Battling the elements is something cross country snowmobile racers know all about.
On this first USXC weekend of 2013-14, there were plenty of elements to go around. As some racers showed up early on Friday to dial in their sleds, single digit temps and a biting wind greeted them.
Saturday dawned still with a steady snow shower and as the snow began to taper by late morning, a brutal breeze kicked up again.
The wind helped with snow dust for racers, but for spectators and crews, the chill was relentless. As Saturday’s eight lap pro race wound to a close, the skies cleared ushering in more cold. Both sun and cold carried over to Sunday morning, with race time temps approaching 20 below and the high was a balmy -5 degrees.
Besides the cold, Pine Lake veterans noted the amount of snow pack on the lake was unusual for so early in the season. Despite his local roots, event coordinator and cross country veteran Chad Dyrdahl was even surprised by the snow. “I don’t remember this much snow on the lake for this race,” Dyrdahl commented. “It should make for an interesting track.”
The snow kept the Pine Lake course down to a single line with huge corner berms reminiscent of a snocross track. A foot off the racing line, it felt less like a lake and more like a northern Minnesota ditch. The USXC crew staked out a 10 mile course of eye watering straights bookended by left and right hand turns requiring a demanding setup. Temps made ice conditions rock hard and many riders were happy for the berms as traction products had a hard time digging in on the corners.
This year’s USXC Pine Lake event was also noteworthy for providing some evidence of a changing of the guard in cross country snowmobile racing. The always hard working Polaris pro, #74 Gabe Bunke, battled with two Arctic Cat drivers Saturday looking to build a resume of their own, Zach Herfindahl and Wes Selby.
The cold impacted Christian Brothers Racing rider Brian Dick’s season debut, as he lost his Cat’s engine on Saturday to take him out of contention. The Yamaha team of Corey Davidson, Matt Piche, Re Wadena and Ben Lindbom were still working out some first race bugs, as was Ross Erdmann on his new Ski-Doo ride.
In the end Herfindal, Dick’s teammate, was able to outpace the veteran Bunke to walk away with the Yamaha Pro Stock win. In another generational shift, the On Snow Magazine Women’s division had been predictably dominated by Cat’s Jolene Bute. Not so this weekend, as Polaris riders Jill Tangen and Anne Pladson finished one and two with Bute capturing third.
USXC owner Brian Nelson felt the kick off to the second season was a success. “We’re growing and that’s the main thing,” Nelson said, “The amount of people who signed up for this race and came out to brave the weather proves the dedication of cross country racers.” Nelson also noted the difficulty the snow pack caused in setting up the course. “It would have been nice to plow the whole track to give some room to pass, but with the snow you have to be so careful of slush and weak ice out on the lake. Our racers did a tremendous job of battling though that and putting on a good clean event and they should be commended.”
Up next on the USXC schedule is the J&K Marine Beach Bar 200 in Detroit Lakes, MN, January 4, 2013.