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Down & Dirty: The 2016-17 Duluth Snocross Report


(11/29/2016)

Last weekend marked the 25th Annual Spirit National snocross in Duluth, Minn. And like every preceding year, it brought chaos, uncertainty, excitement, some great racing and, perhaps, a peek at what to expect for the rest of the season.

 

The crowd at 2016 ISOC Duluth snocross. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The crowd at 2016 ISOC Duluth snocross. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The crowd at 2016 ISOC Duluth snocross. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The crowd was huge this year, no doubt influenced by temperatures in the low 40s and the allure of the season opener.

 

2016 ISOC Duluth snocross. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The semi-trailers in the pits were also huge this year, as they have been for the last decade or so. Racing at this level sure seems like it's the domain of teams/families who are able and willing to spend cubic dollars.

 

2016 ISOC Duluth snocross. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Speaking of the pits, this shot from Saturday morning was the best they looked all weekend. The Duluth pits have long been the bane of racers due to the carnage they cause to the sleds that navigate through the rocks, mud and crud. This year it got downright ugly by Saturday afternoon because of the mud.

 

Working on Logan Christian's mod Arctic Cat. photo by ArcticInsider.com

Working on Logan Christian's mod Arctic Cat. photo by ArcticInsider.com

The big news for Arctic Cat snocross race sleds this year is the move from carbureted Suzuki 600 engines to Arctic Cat C-TEC2 600 engines featuring EFI. It's the first time any brand has raced an EFI engine in snocross, and it's been a HUGE project for Cat and its partner Speedwerx.

As with any new endeavor of this size, there are going to be a few hiccups that arise early in the season, especially one in which there has been so little seat time for racers due to lack of snow.

The Christian Brothers Racing crew brought both the EFI and carbureted mod sleds to Duluth for racer Logan Christian. A tiny mistake with handlebar heaters caused problems with the EFI system during the Friday night show, but the crew got things figured out before the racing began on Saturday.

Logan told me the EFI package is strong, probably just as strong as the carbureted engine, and that they're pumped to get it calibrated better because they know there's higher and more consistent performance available than with carbs.

The new pipe routing and fuel tank location is pretty cool.

Speedwerx and Arctic Cat engineers were on hand throughout the weekend, working with the Mod and Stock sleds. There will be improvements to both packages, despite the fact that both are already REALLY good.

 

Tucker Hibbert's 2016-2017 Arctic Cat race sled. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Tucker Hibbert's 2016-2017 Arctic Cat race sled. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

The new faux headlight pod on top of the mod Cats, as illustrated on Tucker Hibbert's sled, was needed to accommodate the new exhaust pipe routing.

There is so much trick stuff on this sled that it's mind boggling, and someday I'm going to do a story on it. But as long as he's racing, Tucker (understandably) doesn't want to share the info with the competition.

One thing I noticed at Duluth is that most of the Pro Open guys are now running 137-in. tracks, a move that Tucker (actually, Kirk) started last year.

 

Arctic Cat's Roger Skime and Tucker Hibbert. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

That's Tucker (R) talking with his hero, Roger Skime.

 

Team Arctic's Kirk Hibbert and Brad Pake. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

And here are two of Roger's heroes: Kirk Hibbert (L) and Brad Pake, both Team Arctic racing legends; past winners at the Duluth snocross; and Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductees.

Brad's son Andy nailed down second place in the Jr. 10-13 class. Kirk's son Tucker nailed down third place in the Pro Open.

Pretty cool!

 

Inside the Tucker Hibbert race trailer. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Inside the Hibbert trailer (L-to-R): Dan Ebert, mechanic; Rick Strobel, FOX engineer; Roger Skime; and Rob Dahlen, Tucker's support.

It's always interesting to hear the conversations these guys have, especially at the first few races of the year, when they're sorting out new sleds. The goal is to continually advance, to find gains and improvements wherever they can. Usually the focus is on the sled, but sometimes it's gear such as goggles or gloves; what someone noticed about how the track develops after grooming; a better way to build a warm-up stand; and the like.

Racing attracts creative minds, and these guys are always brainstorming to find an edge.

 

SnoX365's Gary Walton.

Speaking of creativity, this guy has loads of it: Gary Walton, owner of Action Graphics, RideX365.com and more Nikon cameras than you can shake a stick at.

In addition to his website and vinyl, Gary does PR duty for several top snocross teams. He's been at the snowmobile media game for longer than just about anyone still playing, and he always has an interesting perspective on the snocross scene.

 

First ISOC snow bike race. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Team Arctic's Wes Selby on the Arctic Cat SVX 450. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Snow bikes are something new this year for ISOC, who have a dedicated class for them at each national. Ten racers showed up: nine on various brand moto's with kits, and one Arctic Cat SVX 450 being piloted by Wes Selby.

It was the first time the SVX has been ridden in public, the first time it's been raced and the first time it's been on a snocross track.

Despite all that, Wes and the SVX did awesome and ended up finishing in second place. The kid who won, Harris Huizenga, was BLAZING fast on his kitted Kawi. Clearly, he was no newcomer to snow bikes and was dialed-in to the situation.

My take-away from watching the snow bikes is that they need a different course than the sleds. Not necessarily a different layout, but different jumps and jump spacing. These machines will not launch and fly like dirt bikes. The downhill rhythm section was pretty brutal for the bikers, and the big table-top was too big for the bikes. If this form of competition is going to really grow, I have a feeling that the tracks will need to evolve in the process.

Either way, it's going to be interesting to see unfold.

 

Team Arctic's Zach Stein at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Okay, time for the racers! Here's Zach Stein, winner of Transition 8-10 class. Nice riding, Zach!

 

 

Right here you should see a photo of Ryley Bester, along with a caption describing how he won Sport #1 and Sport Lite #1, plus got a third in Sport #2, all on the new ZR 6000R SX with EFI...

...Then you should see a photo here of Ryley's Frattalone Racing teammate Eric Downs, along with a caption explaining how he won Jr. 16-17, also on the new EFI Cat...

...and then there should be a photo here of Taven Woodie with some words about her win in Jr. Girls 9-13...

...But I failed miserably at getting photos of these Team Arctic racers, and for that I'm sorry to them, their families and teams.

 

Team Arctic's Martin Moland from Alta, Norway. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

I shot a pile of pix of the Pro Lite Cat riders. Here's Martin Moland, out of Alta, Norway, and also on the Frattalone team. Martin made it to the LCQ, but didn't get into the final this year (he got fourth here last year, followed by a win in Fargo).

 

Team Arctic Cat's Tyler Adams, Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Tyler Adams looked great in Pro Lite while racing for his new team, Woodies. Fifteenth in the final.

 

Alex Berglund, Team Arctic from Sweden. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Alex Berglund came from Bollnas, Sweden, to race Duluth. He finished 14th in Pro Lite, which is awesome!

Team Arctic's Travis Kern. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

After sitting out much of last season with injury, Travis Kern returned to competition with a solid weekend at Duluth, winning a heat and taking sixth in the final.

 

Team Arctic's Dan Benham at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Dan Benham also showed his potential at Duluth, including a heat win. A crummy start in the final would prove too tough to overcome in what was some of the worst roost conditions possible in snocross (heavy, wet snow that also consisted of about 20% dirt), making passing extremely difficult for all but a few racers.

 

Team Arctic's Montana Jess at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Defending ISOC Pro Lite champion Montana Jess looked extremely fast throughout the weekend, including a heat win. A tough second heat meant he had to get into the final via the LCQ, which meant a back row start. He finished 11th.

 

Team Arctic at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Dylan Hall (L) and Brett Nastala are aiming to make their mark in the Pro Open class this year.

 

Team Arctic's Logan Christian at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

After sitting out a big chunk of last season due to injury, Logan Christian is back and looking as strong as ever. He chased down and passed Ross Martin to win one heat race. He muffed the start in the final (by running the engine RPM too high and likely causing the power valve to open), but was one of the few riders who actually passed more than one person by moving from 14th to 8th.

 

Monster Arctic Cat's Tucker Hibbert at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Monster Arctic Cat's Tucker Hibbert at Duluth. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

I've watched Tucker race at Duluth since back in 1972, and I'd say this year was fairly typical for him. He got a mid-pack start, quickly moved to fourth, then was setting himself up to move into his typical place at the front of the pack.

A couple coulda-shoulda moments (tipping over after putting a ski into Kyle Pallin's sled while passing for third being the biggest one) kept him in third.

I heard a few people wonder out loud if his poor (by his standards) qualifying and only getting third were indicative of a new, not quite as dominant rider.

While anything is possible, I'm just going to smile and watch the rest of the season unfold, because I think it'll be business as usual for #68.

 

ISOC officials calling off the race. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Mother nature threw an ugly curveball to the racers this past weekend, in the form of a fog so dense Sunday morning that ISOC wisely cancelled all racing that day (with plans for a make-up day later this season).

Here's a shot of ISOC race director Carl Schubitzke explaining the situation from on top of the track. There was pretty much no visibility beyond 100 feet.

When I crunched the numbers for the weekend, Team Arctic scored 5 wins out of 16 finals, and 16 out of 48 podiums. That would be pretty equal with the other two, but it's not the over-achieving success we're used to. I have a feeling the numbers will be better as we get into the season, but that too is just speculation.

With that, we'll wait until the next ISOC national in Winter Park, Colo., Dec. 16-17.

Thanks to all the Team Arctic racers and crews for giving such a great show.

And thanks to you for reading.



Comments (12):

ANDREW KRAMER says:
11/29/2016 9:21:00 PM

Was tucker running the efi cat motor last year?
Wayne Tweten says:
11/29/2016 9:57:00 PM

Thank you John for another great report.
Keep up the GREAT job you do.
Rusty says:
11/30/2016 6:37:00 AM

Was the guy back this year that was running that old 90s ZR chassis?
Derek Elias says:
11/30/2016 10:00:00 AM

I hope they get the EFI system working properly for the next events. Bringing new technology for racing does have it's bugs, but at what costs to Tucker (and the rest of Team Arctic drivers) who is trying to defend his 10th championship and win his 11th?

Even though it was only the first race of the season, I believe #68 would have prolly won the Dominator event if he didn't go mechanical with the new EFI system. GO CAT GO
John Sandberg says:
11/30/2016 1:37:00 PM

Derek: the EFI stuff is working great. The point I was trying to make, is that it's working great and will only get better.

Rusty: Nate Ewing is the guy you're referring to, and no, I didn't see him. Bummer, as he was a favorite.

Andrew: Tucker tested the EFI motor last year, but did not race it.
krom says:
11/30/2016 6:18:00 PM

What actually happened to tuckers sled friday night?
Any word on when they will get the svx to dealers?
Paul Nadeau says:
11/30/2016 8:00:00 PM

With all of the brain power in that #68 trailer, I am sure the little gremlins that were around in Duluth will be gone soon. Another great story and photos John! Thanks
Brandon says:
12/1/2016 11:51:00 AM

John:
Wes rode the SVX in downtown Sturgis this year during the rally, which was very public.
Also I'm pretty sure you DID NOT watch Tucker racing in 1972. 1992 maybe?
John Sandberg says:
12/1/2016 12:39:00 PM

krom: Coolant leak, all over the clutches (draining most of the coolant). Good news was, it didn't take down the engine.
John Sandberg says:
12/1/2016 12:40:00 PM

Brandon: I was exaggerating for effect.
Tom Rowland says:
12/3/2016 8:33:00 PM

Great recap, thanks for posting. I love the look of Tucker and Logan's Mod sleds! Some of the stockers look cool too. We watched much of the DNSX on ustream, we have just restocked on Mountain Dew and Doritos in time for the upcoming Colorado race, and we've bought our tickets for Canterbury. It's going to be a mighty fine season for us fans of Team Arctic!
Cris Beaudry says:
12/6/2016 9:34:00 AM

Looks like Tuckers sled still has the traditional pipe routing on it. ??

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