Over the years I’ve penned more than a few editorials about the important linkage snowmobile racing has to the development of new snowmobiles. I’ve been outspoken in my support of this thesis for well over a decade. Time for an update.
A history lesson might help. Back in the day, snowmobile racing revolved around ice ovals. Much was learned from this intense discipline. Engines developed on the race track delivered technology to trail sleds. Clutch innovations, drive line components and even suspensions ended up on production snowmobiles as a result of the iced oval.
In the early 80’s, a new racing snowmobile landed on the iced oval scene and it changed everything forever. The single-track race sled became obsolete when the twin tracker cut its first lap and did nothing but win from there on.
It was the ultimate answer to going fast as long as each straightaway ended with a left turn. The problem? The sled had no ability to advance consumer snowmobile design.
Fallout from the twin track’s arrival couldn’t be foreseen. History records the gradual and then dramatic decline of the iced oval as a viable discipline for developing trail sled technology. As a result, one by one, the OEMs pulled away from the sport.
Enter snocross. When Sno-X first crossed the Atlantic, its Scandinavian roots dangling behind it, it changed all the rules as the green flag dropped at Quadna Mountain in Minnesota for the first event on these shores.
Everything from A-frames to long travel skids and seat foam, toe-holds and handlebars were directly affected by the sport. By the late ’90s snocross had become so powerful, its ability to shape technology was exceeded only by its ability to shape purchase decisions. The fever persisted as each maker took its turn building a better Sno-X sled, then morphing it into a consumer model.
The whole deal was so good it became completely predictable. Every year we went to Spirit Mountain with our cameras loaded. The press lined up at the back door of the factory team trailers waiting for the rear door to drop and the newest Sno-X weapon to slide down the ramp.
Everyone in attendance knew what they were seeing was 12 months away from the showroom, guaranteed. The good news was this: Snocross was legitimately improving the breed. Arctic Cat’s ZR with A-frames, Ski-Doo’s REV, Polaris Indy and Edge tipped-in trailing arms, were all built for Sno-X.
Even Yamaha’s Nytro has cues from snocross and there’s more, much more that’s ended up in the showroom as a result of factory snocross racing based development.
Something’s changed of late and it has the eerie aura of the early ’80s when the twin track oval racer became irrelevant.
The evidence is before us and it looks like this: Polaris builds what is widely thought of as the benchmark snocross weapon, the IQ Racer. Purpose-built in every way, the IQ Racer has taken Polaris from nowhere to the undisputed king-of-the-hill in racing.
Here’s what’s weird – you can’t buy one unless you’re a racer. In 2008, the IQ Racer was marketed as a hardcore consumer sled with an oil-injected 600 engine calibrated for trail use. It didn’t sell and quickly vanished from the brochure.
Certainly, the IQ Racer has contributed to technology seen in Polaris trail sleds but don’t expect this purpose-built racer to show up in your dealer’s showroom with a high windshield and saddlebags.
What am I getting at? I think the paradigm is shifting in snowmobile development. Let me offer another example. The revolutionary Polaris RUSH with its Pro-Ride suspension is not destined for the racetrack.
Polaris will not race the chassis this season. If you read the RUSH historical coverage in Supertrax this season you saw clearly how Polaris did not race the RUSH or Pro-Ride during its development. We think this speaks volumes about the shift surrounding Sno-X racing’s importance and role.
Snocross is not irrelevant as a racing venue. Its high flying, roost throwing, ski-to-ski excitement is exactly what racing spectators and TV networks love. However, its power to birth new and, as yet unforeseen, technology is rapidly diminishing – and the proof is in your dealer’s showroom right now.
Sure, a new clutch, suspension geometry or a better design for a component may emerge on the racetrack but, if it’s grafted into a purpose-built, non-consumer-available model it won’t resonate with buyers like torque sensing links, exhaust valves and myriad other cool tricks did when you could actually see them on sleds identical to the one you were buying.