As the owner and creator of one of the first big “super teams” of modern snocross racing 20 years ago, Steve Scheuring has earned the right to have strong opinions about the state of the sport. So when he speaks out loudly about what he thinks is misguided reasoning that led to the rules change in the top class in snocross racing, people listen. To set the stage, let’s start with some background on Scheuring. To see the counterpoint to this argument as represented by Tom Rager Jr., click here. To see background on this three-part series, click here.
Scheuring started as a racer – competing in various classes in oval racing starting in 1978 and competing until 1994. He then, in his words, “decided it was time to work on the other side of the fence” and was a top wrencher for the Yamaha and Ski-Doo factory race teams for a coupld of years before starting his own effort called Scheuring Speed Sports in 1997. He partnered with Amsoil and Jeff Foster Trucking as lead sponsors, signed top talent including Chris Vincent and Tim Maki at the time and launched a major independent effort. His first-rate team has raced for various brands, won X Games gold medals, brought major sponsors – from energy drinks to truck manufacturers to tool makers to military branches – to the sport and has made major public appearances inside and outside of the sport, all year around. Scheuring’s race shop also builds and hosts the Planet X race park in Aurora, Minnesota, where many top racers practice before the season. He has truly invested his heart and soul into the sport. The team current featured Tim Tremblay and Lincoln Lemieux as drivers and features Amsoil, the U.S. Air Force, Ski-Doo, Ford Trucks, Milwaukee tools, Klim, Woody’s, Jeff Foster Trucking, Straightline Performance, Enzo/KYB, WPS, Goodwin Performance, Gates, ARI, C&A Pro, Rox and Planet X as sponsors.
SNOW GOER: Roughly, if you do everything right, what is the cost of running a top-flight snocross team?
STEVE SCHEURING: “Realistically, you could be into the high six figures, if you have to pay salary for three or four guys and motel rooms. It’s the travel, the employees, the infrastructure, those are the big costs. The entry fees, the sled itself, the parts, those are the small costs in our world.”
SNOW GOER: Why is racing important to snowmobiling?
SCHEURING: “I think there’s a cool factor attached to it, and I’ve heard that from a couple of our sponsors as well. People want to feel like they are part of a bigger picture, whether it’s a Ski-Doo fan being a Tim Tremblay or Lincoln Lemieux fan saying, ‘How did our team do,’ or an Amsoil dealer or Air Force airmen saying, ‘How is our team doing?’ They feel ownership in the team because they align themselves with that product or that brand. So it really creates something for them to jeer their buddies about, root about and see technology at its best out there.”
SNOW GOER: How long have people been kicking around this idea that changes were need to Pro Open? SCHEURING: “Well, sometime during the course of the winter the battlecry came that we have to do something or the sport is going to die. [Proponents were saying] ‘We’ve got to get more Pros,’ and we were first approached about it by a couple of people who asked what we thought at about mid-season I would guess, and I told them what I thought and what I felt. My opinions are based on 20-some years of being involved in the snocross world. I tried to explain to them that, in my opinion, the way they were directing was not going to change the outcome [the way] they were hoping for, because we’d been down this road five years ago when the mantra was, ‘If we get rid of the mod motors and get a stock motor with a mod pipe on it, and get rid of carbon fiber and titanium and aftermarket pieces, there are going to be people beating down the door to run Pro.’ And, it backfired, we ended up with fewer Pros than we had five years ago. So, we’ve already been down this road and that’s not going to increase the number of drivers. You might see one to four more start out the season this year but a year from now, it’s going to be the same. And, I don’t know if going through this whole minutia of changes to see four more drivers out there is valuable enough.
“From what I hear from a fan, I’m sure they would rather see 12 to 15 custom, badass Pro Mod sleds out there than 16 or 18 stock sleds [identical to those that] that just ran 15 minutes earlier in the Pro Lite class. That’s why they come to the races. Unless they have family [in racing] and there is good racing all day. But when you talk to nine out of 10 fans, they are there for the mods and they are there for Tim Tremblay and Lincoln [Lemieux], Tucker [Hibbert], Ross [Martin], Kody Kamm – that’s the focal point. It’s no different than going to a monster truck race to watch the monster trucks and not the stock trucks; it’s no different than going to the NHRAs to watch the top fuelers and a bunch of funny cars. It’s the pinnacle that they come to see, and that’s why we’re at the climax of the show – at the end.”
SNOW GOER: How does racing lose by not having the mod sleds?
SCHEURING: “I think you’re going to see a downturn in the crowds this year based on following the social media and some surveys that we had done that said that over 85 percent of the people want to keep the mods.
“And then, how is it going to hurt snowmobiling in general? [Racing] is a development program for what you’re going to see in stock, production sleds two, three or four years down the road. We’ve built a number of parts just in Aurora [Minnesota, home of Scheuring Speed Sports] that are ending up on the Ski-Doo trail sleds [a few years later] just because of our work on the track. You can’t test off the track. We learned that lesson, too. I’ll give you an example: Three years ago we built this [rear] suspension that was not coupled and tested it in the spring with Tim [Tremblay] and at the time Robbie [Malinoski] was racing for me and one other driver, and based on the spring testing it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And we were all pumped up, we were going to go to Duluth [Minnesota for the season-opening race] and smoke everybody. Then we got to Duluth on an actual race track and got our ass handed to us. It’s just because there’s another whole step of toughness and hardness that, when you go into a race track, it elevates everything to that next step that you just cannot duplicate that when on a test track or spring track. So, it’s a proving ground for one thing.
“The flip side of not having the mods, there are a whole bunch of people in the sport that just dig beating the next guy. For my team with myself and Steve [Thorsen] and Elliot [Burns] it’s a personal matter of pride to be able to beat [Polaris tuning guru] Tim Bender or Kirk Hibbert or Steve Houle [the men behind Tucker Hibbert’s sled] or somebody who has been around the sport for as long as we have, and still has that passion and that work desire to know that, it’s up to us to make ours better than the next guy, not ‘What are you going to give us and then we’ve got to race the same as everybody else.’”
SNOW GOER: Can you share specific, recent examples of parts your team has helped developed in racing?
SCHEURING: “We came up with the mechanical power steering system that we worked in conjunction with BRP on that has now made its way onto a trail sled that makes steering effort easier at a smaller ratio and then as the turning radius increases so does the steering. Spindle height – the front end geometry, all of that was done here. Last year we worked on a cooling system that we came up with ourselves that was in the pipeline for production but now it got derailed and we can’t run it next year [with the new rules] so that got put on hold. Those are just three examples – there was positioning of the steering, some suspension components that we developed that worked great, the P-drive clutch that Ski-Doo came out with, that was all bred on a race track. Now that’s coming on a trail sled because it was born in a race environment. My concern is, this has got to have an economic effect on a lot of factory race shops where guys spend most of their summer building factory mod sleds. Are they going to lose their jobs now? If it’s truly a cost savings you’d almost have to assume that.”
SNOW GOER: Others have suggested that the factories will actually beef up their 600-class race sleds now to win Pro Open, and the people in other classes will have to pay inflated rates for those sleds. What’s your take?
SCHEURING: “I have a hard time believing that all three race manufacturers aren’t working as hard and smart as they physically can right now. I don’t believe they are thinking, ‘Oh, if we’re going to race stock sleds next year we’ve got to work harder this year.’ I think all three of them are providing the best equipment they can right now, and they are using every idea that they have and every resource they have right now to build the best one. Every year they increase the excellence of the sled, and that’s just a natural progression. But are the costs going to go up? I think that’s very possible but… I hope not – because I hope it doesn’t backfire onto the young kids that we really want to see into the sport.”
SNOW GOER: The argument some folks are making is that, just for instance, Arctic Cat certainly cares about their race sled, but in terms of winning Pro Open championship, the high-end machine that Tucker Hibbert actually races doesn’t necessarily reflect what the kids are racing that buy a sled through the race program.
SCHEURING: “I still believe that they are trying to make the best machine that is possible. Taking the Arctic Cat example, they race what they run on the trails, and kudos to them, and Ski-Doo does the same thing. What’s incorporated on that stock sled – we park next to Tucker almost every single weekend, and his sled isn’t that far-out exotic. He still has a lot of great stock parts on it that were developed on the race track. For sure it’s going to get some special attention, I would hope so because look at the return he’s provided to Arctic Cat. Believe me, we pay attention to what they are doing and I’m sure there are some things I don’t see, but as a whole, I don’t see Formula I technology over there by any means. What I see is that everything is right – the shocks are calibrated right, the clutching is right for the day, the track is right for the conditions, I see them taking everything they have done and making it right for the day. Which is what we do.”
SNOW GOER: To play the devil’s advocate, longtime fans likely remember racing from 15-20 years ago when the top pro riders used to compete in Pro 440, Pro 600, Pro Open and, in some years, Pro Mod. Now, two of those classes featured stock sleds and people were still interested in watching Chris Vincent, Blair Morgan and Toni Haikonen trade paint in those classes, not just the Open machines. How is that different than what we have going forward?
SCHEURING: “That’s a good question. For sure the competition was good in all of them. For sure there’s going to be good competition for whatever is out there, but it’s about giving the fans what they want – an exotic, modified sled and the progression of the sport, the innovation of a snowmobile so that five years down the road the consumer has something better, something meaner, something faster, something that handles better, that’s where we’re going to get handicapped. And, I’m sure you’ve been at races where, when the mods fire up and those guys go out there, [fans] run to their seats.”
SNOW GOER: There is something guttural and attractive about the loud mod sleds, but laps times back then didn’t vary much between stock and mod sleds, did they?
SCHEURING: “There’s not a huge difference because [the last couple of years] we’re back to a stock [internals] motor rules, so where we can refine the chassis or make improvements or do pipe development, a little bit in the ignition box with timing, so we’ve already taken a step toward the stock sled five or six years ago when we eliminated the exotic materials. We’ve already backpedaled once already, and it’s been proven that that did not increase the numbers [of racers in the top class].”
SNOW GOER: From a race experience perspective, what is lost to the people in the crowd if you go to a stock engine and chassis.
SCHEURING: “The fun. I think the fun is going away. I think there are a lot of sour fans right now, and the statement has been made, ‘Well, they aren’t paying the bill.’ Well, you know what? They are paying the bill, they are our sponsors’ customers, and ultimately they are our boss. Any form of racing wants to do what creates the best fan experience. Hats off to what ISOC has done, I mean, far-and-above, they have done as good of a job as any kind of racing that I have been in, and I have been in it since 1978. They are doing a fantastic job with the presentations, the television, the live streaming, pulling the races off on time, having the races on marginal snow – A+ on all of those categories. To make a knee-jerk reaction to think this is going to change the number of racers at each event? I don’t personally believe that.”
SNOW GOER: How does this affect the economics of racing to a super team like yours? Do you bring fewer mechanics to the races or do less testing and development in the spring, summer and fall? Does this affect your costs much?
SCHEURING: “It changes our budget none. Our sponsors are paying us to represent them and be competitive all of the time. So whether that dollar got spent on a different length suspension maybe now it will be spent on a couple more days of testing or it will be spent on shock calibration – it is going to go somewhere, it’s just going down a different river.”
SNOW GOER: So if this isn’t the path to healthier racing and race numbers in Pro Open, what is?
SCHEURING: “This is our 20th year in snocross coming up, and every spring since I have started, the mantra has been, ‘The sky is falling, we need more pros and we’re going to kill the sport.’ Twenty years later we are still doing it. It’s not the end of the world right now if we are down to 15 pros. Those are the top guys out there. If we start out the season with let’s say 18 pros that are contracted through teams such as ours or the factories, as soon as one of those guys gets hurt, let’s fill those shoes. I mean, make it an obligation like we have with our sponsors where we have to have two Pros at each race because that’s what we are getting paid for, not if your guys get hurt then you don’t show up anymore. If you look at any other form of racing – look at NASCAR, when Carl Edwards pulls out of a car, there’s a replacement for him [in the No. 19 JGR car] because they are representing sponsors at the track. So, if we have enough at the start of the season, let’s just make sure that that equipment and that money that is being spent already continues for all of the races so, come Lake Geneva, we have the same amount as what we started with – other than people that cycle in and out from other circuits.”
SNOW GOER: How is something like that enforced? How can a team be forced to find a replacement driver?
SCHEURING: “If I was a sponsor and was writing a contract and giving them X amount of dollars, I’d say part of me giving you this much money is that you have to participate with X amount of racers at each race, and if you don’t then there is a cost reduction. It’s simple business. Obviously there will be some teams that are self funded that may not be obligated to that, but if you are an OEM or a large sponsor earmarking X amount of dollars and [those race sleds] are scheduled to be at all of the races, I think you have to look at it from that side, too. The only way it can be enforced is through contracts. What if we have 30 guys to start next season and they all got hurt in the second race, what do we do then? Shut down the season?”
SNOW GOER: I think you’re the perfect example of that – a couple of years ago pulling Lincoln Lemieux into your team as an injury replacement for Robbie Malinoski.
SCHUERING: And you know what? There’s another example of where, when guys are out there paying their dues sooner or later an opportunity will show for them, and it’s going to be when you least expect it. [Lemieux] came from a feeder circuit [East Coast Snocross] and had great raw talent and a great attitude and we brought him the technical side and the education of how we do things and look where he’s at now. He’s won multiple national races last year, and was on the podium at least half the time and ended up in the top five [in season points]. So, there’s proof that if you pay your dues out there and good things will happen.”
SNOW GOER: What do you say to the people out there who say, “Steve, the decision has been made. The rules has changed, the fight it over?” Can something still be done?
SCHEURING: “I won’t agree with [the new rules] but I’ll abide by whatever the rules are because we’re going racing and we’re going to be competitive. I think, though, that if we can shed some light on other ways to make this work, I still think there is a possibility that something else can be done so that we have a development tool for the factories [and] we have something that the fans really like. What I don’t understand was that we had a meeting with ISOC a week before [the ISR rules meeting] and the general agreement when we left that meeting was we were going to race with an open chassis and just change to a stock pipe. Everybody left there smiling, but then the next week was the ISR meeting and the wheels fell off of that agreement. Unfortunately, team owners are not allowed there and they have no say even though they have the biggest skin in the game. I think that’s something that needs to be looked at. Whether the team owners as a group voted yes or no, they still would have had a stake as a group because there is some serious money invested [by those teams] and a lot of risk. It’s unfortunate that we do not have any say in something like this.”
SNOW GOER: But I understand that ISOC voted for the rule change.
SCHEURING: “They went there and presented [their plan] with an open chassis and stock motor and stock pipe, and another circuit said, ‘No, we have to have stock everything so when our guys come to the ISOC circuit they can be competitive,’ and I think everything kind of got steamrolled and when it all got done, [people said] ‘What in the hell just happened?’ It’s unfortunate because the other affiliates and snocross circuits out there can do what they want, but ISOC is the premier circuit. It is the best in the world, and no matter who you are, we’ve got 10 guys on the ISOC circuit that you’re going to have a tough time beating no matter what you’re on. It’s not just the sled, it’s a mental thing, it’s a physical thing, it’s an experience thing. You know, that’s just how racing is – hard work brings you results. Some people think, ‘If I had a bunch of money I could go win races,’ but we saw that last year – we had a couple of teams that were very well-off financially and didn’t win any races. So you can’t say it’s just a money thing. It’s old-school working hard and maybe I’m dumb because I still believe in that work ethic but that’s gotten me a long ways in life.”
SNOW GOER: Were you surprised, then, that ISOC voted for this?
SCHEURING: “I truly want everybody to understand that I give ISOC an A+ all the time, but I don’t think it was driven by them. Right now, we’ve got the best racing – last year we had six different winners on the ISOC circuit, and seven if you count the X games. We had three different guys going for the championship all the way down to the final race on the last day. How much better can you get than that? I have yet to have a single fan – and we talk to a lot of them – say, ‘Oh my God that was fantastic racing, but if you have had three more Pro Open [entries] it would have really been over the top.’ I have never heard that. They are watching the cream of the crop. I remember sitting at Lake Geneva on Sunday when Kyle Pallin and Tim [Tremblay] were racing for the extra points in that heat race, and they were passing each other, and you could just hear the whole crowd roaring every time that happened. That is what racing is all about, when you’ve got something like that going on. That’s the battle they are watching, they aren’t watching the guy that is a lap behind.”