The sport of snowmobiling and snowmobile racing lost one of its truly most iconic figures December 15 when Bob Eastman died at the age of 79.
Eastman was forever associated with Polaris – beginning when he was hired as a welder at the then very-young company in 1960. His employee badge number was 28. His fame grew far beyond the assembly line, though, as he moved to product testing and then embarked on a legendary racing career that made him of the sport’s early super-heroes.
History books list him as the winner of the 1973 Eagle River World Championship, but he was so much more than that. High-profile victories include back-to-back wins at the coveted Hodag 50 cross-country event in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, four wins at the Holiday Marathon in Minnesota, and a checkered flag at the Kawartha Cup in Peterborough, Ontario, but there were many, many more trophies earned. Like many of the greats of that era, he was far more than a fast-driving and brave racer – his mechanical knowledge and understanding of what the machine was doing were instrumental to his success.
Eastman’s racing career was cut short when he was severely injured in an accident after his steering broke on his snowmobile in an event in Alpena, Michigan, in 1974, and he almost died in the hospital after blood clots and other complications.
He would return to Polaris and to the race track, but as a race team manager, innovator and designer. He is credited with being part of the team behind many of Polaris’ innovative designs – including the company’s original race-oriented independent front suspension (IFS) on its RXL race sleds and then later for bringing the IFS/Indy design to trail sleds. From suspension and chassis design to being the man behind the Midnight Blue Express, his influence in all things snowmobiling at the brand far outlived his racing career.
Eastman’s impact on powersports went even further, as he was a key cog in Polaris’ entrance into and innovation in the ATV market, and he in fact has his name on some of the brand’s most important patents. He retired from Polaris in 2005. When the racing-oriented Snowmobile Hall of Fame named its very first class in 1988, he made the list, and was also among the first 10 inducted when Polaris started its own Hall of Fame.
As news of his passing spread this week, social media and the message boards exploded with fond remembrances of the man who was dominant and influential, yet stayed humble and modest. Pictures highlighting his racing career were posted by many.