While it was only a short time ago, 2008 was a significant year in world history, American events and within the snowmobile industry. It all started at the beginning of 2008 — the official start of the Presidential election cycle. Kicking off in Iowa, Democrat Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee both took the early state’s primary. Obviously, that bitter contest ended with Mr. Obama overtaking Hillary Clinton and, later, the McCain-Palin dynamic duo to become the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office.
Because it wouldn’t be a year in the 2000s without some turmoil, a barrel of petroleum hit $100 for the first time in January, the Great Recession began in earnest, taking an enormous toll on government finances, employment numbers, home values and automotive industry and much more, as consumers had less access to credit, stock markets plunged, home prices fell dramatically and more workers became unemployed.
New York’s Giants beat the New England Patriots 17-14 at Super Bowl XLII, played at Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium. In baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies beat out the Tampa Bay Rays in the 104th World Series.
It was also the International Year of the Potato, and of sanitation. Clean as it may have been, 2008 was a tough year for Americans and for the powersports industry.
Album of the Year: Alison Krauss & Robert Plant – “Raising Sand”
Highest Grossing Movie: The Dark Knight
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Carrie Underwood – “Last Name”
At The Track
In the world of snowmobile racing, 2008 was the year that Levi LaVallee became an ESPN media darling, Corey Davidson was part of another Soo I-500 victory, an old name returned to rescue snocross racing and a new champion was crowned at Eagle River. It was also the end of the line for the bible of snowmobile racing – Snow Week magazine.
Let’s start with the latter: Brian Bewcyk of Manitoba pulled off an upset at Eagle River, using his Rotax-powered, Wahl-chassis mod to hold off hard-charging Gary Moyle. After the race, Bewcyk became the last racer to hoist the Snow Week Cup at the famous Eagle River World Championship – the traveling trophy would be retired before the next race.
At the ESPN Winter X Games, Tucker Hibbert was again the king of snocross racing, but for many snowmobilers and especially for ESPN producers, Hibbert was an afterthought. All the network wanted to talk about was Levi LaVallee, who won the Freestyle gold medal on Friday, then claimed the new Speed & Style event gold on Saturday. Sunday he was going for the triple gold with snocross, but Hibbert dominated the field from green to checkered. Still, LaVallee was named “Male Athlete Of Winter X ’08” by the network.
At the Soo, Davidson claimed win No. 6 – or, No. 7 if you include the 2005 victory in which he relief drove for the winning Gabe Bunke-led team. It was a clean, 500-lap race run in 7 hours, 49 minutes and 59 seconds – just 13 minutes off of the fastest 500 ever.
Bryan Dyrdahl won the Red Lake I-500 cross-country race, with another dominating performance, finishing almost 10 minutes ahead of the second place driver. The race was marred by a nasty crash by the popular Curt Peterson, when he broke his left femur in six places.
Overall in snocross, Hibbert dominated again, earning 14 class wins and taking the WPSA Pro Stock points championship despite missing a week to go compete in motocross. He earned Snow Week Racer Of The Year honors. He would be the last to earn the honor, as Snow Week folded after its April issue after 35 years of snowmobile racing coverage. Yeah, we miss it too.
Hibbert in Stock and Ross Martin in Pro Open would also prove to be the last WPSA pro-class champions, as the racing circuit collapsed in the spring under a mountain of debt. John Daniels brought back the International Series of Champions (ISOC) moniker and took charge of snocross racing going forward.
Over the summer, Chad Maki put the family’s name back in charge of oval racing at Grantsburg with a victory at that historic event, while four-strokes continued to steal attention at Haydays, particularly modified Yamahas and Arctic Cat turbos. At the event, Brent Huff broke the four-second barrier, running the 500-foot grass strip in 3.989 seconds, going from zero to more than 131 mph in less than the length of two football fields. That’s Smokin’!
The biggest attraction at Haydays may have been Todd Palin, however. Two months earlier, only the most hard-core of racing fans would know Palin, a multi-time Iron Dog champion for Arctic Cat. In early September of 2008, however, the initial burst of Sarah Palin-mania was running at full speed, and Todd showed up for his previously scheduled autograph session as a member of Team Arctic with an entourage of secret service agents.
Tucker Hibbert started the new race season where he left off – in charge. He swept the now ISOC-sanctioned Duluth National on his Cats. While the new circuit injected fresh excitement into the sport of snocross, there was a huge void with “Superman” Blair Morgan gone after he suffered paralyzing injuries in a motocross crash at the Montreal Supercross in September.
The Year In Sleds
Yamaha and Ski-Doo were the first to take the wraps off select 2009 models in the first six weeks of 2008, and both had big news.
Yamaha unveiled its new FX Nytro XTX, a cross-over sled with a 144-inch track and, more importantly, new front end geometry that helped add stability to the FX chassis. Within days, Ski-Doo took the wraps off of its new engine technology – featuring direct injection in a two-stroke – in its 600-class twin. The clean-burning E-TEC system came straight from the company’s Evinrude outboard engine division, and it helped Ski-Doo’s MX Z 600 earn back-to-back Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year honors.
Ski-Doo also unveiled its first competitive, modern four-stroke – a 1170cc fuel-injected, inline triple found in MX Z, GTX and Expedition clothing, proving the market share leader wasn’t willing to cede the four-stroke market to its competition.
Cat also went deeper into the four-stroke fray with the ultra-impressive Z1 Turbo, Z1 Turbo LXR and TZ1 Turbo Touring LXR that created more than 175 hp out of the 1056cc twin.
Cat also reached out to its core, hard-charging audience with its aggressive Crossfire R models – aimed at people who found the Twin Spar chassis machines too civilized for their liking.
For Polaris, it was another year of refining, as the company added some special Dragon and Shift models. The biggest news, though, was the company’s new Assault – a backcountry RMK aimed at a segment of Western riders are more into boondocking and aerial tricks than straight-on climbing.
Aside from the aforementioned MX Z TNT 600 H.O. E-TEC winning Snowmobile Of The Year honors, the other sleds honored by Snow Goer as Top 10 honors were the Z1 Turbo and TZ1 Turbo Touring from Cat; the RMK Assault, 600 Dragon SP and 550 IQ Shift from Polaris; the MX Z 800R X, MX Z 600 Renegade 600 H.O. E-TEC and GSX Limited 600 H.O. E-TEC from Ski-Doo and the FX Nytro and RS Vector GT from Yamaha.