Snow Week Flashback: 2002 Duluth Snocross

In the heat of the Tucker Hibbert vs. Blair Morgan rivalry, the 2002-03 snocross season started off with a bang at the annual Duluth Snocross. Snow Week magazine was there to capture the action, as always. Below is the magazine’s description of the Pro Stock final, which featured a very dramatic, last-second pass. Later the same day, Blair Morgan claimed the Pro Open final in dominating fashion.

There was a lot more action covered by Snow Week at Duluth, Minnesota, that weekend. For instance. A young Levi LaVallee was black-flagged out of the Semi Pro Open class, an early version of the SnowBike class was run with AD Boivin Snow Hawks, a one-day cross-country and enduro ace named Aaron Christensen took Semi-Pro Open and much more. If you want a print copy of the whole issue, we’ve got it for sale on the Snow Goer Store for $7.99 per shipping, but hurry because we’ve only got 6 issues in stock.

Starting Strong In Duluth

Pros Put In Overtime

Since WSA changed its format a year ago. the top racers have been able to relax a bit on Saturday. The top 10 in points advance automatically so they don’t have to prequalify on Saturday.

Not this weekend. Since Duluth is the first race on the schedule, every Pro had to prequalify to advance to Sunday racing. After Saturday prequalifying, 27 racers were set for the Sunday program in Pro Stock and Pro Open.

Saturday’s racing was a mix of shakedowns and getting a feel for the new iron for several racers. Polaris sleds looked more impressive, with several red riders displaying power up the uphill backstretch that Polaris sleds have lacked in recent years.

On Sunday, two rounds of round-robin qualifying moved 10 racers to the Pro Stock final. Ten more raced a last-chance qualifier for four available spots on the back row in the final.

In round one, Blair Morgan, Shaun Crapo and D.J. Eckstrom were all winners. Morgan repeated his feat in round two, along with Brad Pitlik and T.J. Gulla. Johnny Mold surprised everyone by qualifying with two seconds. And Tucker Hibbert also surprised the crowd by finishing eighth in round two after tangling with Tomi Ahmasalo at the start.

In the LCQ, Michael Island got the holeshot on his Bud Light-sponsored Ski-Doo, but Hibbert wasn’t about to give in and challenged Island up the starting chute. A lap later, Hibbert snuck by and took off. Island followed along with Carl Schubitzke. Matt Boron managed to hold off a charging Jayme Cheney for the final transfer spot.

In the Pro Stock final, Morgan was the No. 1 qualifier, followed by an impressive Shaun Crapo. From there the rest of the front row included Pitlik, Mold, Todd Wolff, Gulla, Eckstrom, Carl Kuster, Yuji Nakazawa and Kent Ipsen. Hibbert, Island, Schubitzke and Boron slotted into the back row.

Eckstrom, however, wasn’t at the line. With the clock ticking, Eckstrom’s crew was changing reeds on his Polaris. Just before his time was up, Eckstrom pulled to the line and took his spot.

With that drama over, the green flag lifted and Crapo jumped out to an early lead, thanks to the Polaris “Dragon” button. Morgan was inside of Crapo and just behind, planning to go for the inside to sneak underneath the rookie. It didn’t work. Crapo braked for the comer and Morgan plowed into him. flipping his own sled and smashing his plastic. In the process, the pile-up collected Wolff, Gulla and Schubitzke. Crapo popped out unscathed.

His lead was short lived, though, as Ipsen snuck past both Pitlik in second and Crapo for the lead. Following Ipsen, Pitlik went past Crapo as well. Riding a far outside line, Ipsen ran a flawless race and began pulling away from the pack. However, Crapo wasn’t done, and he took second back from Pitlik at the bottom of the hill.

While Ipsen led, Crapo and Pitlik battled. But something green was stirring. Hibbert was on the move. From an eighth-place start the No. 68 Arctic Cat was in fourth by the halfway point of the race. Hibbert continued to charge. He nipped Pitlik for third, then began to work on Crapo, who he passed on the uphill backstretch.

From there, Hibbert put the throttle to the bars, doubling over the downhill section on the front-stretch. On the final lap, Hibbert took an inside line through the final two comers and the two Cats went ski to ski. Down the front stretch, with Hibbert on the inside and Ipsen sticking to his outside line, the two flew off the fly-away jump. Hibbert held WFO, and nosed ahead of Ipsen at the line for the win.

“Two years ago it happened to me,” Ipsen lamented. “I led the whole thing until the end and Tucker passed me then, too. He was just charging harder and I was a little relaxed. I knew he was back there and I tightened up a little bit.

“I didn’t know it was him.  I could hear him and I saw skis a couple of times, but it makes you nervous when you have to protect your line.

Hibbert was thrilled with the win. “It went pretty good,” Hibbert said. “I found some good lines before the race and executed them throughout the laps and tried not to follow too much. Then you just get backed up. I tried to work as far as I could through the pack and just pushed all the way to the end.” Hibbert is sponsored by: Artie Cat, Chevy Trucks, Speedwerx, Snap­ On, Stud Boy, Spy, V-force Reeds, Fox Shox. RCS. Gore-Tex, Camoplast, Elite Trailer, Mikuni and Castle/HJC.

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Arctic Cat’s Race Director Brian Sturgeon was delighted with the Arctic Cat one-two finish. “Oh man, this made everything really good,” Sturgeon exclaimed. “Kent rode a great race. He is just bullet­proof. He was saying that Tucker is so much better. but I said, ‘No he’s not, Kent. Tucker was kind of hanging it out. Tucker was going for it all.’

“Tucker is the premier of the sport, along with Blair [Morgan], but the gap is just closing up. Kent just ran a real smart race, kept his pace, didn’t get in trouble and didn’t want to crash. Tucker was giving it his all, probably a little more. He was hanging it out on the edge and that’s what made the difference.”

But for rookie pro Shaun Crapo, the third-place finish was bitter­sweet. Clearly happy with his finish, his teammate and brother Kurtis suffered a knee injury on Saturday that will keep him out of action the rest of the season. (See Holeshots, page 7).

“I got a good holeshot and I held on,” the younger Crapo said. “I was just trying to do my best. Tucker and them, I knew they were going to be coming up strong. I knew I was in third and I could hear Kuster behind me. He got me once, but I got him back on the last lap. It was real awesome. It’s too bad Kurt got hurt, though.”

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! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door or your computer for a low cost.

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