In a year marked with great snowmobile racers driving themselves deeper into history, Corey Davidson added to his legend by claiming yet another Soo I-500 endurance race in front of a raucous crowd in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on Saturday.
Davidson, 40, won his seventh Soo I-500 – a 500-lap race around an iced, 1-mile oval – as the lead driver, and eighth overall, thanks to a late race charge enabled by some troubles encountered by other racers and Davidson’s own aggressive speed and skill. This time he did it with co-driver Travis Hjelle.
The native of Holt, Minnesota, fell behind early, dropping back a lap just after the 100 lap mark, on his XLT Engineering Polaris, watching while Gabe Bunke on the No. 74 Polaris ran the fastest laps during much of the race. In fact, at lap 100, it was Bunke, then the Brent Vermeersch-led Piche Performance team in second, followed by pole sitter Kammi Racing, with Doug Kammeraad as the lead, third. They were followed by Gentz Racing (Chad Dyrdahl), DL Racing (Shane Felegy) and Skid Row Racing (Isaac Wolfgang), with Davidson’s XLT Engineering team seventh, and the last sled on the lead lap.
Those same teams dominated the top 7 by lap 206, with Piche Performance leading, followed by Kammi Racing, Skid Row, Bunke Racing and Gentz on the lead lap and DL Racing and XLT Engineering one lap down.
Then the Bunke team started to put the hammer down, with Gabe and his teammate Aaron Christiansen opening up on the rest of the field. By lap 301, with Bunke running alone on the lead lap by lap 301, the Piche team the only sled one lap down, Skid Row the only team two laps down and XLT in fourth, three laps down.
Those four teams stayed pretty much in that order for quite a while, until the Piche team started encountering problems and sliding back. Meanwhile, the Cat-based Skid Row team started to gain back laps on the leader. Just after the 400 mark (lap 404), it was Bunke by two laps, Skid Row two more laps ahead of Piche and XLT, with DL Racing back in fifth, a full eight laps behind the lead as the braking bumps and grooves got cut deeper and deeper into the track.
The last 100 laps were filled with action, however. The Bunke Racing 74 lost the lead after some extra pit stops and a quick off by relief driver Christensen at the end of the front stretch, but the team charged toward the lead. Then, with the Piche team leading, the Bunke sled slowed while running second, with its driver staring down at the rear suspension. We don’t know at this point what broke, but the sled was nursed into the pits for an extended pit stop and ended up several laps down. Like happens so often at the Soo, the sled that looked unbeatable for much of the event wouldn’t be a factor at the end.
A bunch of yellow flags and a few pits stops further scrambled the top of the running order, as the Skid Row team moved to the point and Piche faded, while the Davidson team just kept running fast laps, though always more than one lap down. That is, until the Davidson team earned back its last lap with about 17 to go. Track announcer Chad Colby (who also did an absolutely fantastic job broadcasting the race over the Internet and overseeing regular updated on the Soo I-500 Facebook page) helped build the drama for all the fans on the hill and those watching online. He reminded listeners that Davidson is the winningest 500-mile racer ever, with multiple wins at both the Soo I-500 and the cross-county USCC I-500. “Could he do it AGAIN?!” Colby asked rhetorically.
When the race went green again, Davidson moved fast to answer the question. Though he was mired deep in traffic, he charged hard, running a high, fast line while the Isaac Wolfgang-led, Autolite-sponsored Skid Row sled ran a low line around the big track. Davidson was making distance back in chunks, but particularly in turns three and four.
Davidson knifed into the lead on lap 492 of the 500-lap race and started to pull away, but a yellow flag with 5 laps left would re-group the pack. It didn’t matter, as Davidson checked out again on the restart and won by 4.2 seconds.
Davidson’s other wins as a lead driver came in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2008. In 2005, after his sled was out of the race, Davidson helped the Gabe Bunke-led team win the race.
The Wolfgang-Skid Row Cat team was the only other sled on the lead lap and finished second. Piche Performance-Brent Vermeersch was third, a lap down, while the Bunke Racing 74 led by Gabe Bunke finished fourth. His stablemate, the Bunke Racing 242 with lead driver Jeff Klein, finished fifth.
The rest of the top 10 were Doug Kammeraad-Kammi Racing sixth; R&R Racing-Thomas Bell seventh; Cat House-Chris Ryan eighth; Wuppet Wace Team-Cameran Rittenour ninth and Top Secret Racing-Lance Kalbfleisch 10th.