Racing has begun at the season-opening ISOC Amsoil Duluth National, but qualifying for snocross racing’s biggest stage is what highlighted Friday’s show in windy conditions at the host Spirit Mountain ski hill.

            Friday included qualifiers in some of the undercard, but the big named racers were on the track to try to qualify for the ESPN Winter X Games. The X Games qualifier had been a staple at Spirit Mountain, but the past couple of years the process changed, as the X Games was an invitation-only event.

            Back this year is the qualifying process, which allows relative newcomers the chance to earn their way in. The athletes invited back for this year’s X Games Snocross is Brett Bender, Dan Ebert, Tucker Hibbert, Levi LaVallee, Robbie Malinoski, Ross Martin, Mike Schultz, Ryan Simons and Tim Tremblay. If you ain’t one of them, you’ve got to earn your way in!

            And that’s exactly what 13 drivers did Friday night. After two quick rounds of Pro heats, two Pro finals were held, with the top five in each final advancing to Winter X.

          In the first final, Garth Kaufman of Driggs, Idaho, took an easy win on his Christian Bros. Arctic Cat ahead of Lee Butler (Polaris), with Iain Hayden (Polaris), Wes Selby (Ski-Doo) and Paul Bauerly (Arctic Cat) wrapping up the top five and advancing.

          The second final saw Kaufman’s teammate, Logan Christian of Fertile, Minnesota, similarly check out and put another Cat firmly into the X Games. Behind him were a bunch of foreigners! Quebec’s Mathieu Morin, racing for Ingles Performance this year, put his Doo into the big event by finishing second, and he was followed by Carlson Motorsport’s new import, Swede Johan Lidman, and Warnert Racing’s Swedish import from last year, Emil Ohman. Alas, a hometown boy earned the last spot, as Duluth’s own Bobby LePage, racing this year for LaVallee’s race team, grabbed the fifth and final spot.

          Advancing out of a Semi-Pro/Sport qualifier for the X Games were three quality racers – Cody Thomsen on a Cat, Colby Crapo on a Polaris and Kyle Pallin on a Cat.

          We’re driving up to Duluth in about an hour – for more of a play-by-play on the racing, check out Eric Skogman’s post at sledder.net or the story on ISOCracing.com.

          And, check back the rest of the weekend for updates from the track. Oh yeah, and if you haven’t signed up yet for the fantasy sport Snow Goer Snowmobile Racing Challenge, why don’t you go ahead and do that now. It’s free, fun and easy, and you could win some swag.

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