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East Grand Forks 16-year-old Kelsi Pederson surging on the race track

The late models were lined up, ready to go on the track for their feature race.

But Joey Pederson wasn’t in his car.

“I didn’t care if I missed my feature,” he said.

The veteran driver from East Grand Forks had something more important to do on that particular night at River Cities Speedway.

He was intensely focused on the lightning sprint feature that preceded the late models. The leader of that race was Kelsi Pederson, his 16-year-old daughter.

“Honestly, it was such a big moment for her and it was so fun for me to watch, I had to see it through to the end,” Joey said. “I was willing to risk missing my own feature to send that one to the end.”

It was worth it.

Kelsi got the win. It was her first feature victory.

“She earned it,” said Joey, who sprinted back to his car in time to participate in his feature. “It was a televised event. It was in front of a home crowd. Watching and re-watching the broadcast, she wasn’t holding anyone up. She earned that win. She deserved it. It was a big day and a confidence booster for her. That was a pivotal moment in watching her develop. I’ve seen her confidence continue to increase from that point on.”

Joey may have to be prepared to pull a similar routine tonight as lightning sprints return to River Cities Speedway.

This time, Kelsi won’t be an underdog.

The East Grand Forks Senior High student has emerged as an up-and-coming driver in the area since that first feature win last July in Grand Forks.

Kelsi has five total feature wins now. She won two more last year, including the Corn Cob Nationals at Buffalo River Speedway in Glyndon, Minn. She has two feature victories this summer as well, winning in Glyndon and Jamestown, N.D.

The run all started with the win at The Bullring last summer.

“It really didn’t sink in until a couple of days after,” Kelsi said. “It was really exciting when it first happened, too. Just to win the feature at home, it was an indescribable feeling.”

Racing family

Kelci grew up in a racing family.

Her father, Joey, races late models. Her mother, Julie, raced super stocks. Her younger brother, 14-year-old Tucker, now races streets.

Kelsi said she’s always been fixated on sprints, though.

That might be a good thing.

“My brother and I always grew up racing go-karts against each other,” Kelci said. “One year, we raced in the same class and that didn’t go very well. There was a lot of arguing. We’re very competitive. We race in different classes now and at different tracks. It’s fun to be able to support each other.”

At age 14, after seven years of racing go-karts, Kelsi started in a lightning sprint. She saw her friend, Presley Truedson, racing one and was intrigued.

“I thought 410 sprints was too big of a step for her in my mind,” Joey said. “We settled on lightning sprints. It has been a fantastic group of people, a great group of people. Those cars are much faster in terms of lap times than people give them credit for. If anyone pays attention to lap times, the lightning sprints often times are very close to the late models, which people don’t recognize.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the size of the car or what. But on most nights, it’s very similar to late models, which is impressive. . . and scary to me as a father knowing that my daughter is going close to as fast or as fast as I am on any given night.”

For Joey, the experience of watching Kelsi has been rewarding.

“At times, it’s scary seeing the different racing situations she gets into. I definitely get a little nervous,” Joey said. “But the joy of watching your kids be successful is second-to-none. The satisfaction of seeing your child have that type of success, in a male-dominated sport, to me, is pretty cool. I’ve really enjoyed it. I know she loves it. We’re having fun with it.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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