Daniel F. Prziborowski, a Minnesota stock car racing legend, often found his way to the front of the pack among the roar of machines and fans.

"No matter what you put him in, he was a competitor," said fellow racer and longtime friend Gary Stein. "He was one of those guys like Dale Earnhardt who could take a car that was substandard to someone else and get it to the front. It was just his nature. ... It didn't bother him if the car wasn't handling just exactly as it should be or if the motor wasn't up to its best performance. He could still drive that car, and he had a way to make a win out of it."

Prziborowski, who raced modified and supermodified stock cars in the Midwest, Florida and even Canada and was inducted to Elko Speedway's Hall of Fame, died Oct. 15. He was 78.

"Anybody can learn to race," said longtime friend and racer Ron Olson. "But Dan was a natural."

Prziborowski, known by some as "The Polish Pride," drew loyal fans to Elko Speedway, the old Raceway Park in Shakopee and the State Fair track, including one couple who said they spent many "date nights" cheering on Prziborowski in car No. 85 on Saturdays and Sundays. They even named their son after him. For others, he was a hero.

"He was the guy who won all the time when I was in elementary and junior high … in the early '70s," said Dan Plan, publisher of the Midwest Racing Connection. "When you're a kid, those guys always seem bigger than life."

After he grew up and began writing about racing, Plan interviewed Prziborowski in 2001. "It's not every day you get to meet your childhood hero, so it was kind of a cool thing," said Plan, who recalled watching Prziborowski win his last Elko Speedway championship racing super late models in 1979. "He was a tough competitor."

Prziborowski, who worked as a long-haul truck driver for more than 50 years before retiring last year, always loved machines, said his son, Jim Prziborowski. "He liked doing whatever he could to make things work," his son said.

And that included the cars he built. "All of us back in that era loved old cars," Olson said. "We built them from scratch and then raced them."

"He liked anything that went fast — snowmobiles, motorcycles," his daughter, Tammy Kroeten of Lakeville, said. "He loved speed."

Prziborowski began racing on dirt tracks in the 1950s and continued long after the tracks were paved. It was his passion, his friends and family said. But along the way, he developed one superstition: peanuts.

"For some racers it's the number 13. For others, it's the color green," Olson said. Prziborowski "didn't like peanuts. If there was a peanut shell in a car that was taboo. So just about every night I would make sure I had some peanuts and throw some shells in the car. And then the chase was on around the pits."

In 1981, Prziborowski retired from racing.

"We all get to that point where the younger guys can clip our wings," Stein said.

Prziborowski is survived by his wife, Colleen, of Bloomington; sons Jim of Bock, Minn., and George of Farmington; daughter, Tammy Kroeten, of Lakeville; stepdaughters Riki Carlston of Apple Valley, Deni Swenson of Shakopee and Jodi McMahon, of Burnsville; 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.