One of the very first legends in snowmobile racing – and an ambassador of the sport – has died at the age of 91.
Herb Howe won the very first super-endurance race in snowmobiling: the 457-mile cross-country International 500 from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1966. The very thought of racing nearly 500 miles on snowmobiles of that era is amazing. They were moved by 14 horsepower engines, had rudimentary suspension systems and were about as dependable as a politician.
Reportedly, 57 drivers entered the contest and started in Winnipeg in subarctic conditions. Just 24 finished the multi-day event in St. Paul and Howe, then a resident of Crystal, Minnesota, had the fastest time on his 1966 Polaris Colt. He overcame more than an hour deficit on the last day.
Howe raced and won at events throughout the Snowbelt, but he also stayed very tied to the cross-country I-500, racing in the first 10 and finishing seven of those. That was an amazing feat all on its own considering the attrition rate of that era. According to the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, fewer than 25 percent of sleds entering the race regularly finished. After he retired from racing, Howe was a promoter of the event in many different ways, including serving as race director until the old I-5 shut down in 1980. He then reprised that role when the race returned in 1987 through 1994.
Beyond that, Howe and his race-winning sled made the rounds to events in the Upper Midwest, appearing at parades, vintage snowmobile rallies, grass drags, watercross events and more. He often conducted interviews with local media when making such an appearance, like this story from the St. Cloud Times when he was 87.
We’d direct those wanting to learn more about Howe to his Snowmobile Hall of Fame induction bio. Here’s also a link to his obituary. Also, you can catch a glimpse of the original cross-country I-500 and Howe’s thrilling last-day charge in the video posted below, and the get a lot more about the event through the WinnipegtoStPaul.com website.
Editor’s Note: Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! This story is from the November 2021 issue’s Cold Tested department. Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door or your computer for a low cost.