Christensen, Bunke Team Scores Exciting, Historic Soo I-500 Win

A third generation and a longtime family racing partner combined to further expand the position of the Bunke name in snowmobile racing lore with a stunning comeback victory at the 55th Soo I-500 race on February 3.

     Taylor and Boe Bunke – sons of eight-time Soo I-500 victor Gabe Bunke and grandsons of the legendary late Jerry Bunke – teamed with Gabe’s longtime Soo partner Aaron Christensen to win one of the sport’s most grueling events. They covered the 500-mile, 500-lap race in 8 hours, 41 minutes and 46 seconds on the No. 74 Bunke Racing Polaris.

     The defending champion Tommy Bauer Racing Polaris finished second, 3 seconds back, with the No. 21 Cadarette Collision Arctic Cat directly behind in third. They were the only three sleds on the lead lap at the end.

     The story of this Bunke Racing victory was one of perseverance. A mid-race crash put the team three laps behind the leaders of a very fast field of competitors. In snowmobile enduro racing, there is no “lucky dog” award like in NASCAR, so the only way to earn laps back is to go up and pass the leaders. The combination of Taylor Bunke and Christensen did that three times before Christensen charged to the front once more and took the lead. He then had to survive a couple of late caution flags to secure the victory.

     For Christensen, it was his seventh time being a part of a winning Soo I-500 team. That puts him just one behind bossman/team owner Gabe Bunke and Corey Davidson in terms of all-time victories. This was Taylor Bunke’s fourth time, tying him with the legendary John Wicht for the fourth-most victories.

Bunke Racing
This image was posted on the Soo I-500 Facebook page of the Bunke team celebrating their victory. Image by Brian Caswell/Speedshot Photography.

Soo I-500: Getting Started

A shockingly warm winter gave track builders a big challenge preparing the long and flat one-mile oval track, but they an amazing job. This year’s race started at 24 degrees but rose into the 30s, making it one of the warmest I-500 races ever. That warmst caused the surface to erode, making the track particularly rugged over the course of the long race day.

     The 36 race teams that qualified for the race took the green flag just past 10 a.m. Eastern time. Fast qualifier Zach Dewald on the flying No. 57 Mickey’s Factory Racing Polaris charged ahead and opened a quick gap on the field. That No. 57 had won the two previous enduro races held this season. It was fastest every time it took to the Soo track through qualifying and practice. That made it a pre-race favorite. But myriad problems over the course of the day took it out of contention.

    Meanwhile, Dewald’s father Troy Dewald quickly moved the No. 21 Cadarette Collision Arctic Cat to second place. The elder Dewald grabbed the lead on lap 11. After a yellow flag, the hard-charging Dan Maki on the No. 34 Kovar Pike Racing Polaris grabbed the top spot on lap 11 after starting in position 20.

     Also charging through the field was the No. 2 Town Brothers Racing Ski-Doo with Wes Selby behind the handlebar. He made it all the way up to second place. Shortly thereafter he then caught an edge and high-sided on lap 33, bringing out the race’s third yellow flag.

     That 34 Kovar Pike sled showed the way until lap 50 when the Furkey Racing No. 44 Polaris with Ryan McCaig powered into the lead. Shortly thereafter, the Bunke No. 74 moved up to second place. A yellow flag at about lap 70 sent a bunch of competitors in the pits for fuel, but Troy Dewald stayed out on the No. 21 Arctic Cat and re-took the lead, with the No. 57 second.

      But then, chaos occurred on about lap 80. Zach Dewald crashed hard on into the haybales atop turn three – his team later reported that his steering locked up after a pipe sensor broke off and got lodged in steering linkage. Engine problems later ended their day. At roughly the same time, a half-lap behind, the race’s other team led by a Zach – the H.C. Racing Arctic Cat of 2018 co-winner Zach Herfindahl – crashed in turn two.

     When another yellow flag came out on lap 91. Troy Dewald was still leading on the No. 21, with the R&S Racing No. 17 Cat second. That initiated a long plow break and some pit stops.

Soo I-500: The Next 100

When the race went green again on lap 106, the No. 21 Cat was back out front with the W.V. Performance No. 44 second, the No. 41 World Class Racing Polaris third, the Countryside No. 12 Polaris fourth and defending champion No. 19 Tommy Bauer Racing Polaris fifth. All five of those sleds would run most of the rest of the day within the top 10.

     The No. 19 moved to the lead over the next several laps and opened up a 10-second lead that got erased with a yellow flag on about lap 137. When the green flag waved again, though, the 19 pulled away again. The No. 67 Hoos Racing Polaris soon worked its way to second.

      The next problem for a top sled occurred at about lap 165, when the Kovar Pike 34 blew a drive belt and had to be towed in, losing a couple of laps. Pitstops then scrambled the field again, moving the Hoos sled to the front and the No. 29 D.L. Racing Polaris to second when the race went green again. Bobby Menne pushed that No. 29 into the lead shortly before the lap 200 plow break, as he and LJ Quick on the 67 battled like they were in the last 10 laps – despite the fact that there were 300 laps left.

      At the 200-lap point, the top 10 were the DL Racing 29, Hoos Racing 67, Tommy Bauer 19, Bunke Racing 74, W.V. Performance 44, R&S Racing 17, World Class Racing 41, Cadarette Collision 21, Hetteen Heritage 54 and Piche Racing No. 13.

Soo I-500: Getting Past Midway

After some more pitstops fuel, new carbides, driver changes and various adjustments, the race went green again on lap 215. The DL Racing 29 led with the Bunke and Hetteen sleds immediately behind.

      With Aaron Christensen behind the handlebar, the Bunke sled moved to the front for the first time on lap 223. A yellow flag at about lap 245 sent a whole bunch of sleds into the pits for more fuel, adjustments and changes. Shortly after going green, the Hetteen 54 sled brought out another yellow after rider Evan Peppel took an unplanned trip into the haybales. He quickly refired the sled and didn’t even lose a lap.


     This time the Bunke sled ducked into the pits and gave up the lead and the No. 19 Tommy Bauer sled moved back to the top spot. DL Racing ran second with World Class third as the race moved past the halfway point. The Hetteen sled soon pass his way into third and Bunke soon re-emerged in fourth.

     The 21st yellow flag of the day came out at lap 295, which initiated the lap-300 plow break. The top five at that point were Bauer 19, Bunke 74, Hetteen 54, DL 29, World Class 41, all on the lead lap. Leading a group of sleds one lap down in sixth was the Cadarette 21, followed by WV 44, Countryside 12, R&S 17 and Hoos 67.

Soo I-500
The finish order of the 2024 Soo I-500, as posted on the Soo’s social media.

Soo I-500: The Next 100

The Hetteen Heritage No. 54 Polaris with Alex Hetteen aboard led the way when the race went green with 308 of 500 laps in the books, but the Bunke sled with Boe Bunke now riding was in a hard charge. The 20-year-old grabbed the lead on about 319 using an outside line on the backstretch.

     That lead was short-lived, though, as Bunke crashed violently into the turn two haybales two laps later after lifting the inside ski halfway through the turn. It looked like the day could be over for the team. Boe Bunke was placed into an awaiting UTV while his sled was towed to the pits. The team lost three laps to the leaders as they checked over the sled, straightened a few things, strapped on a new windshield and sent the sled back out with Taylor Bunke riding it.

    The Bauer 19 moved back to the lead with Hetteen second when the race restarted. The Cadarette 21 had regained its lap and moved up to third. DL and Hoos followed. That 21 sled moved to the front with on about lap 340 but at about the same time the Bunke 74 sled drove past the leaders and ran in front of them until about lap 360 when another yellow flag flew. That bunched the group back up, with the Bunke sled now two laps down. The Cadarette sled pitted and gave up the lead.

     When it went green once more, Ryan Faust found a smooth high line around the track and pushed the Hetteen sled into the lead, with the DL sled moving to second and the Bauer sled third. After another yellow flag shortly thereafter, the Bunke 74 sled moved through the field again and was running with the leaders, looking to get another lap back.

     DL soon charged back into the lead, but after another yellow flag the Hetteen sled moved back out front, and made Bunke one lap down. As the 400-lap mark approached, only five sleds were on the lead lap but both Bunke and the Kovar Pike 34 were charging past people trying to make up their laps.

     A yellow flag at lap 392 brought out the lap 400 plow break. The top 5 at that point was Hetteen 54, DL Racing 29, Hoos 67, Cadarette 21, Bauer 19, all on the lead lap. WV 44 led a group one lap down in sixth, followed by World Class 41, Bunke 74, with Kovar Pike 34 two laps down and R&S 17 tenth.

Soo I-500: The Last 100

After some more pit stops, when the race went green for the last 97 laps the Cadarette Collision 21 led with Gunnar Arlaud now riding. The Hetteen, Bauer and DL sleds followed quickly behind while the Bunke sled moved up to fifth, a lap down.

      Joey Burch was now driving the No. 19 Bauer sled, and he hard-charged past the Hetteen and Cadarette sleds and took the lead with 89 laps left. With 66 laps left, the DL Racing 29 was on its haircut in turn four, bringing out another yellow as the sun dropped from the horizon. The race would finish under the lights.  

     Another yellow with 54 laps left brought some more pit stops and driver changes. Burch brought the 21 sled to the pits and handed it over to teammate Cody Bauer to bring home, giving the lead to the Cadarette 21.

     On green with 50 laps left, the No. 74 Bunke sled with Christensen riding darted past all of the lead sleds and was running at the front at the tail end of the lead lap, though technically about 9/10th of a mile behind the leaders. Meanwhile, Ryan Faust moved the Hetteen 54 past the 21 Cadarette sled with 44 laps left with Hoos third.

      The Bunke sled was running the fastest laps but had a great distance to make up. Help came when another yellow flag flew with 41 laps left, and that brought the field together.

      The green flag flew once more with 37 laps left, with the Hetteen, Cadarette and Bauer sleds together at the front and the Bunke machine in the middle of lapped traffic. Another yellow two laps later moved the Bunke sled closer to the front.

     With 32 laps left, Christensen on the Bunke sled passed the Bauer sled, and then later the same lap the Cadarette sled to move to second. The Hetteen sled with Ryan Faust aboard was the lone taillight ahead of him.

      Two laps later, there was a challenge for the lead. Christensen led the Bunke sled through a low but rugged line, taking the lead with 28 laps left. He then switched to a higher line and opened a big gap up front while the Hetteen sled seemed to be fading.

      For the past 200 laps, the Bunke team was cheering for regular yellow flags at help them make up laps. Now caution flags were the enemy. One came with 26 laps left, bunching up the field and erasing the gap up front. The Bunke sled pulled away again but another yellow flag grouped the field with 22 laps left. The top 4 were together, with hardly any lapped traffic in the way.

     The Bauer 19 sled moved to second with 20 laps left and attempted to challenge the leader, but the lead grew to 8 seconds over the next five laps. The Cadarette 21 then moved to second place with 14 laps left. The big lead was erased again with 10 laps left, when the yellow waved for a shocking development. The Hetteen Heritage sled had crashed while running fourth.

     The upshot for Christensen on the Bunke sled as he had put enough lapped traffic between him and his now two same-lap chasers that they wouldn’t start on his snowflap when the green flag waved again. He ballooned the lead to 6 seconds in just a couple of laps… before the yellow flag waved yet again with three laps to go!

     The green flag and white flag waved together to restart the race with one lap left. Through turns one and two, Christensen stuck to a high line he found late in the race and rifled the Bunke sled through turns one and two. Meanwhile, the Bauer sled moved past the Cadarette sled for second place behind him.  

     The muddy Bunke sled showed the way down the backstretch, chopped through big bumps in turns three and four and then raced toward the waving checkered flag and a place in history.

Words With Champs

Interviewed over the P.A. system and on the live FloRacing feed, the Bunke drivers recapped the day.   

      Asked about getting the sled back toward the front after going three laps down, Christensen said, “We ended up just putting our heads down and going to work because we didn’t really have much to lose at that point. Everything worked really good so it was just a matter of putting in good laps and just charging to the front, and it worked out in our favor.”

      Young Boe Bunke sounded like he felt bad about crashing the sled, but proud to be on a winning team.

     “I was definitely worried that I cost us the race, but we were able to get that sled pitside as soon as possible and get it fixed up enough to be ready to go finish the rest of the race,” Boe Bunke said.

     Taylor Bunke was first on the sled after the crash and made up two of the laps.

     “When you hear silence go over the field and from radio control that someone went into the bales, you always hold your breath, but I didn’t expect it to be our buggy,” Taylor Bunke said. “When it went into the bales it was a scramble to get everything on and get ready to go. I got dressed [into his racing gear] and the sled came in and there a couple of things we had to tweak and remodify, but I knew we were three laps back and we had some work to do so from there we just had to put our nose down and get to work.

     “The goal was to keep it on the track as long as possible and give Aaron as good of a chance as he could to run and he sure did it,” Taylor Bunk said. “God, he brought that thing home. That was an impressive ride.”

One thought on “Christensen, Bunke Team Scores Exciting, Historic Soo I-500 Win

  • Avatar for Donald Berg

    Great coverage except for the last lap and Arctic Cat rider Gunnar Arland on the Cadarette sled. Chopping through big bumps in three and four doesn’t tell what lines were taken on the most important lap of the race. I am an avid snowmobiler for over 50 years and love what you do for the sport, so thank you, thank you, thank you!!!


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