Ross Martin proved that his Friday night victory was no fluke, while three-time defending Pro Class sweeper at Duluth Tucker Hibbert proved he and Arctic Cat have some work to be done as the Amsoil Duluth National wrapped up in northeastern Minnesota Sunday afternoon. It was the first round in what should prove to be a very interesting and competitive ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross Series this winter.
After rugged qualifying rounds and a star-studded LCQ race (which saw Saturday night’s Pro winner Robbie Malinoski fall one spot short of qualifying for Sunday’s final) is was race time. Martin grabbed the Stud Boy holeshot award but ended up chasing Tim Tremblay’s Foremost Insurance-sponsored Ski-Doo down the hill for the first time and, in fact, for the first lap and a half. Behind them, carnage reigned, as first-year Pro Justin Broberg – the surprise No. 1 qualifier based on his excellent heat race results – tumbled in front of the pack while crowd favorite Levi LaVallee and LCQ winner Brett Bender also got caught up in the mess. Other sleds dove everywhere to stay out of the mess. LaVallee and Bender would rejoin the race in the back, but Broberg’s day was done.
Up front, Tremblay quickly built a nice lead, with Martin in tow and then a gap back to TJ Gulla (Polaris), Johan Lidman (Cat), Justin Tate (Polaris), Darrin Mees (Ski-Doo) and Dan Ebert (Cat), with cousins Tucker Hibbert (Cat) and Garth Kauffman (Cat) eighth and ninth.
It only took a couple of laps for things to change dramatically, and it started up front. Tremblay coasted off the track with an ill-running sled – an engine problem would end his day early and slot him into 14th spot overall. Moments later, Justin Tate got separated from his sled just short of the start/finish line. Bender pulled off shortly thereafter – he reported having vision problems after his first lap crash.
Tremblay’s troubles left Martin all alone up front on his DuPont/Jack Links Polaris, and he didn’t spoil the opportunity. He put down one good lap after another with precision and pulled far ahead.
Deep in the pack, snocross dominator Hibbert was making a charge. He got a horrible holeshot and had to fight through traffic, similar to Saturday night’s final, but he was making it work. He worked his way past Mees on about lap 9, then sliced past Lidman into third on lap 11. He would spend the next 9 laps in pursuit of Gulla.
Gulla was making time on a track that almost ended his career two years earlier. On December 12, 2009, Gulla got separate from his sled in a qualifying race, scrambled to his feet and was running toward his machine when another sled landed on him. He ended up with a fractured skull that kept him off a sled until last November. A couple of weeks after that, he finished fourth here at Duluth last year.
Well tough-guy Gulla was gutting it out again. Now 30, he is one of the sport’s elder statesmen on the track, and he used all of that experience – along with a well-prepped sled and his usual strong conditioning – to hold off all of Hibbert’s challenges and finish second, behind Martin.
At the checkers, it was Martin by 12 seconds over Gulla, who had a second and a half over Hibbert. Lidman and Mees held their spots for fourth and fifth, with Ohman and Ebert in tow. LaVallee recovered for eighth, ahead of Pattyn.
After the race, Martin dedicated the victory to a friend and neighbor of his who passed away last summer. “It’s been an awesome weekend,” said Martin, who also won Friday night’s big $10,000 Amsoil Dominator event.
Gulla – a former national points champion – credited his team for sticking with him “through thick and thin. I’ve had some pretty thin patches lately but I’m happy to be back up on the podium just like old times.”
Hibbert is not used to third place, but the word at the track was that the Arctic Cats in general were having some trouble in the bumps over the weekend, and Hibbert in particular wasn’t grabbing his usual strong holeshots. He didn’t address any of that directly, instead just saying, “We’ve got a little work to do, but I feel pretty good about it,” before repeating, “We’ve got work to do, but we’re not done yet.”
As this is being posted, Snow Goer Managing Editor is leaving the Holiday Station outside of Spirit Mountain for the drive home, but his camera is full of images – some of which he’ll share on the blog.snowgoer.com website this week. Check back for that.