An absolutely heartbreaking day in the sport of snowmobile racing concluded with some surprising victories at a snocross race in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, Minnesota, but the celebrating couldn’t mend broken hearts that were scattered across the Snowbelt.
In separate incidents hundreds of miles from one another, two young snowmobile racers lost their lives doing what they love.
In northeast Minnesota, 18-year-old Hunter Houle – son of legendary snowmobile racer and tuner Steve Houle – died after a crash while testing on Pine Lake in advance of the season-opening USXC cross-country race in that area.
The same day in Michigan, young oval racer Billy Travis of Hillman, Michigan, also died as a result of a crash on a race track in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, site of this weekend’s No Bull Triple Crown race. Certainly our thoughts and prayers as well as those of thousands of others in the racing community go out to both families on this devastating day.
There was some joy at the snocross races Friday night at Canterbury Park in Minnesota after some benchmark victories, but there were also a sense of disbelief, as the snowmobile racing family is rather small and tight knit and such tragedy cuts very deeply.
Surprising Night In Snocross
In the Pro Open class at Canterbury Park on the Amsoil Championship Snocross series, the surprises started in the heat races, where a crash for Hibbert and a mechanical problem for Kody Kamm resulted in those two stud racers having to come through the last-chance qualifier just to make it into the final.
In that final, the early leader was downright stunning, as second-year Pro Open racer Ryan Springer grabbed the holeshot and led through almost half of the race. The Carlson Racing competitor certainly showed some signs of being competitive last year but had been nowhere near the front this year, but that changed in the early going.
Meanwhile, at the very back of the 15-sled final was Ski-Doo racer Tim Tremblay. He traded paint with another racer on the first lap and ended up giving the rest of the field a head start.
A suddenly resurgent Ross Martin locked onto Springer’s snowflap and followed him around in second, while Lincoln Lemieux quickly moved up to third with rookie Elias Ishoel close behind, followed by second-row starters Kamm and Hibbert.
Hibbert – perhaps racing with a broken heart, as Steve Houle is his mechanic and close friend – faded throughout the race and was never a factor. Meanwhile, the Norwegian rookie Ishoel was on a tear, moving to third place. Then, on about lap eight when Springer seemed to be fading and Martin looked like he’d soon make a move into the lead, Ishoel charged past Martin in a corner and then took off after Springer. He caught him soonafter and took the lead. Martin got past Springer next and re-took second place, and the top two ran in that order until the end.
Tremblay, meanwhile, was passing everybody else in the field, moving from the back of the pack all the way up to third place at the end of the race – including trading paint with his Scheuring Speed Sports teammate Lemieux, who finished fourth, in the closing laps. Kamm ended up fifth ahead of Springer who faded to sixth. Next came Logan Christian, Kyle Pallin, Adam Renheim and then Hibbert.
After the race, Ishoel was amazingly calm in the post-race interview – the Warnert Racing 17-year-old had grown used to being interviewed after victories last year when he won more Pro Lite victories than anybody else, but this was his first Pro Open victory, other than a specialty, non-points race at Duluth in November. This victory here proved that the Duluth win was no fluke.
In Pro Lite racing, Michigan’s Zak Mason got the holeshot but then faded to third on the first lap behind Max Taillefer and Aki Pihlaja. But Mason didn’t lose his mojo – instead, he responded and retook the lead with a couple of swift passed midway through the race, then held it to the checkered flag.
Pihlaja moved up to second and continued his torrid start in the class, while Nick Lorenz used a last lap pass to get by Taillefer and claim the final podium spot.
Racing continues throughout the weekend at Canterbury Park, as well as at the race sites where the two horrific incidents occurred on Friday in northern Minnesota and Michigan.