There was greatness on my left, greatness on my right, and little old me stuck in the middle…
That’s how I felt last weekend at the induction ceremony for the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame and the new World Champion Derby Hall of Fame. From a snowmobiling perspective, I was hanging out with historic giants. From a humanity perspective, I was hanging out with some of the most down-home, regular folks you’ll ever meet.
I was there to take it all in, and to help induct (and maybe roast, just a little bit) our company founder, a Mr. John A. Ehlert. I don’t know if John has even been in our building since he sold his company to our current owners, Affinity Group Inc., in 1998, but his stamp is still on many of the things we do around here.
First on the ceremony docket, however, was the induction of the past Derby champs, starting with the first 10 guys who could proclaim themselves as World Champions in snowmobile racing.
Our sport’s first champ? Insiders will know that it was Stan Hayes of Crandon, Wisconsin, back in 1964. The photos from back in the day make him look baby-faced, and with just cause – he was just 12 when he was awarded the title of World Champion. Stan was there last Saturday, hanging out and sharing stories. He works at John Deere, but still gets out and rides sleds.
Some former champs weren’t able to make it to the event, and a couple had passed away, but guys like 1970 champion Yvon Duhamel, 1971 and 1972 champion Mike Trapp, 1973 champ Bob Eastman and 1975’s “Smiling” Jim Bernat were there to accept their honor. To some folks, seeing these guys standing up and telling their stories may have seemed boring, but I loved every minute of it, and wish they would have had time to share more war stories.
Next up was the International Snowmobile Hall of Famers, starting with John Ehlert. John started with Snow Sport magazine in 1970, launched Minnesota Snowmobiler in the mid 1970s, and then grew that into Midwestern Snowmobiler and eventually Snowmobile Magazine – which peeked at a circulation of 600,000 snowmobile-owning households in the mid 1990s. During his tenure, Ehlert also had Snow Goer, Snow Week, Snowmobile Business, Snow Goer TV, Snow Trader, Invitation to Snowmobiling and countless other projects under his leadership – and he put up with a younger version of me, which is worthy of Hall consideration all on its own.
Fred Fox was also inducted on Saturday. You’ve heard of the mega aftermarket parts distributor Parts Unlimited, correct? Well that’s Fred’s baby, but his involvement in the sport reaches back much further. He designed his own snowmobile line – the Fox Trac – back in the day, and actually raced a Fox Trax in that first Eagle River Snowmobile Derby in 1964. He also developed products for snowmobiles, including one of the very first easy-to-mix two-stroke oils, and bought scores of snowmobile manufacturers parts and accessories inventories during the downturn of the market. Fred was his typical self during the induction ceremony – humble and soft spoken.
Another industry giant, Ed Skomoroh, also got his time in the spotlight. Ed started with Arctic Cat in 1969, then moved over to Polaris when the original Arctic Cat went bankrupt in 1982. He served as a company vice president for Polaris from 1985 until his retirement in 2000, but he remains the face of Polaris at many industry functions to this day.
Behind-the-scenes grassroots stars Judy & Bob King from Minnesota and Charlie Kurtz from New Hampshire were the “Volunteers” category inductees, and each VERY MUCH deserved their place in this hall. I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with all three over the years at International Snowmobile Congress events, and have seen first hand how they have dedicated much of their lives to a part of the sport many riders don’t even know – the grass roots efforts of funding, building, maintaining and expanding our trails and infrastructure. Combined, the three have 109 years of life experience in organized snowmobiling. Think about that!
Speaking of grass roots, the International Snowmobile Club of the Year was the famous Sno Barons Snowmobile Club. Many people know the Sno Barons as the host of the Haydays Grass Drags. What they don’t know, however, is the hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants the Sno Barons have given out to other clubs and organizations with the money raised at Haydays.
The induction ceremony lasted until just past 11 p.m., making it a long night of speeches, hand shakes and awards, but it wasn’t boring – instead, it was inspiring.