Following the devastating second half of 2001, 2002 began with U.S. and Afghan troops launching Operation Anaconda against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. In other news, UN arms inspectors returned to Iraq, North Korea admitted developing nuclear arms and Pennsylvania miners were rescued after spending 77 hours in a dark, cold mine shaft. Unemployment climbed up to 5.8 percent, and the federal debt rose to $6.2 trillion, up from $5.8 trillion in 2001.
In better news, the LA Lakers won the NBA Championship over the New Jersey Nets, Detroit won the Stanley Cup and Serena Williams overtook her sister Venus at Wimbledon, her fifth title of the year. Two-thousand-two was also the International Year of Ecotourism and Mountains. I repeat, the year of mountains.
Album of the Year: O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Highest Grossing Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Best Country Collaboration: Lee Ann Womack and Willie Nelson — “Mendocino County Line”
At The Track
The year 2002 started with a crack, and then a crash and a splash, at the snowmobile races in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. There, 11 trailers, some still attached to tow vehicles, broke through the ice overnight, swamping machines equipment and ruining a lot of expensive equipment.
A couple of weeks later, another young, rising Arctic Cat racer made history, but his name wasn’t Hibbert. Instead, 18-year-old P.J. Wanderscheid claimed the Eagle River World Championship. “I used to see all these guys in the magazines. I never thought I’d be here,” Wanderscheid said after the race while holding the Snow Week Cup.
That same January weekend, Blair Morgan repeated at the X Games, holding off a late rally from rival Tucker Hibbert to earn back-to-back gold. Kuster similarly captured repeat gold in the hillcross competition.
Mike Gentz and teammate Gabe Bunke earned a Soo I-500 marathon that lasted more than 12 hours, thanks to some timing system gremlins. Up north, Todd Palin and Dusty VanMeter combined to win the Iron Dog cross-country race. His wife, Sarah, the mayor of a city of 6,200 people, was there to congratulate Todd after his win. Dan Kelly was the Woody’s Challenge winner at the World Series of Ice Drags.
Howie Steenberg got the summer started out right with a stunning come-from-behind victory at the Grantsburg watercross, while Ski-Doo’s Chris Anderson and Craig Marchbank mopped up at Haydays. Mike Knapp broke the 150 mph barrier on asphalt, and Yamaha announced it was walking away from snocross.
The year concluded with Blair Morgan and Tucker Hibbert splitting the Duluth Snocross – again.
The Year In Sleds
Before the year was two weeks old, two of the most innovative and truly defining snowmobiles in the history of the sport were launched by two different manufacturers.
From Ski-Doo came an all-new MX Z in the revolutionary REV chassis. Lighter and smaller than almost all snowmobiles available, and featuring a Cat-like A-arm front suspension from a factory that had previously dedicated itself to trailing arms, the REV promoted a rider-forward position like never before, and made stand-up riding much more comfortable. The REV truly was a revolution.
While people were still hyperventilating about that, Yamaha launched the RX-1 line – the first legitimate performance four-stroke in the snowmobile market. Like the REV, it featured an A-arm front suspension and a look completely different than then-current designs. It was lightning fast, and featured a totally unique sound at the time.
In February, Cat answered with its F7 Firecat, a month after the RX-1 and the REV release. What a winter!
All three easily made our Top 10, but there can be only one Snowmobile of the Year, however, and Snow Goer went with the RX-1, as the first performance four-stroke was considered slightly more revolutionary than the REV chassis, but the award truly could have gone to any of the three machines. The impact of the model year 2003 snowmobiles released in 2002 is almost impossible to over-state.
Meanwhile, some of the “dream sleds” from upstart manufacturers listed two years earlier started to fall by the wayside.