Early in the spring of 2011, I began to hear some internet chatter about the creation of a new class of snowmobile ice oval racing. This revolutionary new idea was going to place the driver in a left-side cockpit driving position, surrounded by a full roll cage and driven much like a Sprint car, with a steering wheel, foot pedal controls, and a 5-point harness. Considering the high amount of injuries to drivers racing in the top level of snowmobile ice oval racing, the idea quickly caught fire and within 3 weeks (yes I said weeks) John Hooper, owner of Hooper Racing in Goshen, New Hampshire had completed work on a prototype and was ready to test it before the ice was gone from the lakes. 2-time World Champion Gary Moyle made the trip to New Hampshire to help John test the machine and after a couple days of adjustments, Gary was making laps that were very impressive! The video of the testing session went about as “viral” as it gets in the snowmobile racing world, and soon the new Outlaw 600 class was born.
John worked tirelessly from late March until early May to get a rules package together that would not only make these machines the safest class ever to hit an ice oval track, but to also make this class be attractive to newcomers. The idea is to draw people into this sport that wouldn’t have otherwise considered racing ice ovals. I mean, let’s be honest here…it takes a special type of person to be willing to endure the cold temperatures, tough travel, and unique challenges of racing a snowmobile on the ice oval. Those 3 factors alone make it very daunting to most people. Now add in the part where you have to almost be a world class athlete to drive the modern day ice oval snowmobile and couple that with the fact that you simply can’t get into this game and be anywhere close to competitive right off the bat and all of the sudden, your sport is in trouble. That has been the state of ice oval racing for the past few years; declining numbers, declining events, and a dwindling fan base. This new Outlaw 600 class has been designed with all of the previous factors in mind in order to create something that will be attractive to a wide variety of people. The rules package has been created in a way that will keep competition close and even a racer with a limited budget will be able to field a competitive piece of equipment and rely on his racing and tuning skills more than his wallet!
John Hooper presented the class at the ISR (International Snowmobile Racing) spring meetings in Milwaukee, WI. It was adopted into the ISR rulebook and the class was officially added to the schedule for all Ice Oval events. Word travelled fast and the work began across the country to get some machines built before the first event of the 2011-2012 season. Well, as race seasons have a habit of doing, it came upon all of us quickly with the season opener being held December 3rd and 4th in Beausejour, Manitoba. When we arrived in Beasejour to find 7 other Outlaw 600’s there to compete, we were delighted! I’ve never seen a class debut with so much anticipation!
The beginning test sessions didn’t go as well as anyone hoped. As with any new venture, there were some bugs to be worked out. First of all, the completed sleds with all the proper safety equipment and full bodywork installed were about 100 lbs heavier than the prototype that was tested earlier, yet most suspension setups were based on those of the original prototype which John made available to anyone who wanted to use it as a template. Another factor in early test sessions was belt failure due to the extra weight and lack of venting. It was great to see all the teams working together to get the setups corrected and the rate of improvement was almost unbelievable as the day progressed on Saturday. By Sunday, the sleds were running in the low to mid 90’s on the track and put on arguably the best race of the entire weekend in the 7-lap final.
Tim Hibbard, who had made the trip to Beausejour from Northern New Hampshire, driving alone for 36 hours, battled ski to ski with former NASCAR racer Rich Bickle of Janesville, WI and was able to hold him off at the finish line to take the win. Both Tim and Rich were instrumental in the development of the class. Tim worked closely with John Hooper building the original prototype and Rich’s company, Muscle-Up performance, jumped into the game with both feet, building 2 sleds that were ready for the first race (one for Bickle himself and one for former ice oval World Champion Chuck Decker). Muscle-Up performance also has 4 more chassis built and ready to go and they do stunningly beautiful fabrication work! Proline Performance out of Pine Island, MN also had 2 machines racing this weekend and are currently working on more as did DAVCO performance of Grey Eagle, MN. I have heard that there are as many as 6 others that are currently in process and will be ready for the 49th annual World Championship Derby in Eagle River, WI on January 19-22.
I am really excited to see this class develop. Check out the website for more information and pictures at www.outlaw600.com. Come check out an Outlaw 600 race near you this winter, the tentative full schedule is as follows.
December 17-18, Rapids Speedway, Rock Rapids, Iowa
January 7-8, Portage County Ice Wars, Amherst, WI
January 19-22, Eagle River Derby Track 49th Annual World Championship, Eagle River, WI
January 27-28, 525 Memorial Racetrack, Wausau WI
February 3-5, Ogilvie Raceway ORA U.S. Nationals, Ogilvie, MN
February 10-12, Fire On Ice, Weyauwega, WI
February 18-19, Race on Trace, Grey Eagle, MN
February 25-26, Thunder on Ice, Garrison, MN
March 3-4, 50th Annual Canadian Power Toboggan Championship, Beausejour, Manitoba.