After the terrorist attacks of 2001, the start of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Asian tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 2006 was shaping up to be a calmer year on Planet Earth. Saddam Hussein was convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court and hanged in Baghdad, Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, the U.S. unemployment rate had dipped to 4.6 percent and there were now 300 million Americans.
In sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers overtook the Seattle Seahawks in a 21-10 victory at Super Bowl XL at Ford Field, in Detroit, a city very excited to have some economic stimulus from the event. News reports claimed the event brought $274 million to the Motor City. It was also the year that the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and Carolina Hurricanes defeated Edmonton Oilers, winning Carolina’s first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
It was the International Year of Deserts and Desertification, leading to record crowds at the country’s dune riding areas, and it was also the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which was likely a very popular choice on iTunes for the year.
Album of the Year: “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” — U2
Highest Grossing Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Carrie Underwood – “Jesus, Take The Wheel”
At The Track
On iced ovals, cross-country racing courses, big jump snocross tracks and ultimate enduro challenges, 2006 was a year that showcased the talents of multi-time champions who were etching another chapter into the history books.
At Eagle River, Cat-mounted P.J. Wanderscheid notched career World Championship No. 3 at the tender age of 22, joining Dave Wahl and Jacques Villeneuve as the only three-time champs at Eagle River. He posed a dramatic charge in the last five laps, chasing down leader and ’98 Champ Terry Wahl and winning by two sled lengths.
“Once is great, twice is even better, and three is just unbelievable,” Wanderscheid said after the race. Other than Eagle River, Villeneuve had a near perfect season himself, include a big repeat win at Valcourt.
Soon thereafter, Ski-Doo-mounted Blair Morgan earned his fifth X Games gold medal at Winter X, taking advantage of a last-lap crash by leader Levi LaVallee to take the top spot on the podium, again. “I came off [a jump] and didn’t get the pop I was looking for. [My sled] kind of cased the first one and it threw me into the third one,” LaVallee said after race.
Five days later, Corey Davidson earned his sixth victory at the brutally challenging Soo I-500, crossing the finish line 28 seconds ahead of fellow Yamaha rider Todd Krikke. “It’s awesome,” Davidson said afterwards. “We worked hard all day. We were five laps down at one point, but the rougher it got, the better we got.”
Bryan Dyrdahl kept the string of multi-time champs going when he claimed the cross-country International 500 despite a sled that was losing power on the last day. Challenger Brian Dick on a Cat had Dyrdahl’s Ski-Doo within his sights with 10 miles to go, but then his engine blew up and Dyrdahl drove alone to the finish line.
At Jackson Hole, the venerable Rick Ward won his fourth King Of The Hill title, this one in Stock, but upstart Kyle Tapio was the Mod King. The Snow Week Racer Of The Year? Not one of those veteran champs. Instead, hillclimber Vinnie Clark put together the most dominant season on his Ski-Doos.
In the summer, Andy Busse won at the Grantsburg Watercross ahead of Joey Strub and Dale Lindbeck. At Haydays, Craig Marchbank was again dominating, winning 10 classes, high points in Improved Stock, Pro Stock and Heavy Mod en route to another Minnesota Cup.
As the year came to a close, new pro racer Ross Martin swept the season-opening Duluth National, showcasing his skills while Tucker Hibbert continued his hiatus from regular season snowmobile racing, and Blair Morgan recovered from injuries.
The Year In Sleds
With all of those throwback winners on the track, it only seemed appropriate that a throwback name would steal the headlines when it came to new sleds. Yamaha unveiled a totally new, totally different Phazer model – creating the same sort of shock value it created when the first Phazer was launched more than 20 years earlier.
This Phazer included the lightweight, minimalist FX chassis and was powered by a 498cc, 80 hp four-stroke, and it took direct aim at younger drivers, hoping to draw interest from newcomers or fringe riders. Yamaha went to special lengths to get coverage of the interesting little buggy not just in snowmobiling magazine but in other enthusiast media as well – from snowboarding magazines to ATV publications. Combining Yamaha’s interesting design and its expand-the-sport efforts, it became the choice for the annual Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year award for the 2007 model year.
Cat answered in February with a bring-back name of its own – the Jaguar. Like the Phazer, though, the Jag came back as a four-stroke, this one powered by a 125 hp, 1056cc fuel-injected twin dropped in the new Twin Spar chassis. Polaris answered with its new FST IQ – a 750cc four-stroke turbo. Clearly, four-strokes were spreading well beyond Team Blue.
There was news of the two-stroke variety in the 2007 lineups unveiled in 2006. Polaris expanded its CFI semi-direct injection and launched new Dragon models aimed at hard-core enthusiasts, while Ski-Doo also brought back a name – launching the MX Z Blizzard line. Ski-Doo also came with an XR-S race sled for the trails and a Freestyle Backcountry aimed at Gen Y.
Cat, meanwhile, found many uses for its new Twin Spar chassis in its two-stroke lineup as well, launching F8s and F6s in the ultra-modern chassis with excellent fit and finish.
As noted, the Phazer was our Snowmobile of the Year. The Top 10 sleds were the Arctic Cat Jaguar Z1, M1000 162 Sno Pro and F8 Sno Pro, Polaris 600 H.O. RMK 144, Dragon, 600 HO CFI IQ and FST IQ Cruiser, Ski-Doo MX Z 600 H.O. SDI Blizzard and Freestyle Backcountry and the Yamaha Apex GT.