Imagine training your entire young life for a chance at stardom. Your moment to shine, in this case, is a season-opening snocross race – the 1997 MRP Black Magic Duluth National Snocross, to be direct. You get there, you sign up, and you realize there are 146 other people in your class! The host race circuit is flummoxed: How are they going to efficiently going to narrow this field down to an eight-sled final when they have this many entries? Plus, they have 15 more overcrowded classes to also worry about.
So they do the math: In the first round, there will be 16 heat races in the Sport 440 class you entered, with either 9 or 10 sleds in each heat. But with their need to narrow the field, only those who finish in the top 4 in that first round will advance to the second round. You’re in heat No. 11, lined up 7th from the inside with other young riders on your left and right who are just as dedicated to their craft as you are.
The flag goes up, you pin the throttle and all of the sleds surge into the first turn. Some dude on a Polaris on the far-inside get loose, smacks into Ski-Doo next to them, that sled careens into an Arctic Cat, and the Cat driver flies off his ZR 440 and lands directly in front of your skis. Humanity takes over: You lock up the brake and skid to a stop with the downed rider being pushed by your sled’s bellypan. He’s uninjured, but now the rest of the field has charged ahead. You’ll certainly try, but there’s no way you’re going to make it up to fourth place before this short heat race is over. Just like that, your weekend – and your shot at stardom this weekend – is effectively done!
Kind of makes the Eminem “Lose Yourself” song about having “one shot” seem trite!
Recognizing Stars, And Other Names
In cleaning out some files today at the Snow Goer office, we stumbled across “Heat Sheets” for the 1997 Duluth National, and scanned in the Pro 440, Semi-Pro 440 and Sport 440 classes, which are being shared below. Some race coverage details of that event from Snow Week magazine can be found here.
In the first set shown, you’ll see the Pro 440 class, and Brad Pake’s path to victory that included a third-place finish in his round 1 heat, then two heat wins before winning the final ahead of Toni Haikonen, Noel Kohanski, Greg Hyde, Todd Wolff, Kirk Hibbert, Tim Maki, Blair Morgan, Jason Jones (the winner of the last-chance qualifier), Ray Schlegel, Jeremy Crapo and Janne Tapio. Almost equally interesting to stats geeks like us, though, are some of the names of the 38 guys who didn’t make the final! Reimer, Burks, Crapo, Brown, Durmas, Scheele, Berggren, Strege, Hermann, Irving, Sturgeon… all guys that would win national races elsewhere. In fact, a lot of those guys didn’t even make it into the last-chance qualifier.
Next, check out the 94 entries in Semi-Pro Open, including many future Pro racers who didn’t make the final. Then, consider the 147 entries in Sport 440. If you look closely at the names, you’ll find some surprises – including current performance show owners, dealership personnel, magazine contributors, a snowmobiling buddy that you didn’t know had previously raced, and more.
There’s just no way that we can simply throw away stuff like this, no matter what our office manager says we must do! So, we figured we’d scan-in the details and share them with you on this sunny, summer Throwback Thursday. (How to read the sheets: In the columns right of the driver’s sponsors, it shows each driver’s finishing order by round. An “11” is usually a “did not start,” often because a driver had a physical or mechanical issue. The hometowns listed often show where the racer was going to be based that race season, based on the address they put down when they registered to race. That’s why, first instance, Toni Haikonen is listed as being from Wausau, Wisconsin, instead of Finland. The sheets are shown as faxed – yes, faxed – from MRP race circuit on Sunday evening after the last final, typos and all.)