A lot can happen in the season-opening races in any facet of motorsports. Here are some items that filled our notebook at the Amsoil Duluth National ISOC snowmobile snocross race over Thanksgiving weekend. Click here for Sunday’s race story; here for Saturday’s race story and here for Friday’s race story.
The season-opening snocross race in Duluth is annually the place where the new race sleds from the manufacturers hit the snow for the first time. And that means it’s also the place where problems with those race sleds are first exposed. Over the years, weak suspension rails, cracking bulkheads, exhaust and ignition gremlins have all cropped up for the various manufacturers, causing them to scramble for a quick fix before the next round. This year, those gremlins bit some Polaris racers.
Over the course of the weekend, several top Polaris racers experienced ill-running snowmobiles after getting roosted in the sugary snow by another snowmobile. The problem? The air intake on the 2013 Polaris race sled was moved to a position that exposed it to roost, which was then sucked into the engine. It actually cost Ross Martin and his Judnick Motorsports team a victory on Saturday night in Pro Open. Martin had a relatively comfortable lead, but then his engine sucked in snow, dropped a cylinder and he limped to the finish line in second.
Polaris Race Manager Tom Rager Jr. confirmed the problem to us on Sunday morning, and said several race teams had worked on solutions overnight, including moving the intake or trying different filters. One Polaris racer told us in the infield tat decisions about where to place the intake can cause conflict on race teams. Some tuners want to place the intake right up front so the engines can make maximum horsepower (an engine is just a big air pump, and more air means more power), and that works great when sleds are running laps on a test track. Put those same sleds out on a track against a dozen other sleds, however, and problems can occur, as Polaris racers can attest.
Not as many problems occurred on Sunday, but you can be sure that Polaris race teams will be doing plenty of roost testing before ISOC Round 2 in Bessemer.
OK, all of you Tucker Hibbert, Ross Martin and Levi LaVallee fans, among others: What happened to your home-grown racers at Duluth?
There were six money-paying classes with “Pro” in their title at the Amsoil Duluth National, and not a single one was won by a U.S.-born racer. It all started on Saturday, when Saskatchewan-born Robbie Malinoski won Pro Open, Ontario’s David Joanis won Pro Lite and Quebec’s Danny Poirier earned the victory in Pro Am Plus 30. Sunday, it was more of the same, with Malinoski repeating in Pro Open, Quebec’s Renaud Alexander winning Pro Lite and Marica Renheim of Sweden winning Pro Am Women.
The foreign invasion actually goes beyond the top step on the podium. Quebec’s Tim Tremblay scored a second and a third in the two Pro Open finals; Poirier was chased to the finish line by Dave Allard (Quebec) and Marcus Evensson (Sweden) in Pro Am Plus 30; Jennifer Pare (Quebec) finished second and was the only racer even close to Renheim in Pro Am Women; and Ontario’s Dylan Hall was second in Pro Lite on Saturday.
What’s most interesting about the foreign invasion in some of those classes is what it potentially does to the season points race in the ISOC Amsoil Championship Series. Aside from Pro Open, several of the other foreign-born racers have their own circuits to run back home and they are not going for a points title on this circuit, despite their early season leads.
A couple of racers for whom many folks had high hopes didn’t even qualify for the Pro Open final on Sunday. Conspicuous in their absence from the starting line were crowd favorite Levi LaVallee and the much-hyped rookie Kody Kamm. LaVallee had a tough weekend overall, finishing 13th in Saturday’s final before running around at the back of the LCQ on Sunday. He comedically posted on his Facebook page Saturday night, “Wow I rode like a dork today! Hopefully tomorrow I figure out what side the throttle is on! ;)”.
Kamm, meanwhile is still recovering from injuries suffered in a motocross accident over the summer where he flew into a generator and light pole. Ouch! His back is slowly recovering, but a hard crash in a heat race on Saturday in Duluth couldn’t have helped matters much. Kamm came through the LCQ to finish a respectable 6th on Saturday but missed the cut and Sunday and will find himself far back in the points, along with LaVallee, after the first weekend of racing.
Garth Kaufman also missed the final both days, although Sunday was aided by an on-track paint-trading scrap he got into with LaVallee in a heat race. He ended up getting black flagged when his sled’s left side body panel came loose.
Winter (And Snow) Arrives, Just In Time
Kudos to the folks at Spirit Mountain for even making this race happen – and similar kudos to Mother Nature for making it feel like snowmobiling weather.
The crew at the hosting ski hill made and stockpiled enough snow before a mid-November warm up to allow the race to happen, seemingly against all odds. Yes, the track was shorter than normal, but given the weather leading up to the race, it was wonderful. Then, on Thanksgiving day, temperatures in Duluth plummeted all day, and by Friday it was cold and, yes, even snowing.
More than 100 people have signed up for Snow Goer’s Snowmobile Racing Challenge fantasy game. And, when the results were tabulated this morning, some familiar names were again at the top. The Roskoski family from Minnesota’s Iron Range dominated our fantasy game the last couple of years, to the point where we almost wondered if they had cracked the code and somehow got backdoor access to our former vendor’s website so they could change their picks on the fly. Well, now we’re on a different system, and we’ve got Roskoskis in first and second again after one week. Yes, they are just that good! Make sure to sign up and play for round 2!
Once again, the Sport class dominated the race entries list, with 99 taking a green flag in a heat race on Friday and 89 on Saturday. Getting through that crowd and to the final is very difficult, as one bobble in a heat race can eliminate a racer from even qualifying for the last chance qualifier. But, amazingly, the same three drivers were on the podium each day. Zac Mason (Polaris) of Gaylord, Michigan, was first on Friday and second on Saturday; Braydon Love (Polaris) of Kenora, Ontario, was second Friday and third on Saturday; and Jesse James Bonaduce (Ski-Doo) of Somerville, New Jersey charged from a slow start to third on Friday, and then came through the last-chance qualifier race on Saturday, started in the back row in the final and won.
The Pro Lite class attracted 46 entries each day; Junior Novice 10-13 was next biggest at 30 entries, followed by Pro Open (26 entries on Sunday, 25 on Saturday), Junior 16-17 (25), Pro Am Plus 30 (25), Transition 8-12 (20), Junior 14-15 (19), 120 Champ 6-12 (18) and Pro Am Women (17).