidbit of history. He was a fixture at the track on Friday nights and other racing events until recent years when his health began failing.
“He’s in a better place,” track official Dennis McCauley said.
Racing fans look at the loss of Anderson and others, such as longtime announcer Freddie Frand of Hibbing, who died in July 2012, and can’t help but wonder, “Who’s going to fill their shoes?” Local racing’s old guard is aging, but they will always be charter members of a special fraternity. Anderson was the perfect example of that.
Anderson loved shooting photos at the track, logging its history and honoring its past. He was instrumental in creating a speedway hall of fame.
“Andy was always here,” Erickson said. “He had documents you couldn’t believe. He had stuff saying, ‘Johnny Johnson won back in 1995 or whatever year it was.’ He had all the information.”
“Just tons of it,” longtime friend Crash Carlson added.
One person in attendance on Tuesday said Anderson’s treasure trove of photos and information was being donated to the Douglas County Historical Society. Good. Now future generations can enjoy the moments he captured.
Former racer Brady Smith once remarked something to the effect that, “Well, if Andy said that, then it happened.” Such was his credibility.
Carlson remembered racing against Anderson in the 1960s and recalled how Anderson raced a convertible.
“He was fun to race with,” Carlson said.
Erickson remembered those times, too. He said him and Anderson used to be together all the time. He even had Anderson’s old Pontiac Chieftain painted when he was an owner of the Kapus-Erickson car dealership.
“Us old guys,” Erickson said. “When we first started out, we all raced together. Then afterward, we’d all go to the Shamrock and have fights. You’d be surprised how wild it was back then. The junkyards were full of race car guys on Saturday mornings trying to get parts. Everything back in those days, we built ourselves.”
Rather fittingly, after Tuesday’s memorable tribute, Anderson’s family and friends planned to go to Shamrock Pizza and reminisce about their father, husband, grandfather and friend.
“Nobody knew more about that track than Andy,” Omundson said. “People have taken over those roles, but they’d be the first to tell you that nobody can do it the way he did.”