Snowmobile racing lost one of its greats over the weekend when Leroy Lindblad passed away in Kansas after an extended battle with cancer. He was 72.
A two-time Winnipeg-to-St. Paul I-500 cross-country winner and an enduro champion at the famed Soo I-500 race in Michigan, Lindblad was actually as well known by many insiders for his tuning and creative engineering abilities. He helped design clutches, engines and, later, entire race machines for Polaris and aftermarket company Pro 5. He was recruited by Ski-Doo to race and manage its competitive efforts in the mid 1970s but then returned to Polaris for 1976-77 as a part of the Midnight Blue Express team.
Lindblad started his snowmobile racing career in 1967 and quickly became a key member of the Polaris racing team. He earned the nickname “Long Distance Larry” in the early ‘70s when he claimed back-to-back cross-country I-500 titles on Polaris sleds in 1970 and 1971. (He was also called one of the “Starfire Kids.”) The 1971 race, as captured in the Warriors of Winter snowmobile history book, started in minus-30-degree temperatures that were then quickly followed by strong winds and light snow that knocked visibility down to near zero. Lindblad perservered and won the race in a record time of 11 hours, 5 minutes, 4 seconds – almost 2 hours faster than the record he had set the previous year in 1970 and at an average speed of 55 mph, despite the treacherous conditions.
“You have to be mentally prepared,” Lindblad was quoted as saying in Warriors of Winter. “Every mile is different. You have no idea what lies ahead – drifts, holes, snow banks. So it’s a matter of trying to make yourself sensitive and ready to handle anything that comes up. It all boils down to being prepared.”
He earned $7,500 for the victory – a king’s ransom in 1971. In the 1974 Soo I-500, Lindblad and teammates Wes Pesek and Burt Bassett led all but four laps of the famed enduro race to capture a dominating victory. Countless other victories at high-profile events like the South Dakota Governor’s Cup, the Rhinelander Hodag and the Ironwood Olympus helped further cement his place in snowmobile racing history before he retired in 1978. He was inducted into the Snowmobile Racing Hall Of Fame in 1992.
His contributions to snowmobile design are equally impressive. In an article that appeared in Snow Goer, Tech Professor Phil Mickelson recalls first seeing the game-changing Polaris clutch on Lindblad’s race sled at the Duluth Indoor race in late 1969. Lindblad was also involved in both the developing and the early racing success of Polaris TX and TX-L snowmobiles, among many other projects.
According to a post on Vintagesleds.com, Lindblad died Saturday, October 13, 2012 due to complications from cancer. He surrounded with his family in Salina, Kansas. Click through to the Vintagesleds.com story on a recent brush with Lindblad – it’s very touching.