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2015 Grafton USXC Report: Down & Dirty Ditch Cross-Country


(1/22/2015)

The top cross-country racers in the Midwest hit the ditches and river for the first time during the 2015 USXC season, shedding light on which racers and brands were best equipped for the kind of terrain racing that most accurately reflects where most of us ride.

The location was Grafton, ND, a cool little town in the northeastern part of the state. A 5-in. snowfall earlier in the month was met with the high and sustained winds this part of the country is famous for, filling in most of the ditches, tree lines and river that would comprise a 21-mile course.

The move into the ditches saw the emergence of some new names atop the podium, as well as some familiar ones.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Mike Dirkman won at Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Mike Dirkman was on the gas in Grafton, scoring his first win of the season in the Masters 40-plus class.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Brandon Wolter won Sport 85 at Grafton. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Brandon Wolter was another new name to the winner's list at Grafton, taking the Sport 85 class ahead of Jordan Bute and Marty Feil.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Logan Kilichowski won Grafton. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Only one racer won multiple classes at Grafton. Logan Kilichowski did it by taking Jr. 14-17 and Trail.

Only one racer won multiple classes at Grafton. Logan Kilichowski did it by taking Jr. 14-17 and Trail.

Yes, I intentionally repeated that caption in honor of Logan's double. Nice job dude!

 

Team Arctic Cat's Jeremy Grove. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Jeremy Grove proved he's as fast in the ditch as he is on ice, winning the Expert 85 class ahead of Team Arctic teammates Nathan Sillerud and Brandon Wolter.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Savannah Landrus. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Winning the Jr. Girls 14-17 class yet again this season was Savannah Landrus

 

Team Arctic Cat's David Brown won Jr. 10-13 at Grafton in 2015. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

David Brown was tearing it up in the Jr. Boys 10-13 class, taking the win ahead of Blair Herfindahl and Andy Pake (both of whom are cousins).

 

Jr. Boys racing at the 2015 Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Here's another shot of the Jr. Boys racing down a section of ditch, battling like a pack of dogs for the lead.

The Grafton course was super spectator-friendly, with nice sections of ditch within a couple miles of the start/finish area.

 

2015 Grafton XC race. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

While most of the ditches were full of snow, the North/South sections were a bit brown. This shot was taken early in the day. By the time the sun came out in the afternoon, it was black, muddy dirt.

I think some Arctic Cat dealerships throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas were able to sell some hyfax this past week.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Mason Kallock won Sport 600 Open at '15 Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

There was A LOT of snow in the East/West ditches... enough that the holes got 3-4 feet deep by mid-day.

Here Mason Kallock blasts through on his way to the win in Sport 600 Open.

 

Team Arctic's Matt Feil leads the pack at 2015 Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Matt Feil busting his way down the ditch.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Nathan Sillerud won Expert 85 Imp. at 2015 Grafton. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

It got so warm mid-day at Grafton that Nathan Sillerud stopped and unzipped his jacket. And he still won the Expert 85 Improved class*!

 

*I don't actually know if Nathan stopped and unzipped during the race. But judging from his jacket in this photo, I think it's possible.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Nathan Moritz took 2nd in Semi Pro Stock at Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Moving into the ditch shook up the Semi Pro class big time. Nathan Moritz put his considerable rough-running expertise to work and scored a second in the stock class, behind Polaris-mounted Alex Hetteen.

 

Team Arctic's Jolene Bute won the womens xc race at 2015 Grafton, ND. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

After going winless at the first two lake cross-country races this season, Jolene Bute dropped the hammer on the competition at Grafton, winning the Women's class while serving notice that she's still on top of her game.

 

Arctic Cat's Roger Skime and Mike Kloety at 2015 Grafton XC. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Team Arctic's Roger Skime (L) and Race Manager Mike Kloety spent the day doing what they ALWAYS do at cross-country races: keeping time of the various racers; watching for clues as to how the sleds are working; and taking notes on what needs improvement.

They had a lot to be proud of at Grafton, with Team Arctic racers scoring 11 class wins (out of 17) and taking 32 of 51 podium positions.

 

Team Arctic Cat's Wes Selby at Grafton, 2015. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In the Pro classes, it was Wes Selby (pictured), Zach Herfindahl and Ben Langaas flying the colors for Team Green. For whatever reasons, several of the USXC regulars didn't race at Grafton, which put a little extra pressure on these three.

Unfortunately for Langaas, crashes in both Open and Stock put a DNF next to his name in the results, leaving it all up to Selby and Herfindahl.

The Open class was the first event of the day. In it, Selby finished third behind Herfindahl (who was second) and Polaris' Justin Tate.

In the premier Pro Stock class, Selby was battling in the top-3 ALMOST the entire 100-mile event. The thing was, the 100-mile final was actually a lot closer to 120 miles. That extra distance would turn ugly for Selby during the last 4 miles of the race, as his engine kept dying as it ran out of gas.

He would restart it a few times and eventually limp it in at about 10 mph, losing his podium finish in the process. He finished a dejected 7th.

Matt Piche would put his Yamaha into 6th overall. Ahead of him, Ross Erdman (5th) and Dillan Dohrn gave Ski-Doo their best finishes in the Pro Stock class so far this season.

Bobby Menne would take third for Polaris, with teammate Justin Tate finishing second.

 

Team Arctic's Zach Herfindahl won the 2015 Grafton USXC ditch race. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

Winning the Pro Stock final at Grafton (while claiming his second consecutive win this season in USXC) was the youthful phenom, Zach Herfindahl.

 

Team Arctic's Zach Herfindahl won the 2015 Grafton USXC ditch race. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

I (and a pile of other spectators in trucks and cars) watched Herfindahl run the squeakiest-of-clean races, clicking off laps in short order with a speed and consistency that is truly remarkable.

 

Team Arctic's Zach Herfindahl won the 2015 Grafton USXC ditch race. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

He was crazy-fast in the ditch...

Team Arctic's Zach Herfindahl won the 2015 Grafton USXC ditch race. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

... and crazy fast on the river. With zero mistakes.

When you're the fastest in the ditch, fastest on the river and don't make mistakes*, you win races.

 

*I guess I should mention that there was a small mistake made when it came to determining how much fuel Zach needed, as he too ran out of gas a mile or so before the finish.

In fact, his engine died as he was climbing out of the river, forcing him to get off and pull his sled back onto the river, the fuel pump would pick up where what little fuel remained. He got the engine started and basically sputtered into the finish on fumes.

What might have been a bitter ending was only just a few moments of drama, as Herfindahl was still fast enough to win by 45 seconds.

 

Team Arctic's Zach Herfindahl won the 2015 Grafton USXC ditch race. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

The only toll Herfindahl paid was with his hands. After 120 miles, they were looking a wee-bit tender on account of the blisters.

Congrats to Zach, the other class winners and everyone who raced at Grafton!

What did I learn about brand success at Grafton?

As has been the case all season, Arctic Cat is winning more than its share of cross-country races, but there is tremendous brand parity. Of the six races that Cat did NOT win, two went to Ski-Doo and the rest to Polaris.

While Yamaha wasn't in contention to win in the ditches like they've done on the ice, their extra weight disadvantage didn't take them out of the mix either, whether it was in the amateur I-500 class or in Pro Stock.

Due to lack of snow, the next race on the USXC schedule is going to be another lake race, Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Park Rapids, MN. So this week and next, racers will be sucking-down their sleds to run on the ice.

The battles will continue.

See ya there!

And thanks for reading.



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