Since Blair Morgan’s injury-forced retirement, a small handful of names have dominated the snocross scene. Tucker Hibbert is at the top of that list, but guys like Ross Martin, Robbie Malinoski and Levi LaVallee have also grabbed championships and high profile victories. Relative upstart Tim Tremblay made a major dent a couple of years ago with a points championship of his own, and rookie Kody Kamm knocked heavily on the door last year, but those top four have made their presence most felt, both in terms of victories and also in terms of headline-hogging (particularly in LaVallee and Hibbert’s case).
Based on last year’s results, most of that first-named “older dude” crew doesn’t appear to be slowing down, but consider this: They are now the four oldest regulars on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross Series, and as that group of drivers nears or crosses 30 (once considered ancient in motocross and snocross circles), there is a younger set of drivers that is itching for its shot at fame.
Also consider this: Hibbert, Martin, Tremblay, Malinoski and Kamm combined grabbed 41 of the available 48 podiums last year on the ISOC circuit, and Malinoski was riding injured most of the season. In a rough-and-tumble, full-contact sport like snocross, having the podium dominated to this degree by a small handful of drivers is unusual.
Whether the old guard will actually age, Tremblay and Kamm will continue to rise or if a new crew is ready to step up is the most intriguing story heading into the 2013-14 snocross season, which opens November 29-December 1 at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minnesota. This isn’t a season with big brand switches or other changes at the top. Instead, it’s old and proven vs. young and hungry. Here’s a look at the Pro Open drivers signed up to race at the Duluth Snocross. Feel free to use these tips to set a team for snowgosite.wpengine.com’s Fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game — it’s fun, free and easy to play.
The Old Guard
If Tucker Hibbert, 29, is getting old, he certainly isn’t showing it. With an extra year of testing under the drive belt of Cat’s new race chassis, Hibbert absolutely dominated at most events last year, winning most by wide margins. He won 11 of the 16 ISOC finals and took one second. Even in the five races where something bad happened, he still managed to finish in the top five, for an incredible 16 top five finishes in 16 races. Wanna bet against the super talented Cat racer? Do it only if somebody gives you odds.
Compared to Hibbert, Ross Martin seems like a newcomer to some, mostly because he didn’t win an X Games gold medal at age 15. But Martin is also 29 years old heading into Duluth and finished second in points last year. Over the course of the 16-race season, Martin had 9 podiums (three victories, five second place finishes and one third) but also has some crashes and some mechanical failures, making it a bit subpar by this Polaris racer’s standards.
Robbie Malinoski, 32, is the oldest regular in the Pro Open class, but he truly keeps getting better. He opened last season with a bad back at Duluth, yet he swept the Pro Open finals there on his Scheuring Speed Sports Ski-Doo. He finished second the following Friday at Bessemer, Michigan, but then never made it to the podium again in an injury tarnished season. He’s healthy and back to prove that last year’s great start was no fluke.
Levi LaVallee, 31, is the second oldest Pro Open regular. His star has risen considerably in freestyle riding and exhibitions, but repeated injuries have worn down this crowd favorite who rides for Polaris. His best finish last year was a fifth last season at Bessemer, Michigan, and his season ended at Winter X Games.
Tim Tremblay, 27, is no spring chicken, but he hasn’t raced Pro Open for long and is just one year removed from being a Pro Open points champion on his Ski-Doo. Last year he finished third in points overall, thanks to 11 podium finishes (5 seconds and 6 thirds).
Kody Kamm, 19, finished fourth in points last year, and looks like he has the “it” factor of the next star of snocross. Many eagerly anticipated his Pro debut at Duluth last year, but he flopped there, finishing sixth Saturday and then failing to make Sunday’s final. That was the Polaris racer’s last weekend without at least one podium finish, however – he collected 4 fourth place finishes, 4 thirds, two fourths and one fifth last year: That’s 8 podiums and 11 top five finishes in the last 14 rounds.
The Next Front?
The last couple of seasons, an assortment of could-be future stars has dominated the Semi-Pro or Pro-Lite class and moved into the Pro Open ranks, but have been plagued by injuries, inconsistency and the steep learning curve. But each has shown flashes of potential brilliance.
Logan Christian, 21, is one such racer. He’s won a lot of heats and done very well for parts of finals, but he hasn’t made himself a regular on the box quite yet. His best finish in 2012-13 was a third at Deadwood, South Dakota, and despite several other impressive looking runs, he never again cracked the top 5 on his Cat.
Darrin Mees, 24, opened his first Pro Open season strong last year with third-place finishes in rounds two and three and a fourth in round 4. Various problems held him back the rest of the year, and now he’s on a new team (Boss Racing) for the coming season.
Another first year pro, Kyle Pallin, 22, made 15 of the 16 finals last year, finished as high as fourth and had 7 finishes in the top six on his Polaris. He also bears watching.
Cody Thomsen, 22, started his second Pro Open season as Arctic Cat’s No. 2 racer, and he backed that up with a fourth-place finish at the season’s first race. An injury ended his season very early, however. He’s back this year to try to rebuild his momentum.
A sizeable group of Scandinavian racers made their presence felt at various events last year, though some didn’t stick around for the full season. This year, the standard bearer of that group, Emil Ohman (1 third and 5 top five finishes last year), is staying in Europe this winter.
Ohman was replaced on the Ski-Doo Warnert Racing team by a racer from his hometown (Pitea, Sweden): Johan Lidman, 22, formerly of Carlson Motorsports. He got off to a rough start last year, but close strong with his lone podium finish at Glyndon, Minnesota, in March, followed by a fourth the last weekend at Lake Geneva.
Another Swede, Petter Narsa, 21, will race the full season this year for Boss Racing. He finished as high as third last year (at Shakopee, Minnesota) and was adapting to North American snocross quite well before a knee injury held him back
Adam Renheim, 24, started last season in North America with Warnert Racing last year but then went back to Europe. This year he was going to start the year here with Boss Racing, but now it sounds like commitments to a FIM World Championship banquet are forcing him to miss the season-opener at Duluth.
The top true rookie who is stepping up to the Pro ranks this year is Jake Scott, 18, for Team LaVallee Polaris. He ran away with the Pro Lite championship last year, then race in the season-closing event at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in Pro Open and finished 10th.
Also jumping up from the undercard is David Joanis, 21, signed to race for the Christian Brothers Arctic Cat team and Renaud Alexandre, 23, on a Ski-Doo. Each driver earned victories last year early in the season before Scott took over the class later in the year. In fact, Joanis was Pro Lite at Duluth last year on Saturday, while Alexandre claimed the victory Sunday at Duluth.
Tough Regular Pros
Not to be overlooked in the Pro Open class is a group of racers in their mid 20s who don’t fall in either the wiley veteran or the wet-behind-the-ears crew. Instead, these are mid-career, experienced beterans with something to prove.
They include Justin Broberg, 24, racing for Hentges Racing/Polaris (4 top five finishes last year); Colby Crapo, 24, competing for Huber Motorsports (best finish was sixth last year); Mike Bauer, 24, on a Jess Racing Cat (best finished was 11th, three times); Zach Pattyn, 25, on a Stud Boy Ski-Doo (sixth at Glyndon in March); Paul Bauerly, 27, on a Ski-Doo (two 10ths), and Bobby LePage, 29 (best finish was 12th), on a Polaris.
Some of these guys will follow the full national ISOC tour (like Pattyn, Broberg and Bauerly) while others are making a spot appearance at some early ISOC races and then will focus their attention elsewhere.
Canadian star Iain Hayden, 30, will make his usual early-season drop in at Duluth before turning his attention to the Canadian Snocross Racing Association season. He finished eighth at Duluth last year and has showed well there before. In fact Piche finished 12th as Lake Geneva last spring.
His drop-in was expected. Unexpected until last week was the appearance of a Yamaha race team. Officially, Yamaha says its racers will focus on cross-country this season and are merely using the Duluth race as practice and track time, but some of its racers aren’t the coasting type.
They are led by Steve Taylor, 31, a former snocross racing star; and Matt Piche, 28, a regular for years in the Pro Open class on the ISOC and prior WPSA race circuits. Joining them on Yamaha Vipers will be cross-country specialist Ben Lindbom, 22. He’s known as a cross-country racer now, but he used to kick some serious butt in the Sport class just a couple of years ago.