The I-500 is a legendary cross-country race that’s been run by thousands of snowmobile racers since the inaugural Winnipeg-to-St. Paul in 1966. For some people, their goal is just to finish, but for Ski-Doo racer Bryan Dyrdahl, his goal is only to win. Racing for anything less than first place isn’t worth his time, he says.

To win the 500 requires not only a ton of rider skill and lots of luck; it also takes a well-prepared race sled. Dyrdahl has won the race four times, and this weekend he’ll be running a fine-tuned MX Zx 600 RS.
We recently caught up with Dyrdahl at his home in Bagley, Minnesota, to find out what goes in to setting up the machine that he’ll ride in this weekend’s United States Cross-Country (USCC) Red Lake I-500.

Full-Time Job
Dyrdahl works construction in the summer. But when winter rolls into northern Minnesota, his real job is put on hold until the spring thaw, so snowmobile racing becomes his temporary full-time job. He’s already won the I-500 more times than anyone (Jack Struthers and Corey Davidson each have won the race three times), but he hopes to move further into elite status with a win this weekend.

Set-up for this weekend’s I-500 will take two weeks, working eight to 10 hours each day. Racers used to spend hours gusseting and welding their sleds to get them ready for the I-500. But modern sleds like Dyrdahl’s No. 55 don’t require extra reinforcements in order to survive 500 hard miles of ditches, rivers and rough trails.

Dyrdahl says his Ski-Doos have been tough and dependable. Other than stuff for which he takes the blame, Dyrdahl hasn’t wrecked anything in more than five years racing yellow, he said. Stronger, tougher sleds allow him to spend more time tuning and dialing-in to make the machine ride better and go faster.

Tear-Down, Then Rebuild

Dyrdahl received three race sleds this year. For the I-500, he’ll ride the one with a serial number that’s the highest. His theory is that it went down the assembly line later, and perhaps it’s built better than the machines that were assembled before it.

Sled setup starts by tearing down the sled to the chassis to fix the “little things” that aren’t right from the factory,” he said, and then he re-assembles it. One area that needed attention this year was the coolant system. Antifreeze leaked out after the race in Grafton, North Dakota, this month, so he replaced some of the hose clamps.

Factory race sleds are built for snocross racing, so Dyrdahl has to change the clutching, gearing, fuel tank, ergonomics and other things on his machine to make it more suited to fast, long-distance running. Tuning the suspension is the most important part of setting up for terrain racing, Dyrdahl said. “To me, everything has to work together, but suspension is key,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to ride [the sled], but your suspension has to work good.”

Dyrdahl says he needs to have the confidence that his machine will absorb unexpected obstacles. “If you don’t know the course and you come up to a bad bump, you want the sled to be able to absorb that,” he said. Dyrdahl uses about three gallons of shock oil every season, revalving until he feels the sled can handle anything that would otherwise pitch him off the seat.

A full teardown and rebuild of the sled is performed not only to check things over, but to help Dyrdahl and his mechanics Todd Brustad and Jim Boe become more familiar with the machine so they’re able to service the sled more quickly after each leg of the three-day race. “That way you know how to fix something and how it goes back together right. It helps a lot,” Dyrdahl said.

One Week To Go

One week before the race, Dyrdahl’s sled was well on its way to being re-assembled. While Brustad was working on the handlebars and brakes, Dyrdahl and USCC semi-pro Cory Grant were riding on a test track near Dyrdahl’s shop comparing new shock and spring calibrations to the race-winning setup Dyrdahl ran at Grafton. Most of the clutching and gearing R&D was done on last year’s race sled as Dyrdahl worked hard to get his 2008 MX Zx dialed in, and he dropped that same setup in his race sleds for this season.

The USCC I-500 kicks off January 16 from the Seven Clans Casino near Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

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