In world events, 2003 will go down as the year President Bush announced in his State of the Union address that he was ready to attack Iraq, citing weapons of mass destruction — bringing us the lasting acronym “WMDs.” The war officially began on March 19, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9.
Across the globe, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered Iran’s concealed nuclear activities and space shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, unemployment hit six percent, Tampa Bay’s Buccaneers won the Super Bowl over the Oakland Raiders and the Florida Marlins took down the New York Yankees in six games in the World Series.
Perhaps 2003 was best known as the International Year of Freshwater. It’s true: we humans couldn’t get enough cool, tasty water two years into our third millennium.
Album of the Year: “Come Away With Me” — Norah Jones
Highest Grossing Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: June Carter Cash, who died on May 15, 2003
At The Track
P.J. Wanderscheid won his second consecutive Eagle River World Championship in dramatic fashion over Philip Moulton. Wanderscheid nipped at veteran Moulton’s snowflap for most of the race until the 19-year-old dipped low through turns three and four of the high-banked, half-mile oval and shot ahead for the lead on the closing laps. “I was just driving as hard as I could the whole race,” he said. “It ended up I had the faster line than Philip. Just like last year. [The win] is unexpected.” Flip Merwin died as a result of injuries suffered in a qualifying race during the Friday Night Thunder program at the Derby.
In Aspen, Colorado, Blair Morgan narrowly won his third straight snocross gold medal at the Winter X Games. Polaris-mounted D.J. Eckstrom ran a fast pace and led well into the race, but a mis-timed double jump let Morgan capitalize and take the lead and hold it all the way to the checkered flag.
On the paperclip shaped oval in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, Corey Davidson won his fourth Soo I-500 race, tying him with fellow Polaris driver John Wicht III, who won four Soo titles from 1988 through 1993. Oval racing suffered its second blow of 2003 when Michael Kolbus died after he crashed on lap 40 of the race.
Davidson won his second 500-mile race of the year at the United States Cross Country Skydancer I-500 in Belcourt, North Dakota. “It feels good to get two 500s. I’ve been shooting for that for a couple years,” he said.
Polaris drivers rocked at the Jackson Hillclimb as Dennis Durmas was Mod King, Rick Ward took Improved Stock King title and Scott Barge was the Stock King. Morgan won both pro points championships on the World Snowmobile Association (WSA) tour. After finishing runner-up to Morgan,
Tucker Hibbert announced he would step away from snowmobile racing to pursue motocross. The 19-year-old won nine races as a WSA pro that season and had many great on-track battles with Morgan, leaving a huge void in snowmobile racing.
Summer racing kicked off with Howie Steenberg winning his second straight Pro Open Oval championship at Grantsburg. Ski-Doo racers Chris Anderson and Craig Marchbank mopped up at Haydays, winning four stock classes and the Minnesota Cup, and eight modified classes, respectively. But the stock 700 classes were owned by F7 Firecat drivers, who took the top three spots in the 700 single-pipe and 700 multi-pipe.
When the winter racing season kicked in at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minnesota, Ski-Doo’s “Scrap Iron” Earl Reimer won the Pro Open final and Kent Ipsen won the stock class on his Sno Pro 440. Morgan hadn’t fully recoverd from a motocross accident in the spring, but he finished in fourth place in the stock final.
The Year In Sleds
The 2004 models that were released in the spring were predictable as sled manufacturers left obvious holes in their 2003 lineups after releasing so much revolutionary iron that year.
Ski-Doo stayed on the gas by expanding its REV chassis to Summit and GSX models, not to mention it did away with that god-awful beavertail snowflap system on the rear end. The company also brought back the twin-track Elite, powered by a 1503cc four-stroke.
Arctic Cat added a 600 to the Firecat platform and put a turbo booster on the T660. Yamaha released the RX Warrior, a long-track version of the RX-1. Polaris scrambled to try and keep up with the revolutionary machines coming from the other sled factories by releasing the Pro X2 and Pro XR models.
The MX Z 600 H.O. SDI earned Snow Goer Snowmobile of the Year honors for its rider-forward chassis and semi-direct injection engine. Top 10 sleds were the RX Warrior, Summit 800 H.O. Highmark, MX Z Renegade 600 H.O., GSX 800 Limited, 800 Classic, ZR 900, 550 Pro X Fan, F5 Firecat, T660 Turbo and SXViper S.
With more four-strokes hitting the snow, aftermarket turbo kits grew in popularity as the new engines were more stable and reliable than the fuel-injected two-strokes in the 1990s.