It was exactly 20 years ago right now (as this story is being posted) that the eyes of the snowmobile world were being directed to Duluth, Minnesota, for what observers were already calling one of the most anticipated showdowns in snowmobile racing history.
Three years earlier, Blair Morgan happened upon the snocross scene and took it over with an aggressive, high-flying style that challenged the old guard and immediately made him the new undisputed king. He was so amazing that some said he made the sport boring, because if he got out front early it wasn’t going to be close, despite a big field of talented racers.
However, waiting in the wings was a second-generation snocrosser named Tucker Hibbert who was mopping up in Semi-Pro. Then, in shocking fashion, he won the Winter X Games gold medal at age 15 in February of 2000, before he was even allowed to turn Pro. With the win and a passing birthday, however, the now 16-year-old Hibbert was allowed to move up to the big-boy class for the start of the 2000-2001 snocross season. He had “future superstar” written all over him, but how would he actually fare when tested by the likes of Morgan in a full season?
It was time to find out!
Below are Snow Week’s opening paragraphs and then the coverage of their first Pro final together — the Pro Stock final on Thanksgiving weekend in 2000 in Duluth, Minnesota. As you’ll see, Morgan held serve by a ski length, but Hibbert then claimed the Pro Open win the following day on Sunday and earned the “Boy Wonder” cover on Snow Week.
Let’s get to the story:
Hibbert-Morgan Duel Begins
Nov. 24-26, 2000/Duluth, Minnesota/Story and Photos by John T. Prusak
Finally, a big showdown that lived up to the hype.
We all know of the Super Bowl flops, the $100 million super-hyped movies that fail and the mega-promoted boxing matches that end with a quick knockdown or a chewed-off ear.
But this heavyweight fight lived up to the hype, and it’s only the first battle in what will undoubtedly be an entertaining year-long war.
Call it the Duluth Black Magic National. Call it the World Snowmobile Association (WSA) Snocross Worldwide Championship (SWC) season-opener. Call it what you want. But it will likely be remembered by those who were there as Morgan vs. Hibbert, Part I.
Morgan, of course, is Blair Morgan, the three-time defending North American snocross dominator. Since the Saskatchewan native appeared on the scene in the spring of 1997, he has won 37 national event, seven of eight high points championships and the respect of everybody who has seen him maneuver his Arctic Cat on a bumpy mine field.
Hibbert is Tucker Hibbert, son of Arctic Cat racing legend Tucker Hibbert and the hottest new thing to hit the sport since, well, Morgan. He tore apart the Semi-Pro division last year and capped the year with an amazing ESPN Winter X Games upset on his No. 68 Cat.
Even though he’s still younger than most Pro division racers, 25-year-old Morgan is the old guard due to his complete domination in recent years. At 16, first-year pro Hibbert is the star of a new generation. This was the first official showdown in a regular WSA Pro event, and their first faceoff since Winter X.
WSA officials claim a record crowd of more than 35,000 people showed up at the Sport Mountain Ski Resort just south of Duluth, Minnesota, to watch the Hibbert/Morgan shootout and to see hundreds of other racers compete on the challenging track.
For the first time in three years, plenty of snow and frigid November temperatures allowed Spirit Mountain and WSA officials to create the best track ever at the facility. The deep snow resulted in deep ruts, huge hole and monster moguls that added to the purpose-made jumps.
Arctic Cat racers dominated the final results, winning three of four Pro classes, two of three Semi-Pro classes and five of eight Sport and Juniors finals. Add in the Winter X Games qualifier and Dash For Cash victory and you’ve got an amazing 12 of 17 final wins for Cat.
The weekend wasn’t without problems for Cat however. The factory’s shock problems were the talk of the pits. Polaris and Yamaha racers look like they may be more competitive this year, though Yamaha suffered a devastating loss when David Brown broke his left leg.
Morgan Takes Pro Stock
The talk started last February right after the Winter X Games final. Hibbert would turn Pro this fall, and Morgan finally had a challenge. But some wondered about the legitimacy of Hibbert’s X Games victory. Take nothing away from Hibbert, but the win came in a shortened, made-for-TV event that didn’t duplicate the rigors of a longer, regular season WSA final. Yet nobody could deny the talent of this amazing (then) 15-year-old.
In snocross’ off-season, both Morgan and Hibbert competed in motocross and dominated their respective circuit before each suffered some injuries. Hibbert’s leg injury was more serious than Morgan’s bumps, bruises and sprains, but both are now 100 percent healthy.
(We skip forward and pick up the story after both went undefeated in qualifying)
On green the Cats climbed the hill fastest, with Aaron Scheele barely in front of Hibbert, Morgan, Dave Allard and Serge Audet. Hibbert and Morgan touched in the tight turn one, an innocent bump by Hibbert that pushed Morgan to an outside line.
Hibbert sliced inside of Scheele on top of the hill and came down the front stretch launch with the lead. He was followed by Morgan, then Minnesota drivers Justin Tate and Scheele, Quebec teammates Audet and Allard, then Noel Kohanski, T.J. Gulla and D.J. Eckstrom.
At the bottom of the hill, Hibbert squared off his D&D Powersports/Stud Boy-backed Cat and headed up the hill, opening an impressive gap on the Black Magic/Woody’s backed Morgan ZR.
Allard crashed on the second lap, and Scheele biffed going up the hill on lap three. Kohanski used the ensuing mix-ups to his advantage, undercutting Tate and claiming third on his Erlandson Performance/USI/Roetin Pro X 440.
On lap five, Morgan started to close on Hibbert, with a huge gap to Kohanski, Tate, Audet and Chris Vincent. The two leading Cat drivers were constantly scanning the track, speed reading for lines.
Hibbert opened up a bit of a gap again on Morgan, though he was never more than 2 seconds ahead, when the two sleds started to work through lapped traffic. Hibbert split Allard and Eckstrom using a middle line. It took Morgan a lap to pass those two competitors, then he set his sights firmly on his new rival.
Morgan made a dramatic run toward the backstretch double and caught Hibbert in the air, with Hibbert using the airtime to look to his right and see Morgan. They split Nathan Titus as they lapped him going up the hill, but Morgan was more aggressive at the top and grabbed the lead.
Hibbert wasn’t ready to cave. He switched lines coming down the hill and tried to undercut Morgan to regain the lead but lapped traffic prevented the move. The two drivers tried different lines up the uphill then the crafty Morgan cut directly into Hibbert’s line on the downhill.
More traffic lied ahead, and more action. Hibbert got a great run going up the hill and charged into the lead, then he got tangled up with Earl Reimer in a hilltop turn and Morgan reclaimed the point.
In third, meanwhile, Kohanski fended off a charge by Amsoil’s Tate, while Vincent ran fifth on his Bud Light ride.
After the white flag waved, Hibbert made one last run. At the top of the hill, he stuffed his ZR beneath Morgan and tried to claim an inside line. Over the front-stretch jump Hibbert switched back to his familiar outside line and planted the throttle over the bumps, but Morgan was too good and won by a ski length.
Kohanski claimed third, matching the total number of Polaris podium finishes from last year (one), followed by Tate, Vincent, Reimer, Audet, Hyde, Allard and Titus.
“We got into some lappers there and I didn’t think he was that close yet,” Hibbert said of Morgan’s pass. “It surprised me.”
But speaking of his first Pro final, Hibbert smiled and said, “Oh, it was fun!”
Morgan agreed, saying Hibbert’s race-long challenge provided more entertainment than he had in some finals last year. “Yeah, it was more fun. You have to work harder.”
What was Morgan’s advantage?
“Maybe a little experience,” Morgan said. “I was determined to win the first one. If I would have let him win one, his confidence would have been more lucid.”
It turns out Hibbert’s confidence was just fine. After some problems in qualifying, Hibbert had to go through the last-chance qualifier in Pro Open and then started in the second row in the final. He grabbed the lead at the halfway point and then stormed away to his first formal Pro class victory in a regular season race, with Kent Ipsen and Allard third. Morgan faded to fourth after his front-arm shock faded. Hibbert, of course, would go on to be the winningest driver in snocross history.
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