This past weekend marked the 2013 Snowmobile Hall of Fame weekend in St. Germain, Wis. It was the 30th Anniversary of the SHOF which, in addition to awesome snow in the Wisconsin north woods and other factors, resulted in perhaps the largest-attended event of them all.
For sure there was a lot of interest in the four great men who would be inducted for 2013: Blair Morgan, Bob Bracey, Norman Ball and John Zeglin. I know that for the Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo faithful, seeing Morgan get inducted (and getting to ride with him in the Ride with the Champs) was a once-in-a-lifetime event they would not miss.
For me personally, the anticipation of riding with my friend and seeing him inducted was hard to contain. Like many, I’d been waiting for this event for a long time…longer than even the few months since it was announced that he would be inducted. I suppose I’d been waiting to see Blair ever since the last time I saw him, which was in September of 2008, just before his accident that ended his racing career.
The drive to St. Germain from where I live (near the Twin Cities) is one of my favorites because of the great geographical transformation that takes place from the farmland of central Wisconsin to the big woods that begins north of Wausau. Great, evocative town names like Rhinelander, Tomahawk, Minocqua and Sugar Camp dot the road signs, route and area.
This is snowmobile country, as evidenced by the fact that there were groups of riders everywhere. The combination of great snow and trails transforms these north woods.
Arriving at the SHOF I was reminded of the 50th Derby exhibit inside. It seems like eons ago that I watched the 50th Derby, but it was only a month ago. Time flies when winter is so short…
I arrived on Friday afternoon, after many of the riders who partake in the Poker Run had left the SHOF for the evening. It was cool to see the Brian Nelson Replica 1978 Arctic Cat Cross-Country el tigre in the parking area, its winner on hand and riding this awesome machine.
It was also cool to see friends Tom White (L) and Joe Rainville who were cleaning up after the post-ride BBQ. Events like the SHOF are definitely about friendships. These past few years I’ve been particularly fond of the camaraderie of the John Deere group, who share a strong bond for the brand. Very cool group of guys.
FYI: Earlier in the day Joe had put his tongue on a flag pole, to which it had frozen. That’s why he’s sticking out his tongue in the photo.
There’s more to see inside the SHOF than can be absorbed in less than a few hours. Great sleds, of course, but also the inductee plaques, great film footage of classic races and memorabilia to ponder.
Boss Cat III is on display and, had any of the Warning family been there this moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start it up.
There’s an abundance of Sno Pro sleds on display at the SHOF, and I never tire of looking at the craftsmanship and purposeful engineering that went into these great machines.
Likewise, I could stare at the photos on the wall of the C.J. Ramstad Memorial Library for hours. Taken by Ramstad and some of his colleagues, these images are in a class by themselves for historical context.
Inside the SHOF I ran into 1984 Eagle River World Champion Jim Dimmerman, who was watching intently the film that captured the historic battle between Mike Trapp and Yvon Duhamel in the 1971 Derby, which many say was the all-time greatest race.
It was cool to see John Zeglin at the SHOF as well. As the man who orchestrates the Annual Waconia Ride-In vintage extravaganza, Zeglin well deserves his induction to the SHOF for 2013. He was so COMPLETELY jazzed that his plaque hung next to Blair Morgan!
When John gave his acceptance speech the next night, he did an awesome job, thanking all of the other people, clubs and volunteers who make the Waconia event happen.
I think it’s cool and important that the SHOF recognizes the volunteer, club and association people each year, as they truly are the backbone of snowmobiling.
Saturday morning starts bright and early with the Ride with the Champs (RWTC) breakfast. The all-star cast of champs this year featured many greats, including Dimmerman, Stan Hayes, Doug Hayes, Bobby Donahue, Aaron Scheele, Craig Marchbank, Jim Grafft, Mike Campbell, Wayne Nicholsen, Jamie Anseeuw, Tucker Hibbert, Blair Morgan and others.
After breakfast several different-length rides head off in various directions. I was absolutely pumped to see someone had a Raider sled this year, as the company founder, Bob Bracey, was being posthumously inducted.
I was also pumped to see one of the Larson boys ready to tackle the 170-mile Vintage Challenge on this Arctic Cat Puma. Unfortunately, none of the Larson crew finished the Challenge this year.
They crew from Thomas SnoSports was once again on hand with a batch of sweet sleds, including a Blair Morgan Edition ZR 600! (Later in the day, while riding with Blair Morgan, we passed this sled going the opposite direction. When it happened, I looked back at Blair and we both did a fist-pump, which was cool beyond words.)
Here Jim Dimmerman shows Tucker Hibbert the nuance of shoe-horning a Thundercat triple into an el Tigre chassis. I think Tucker is strongly considering racing this machine at the next snocross national.
The fact that Blair Morgan was riding in the RWTC was a huge, huge deal, and many grabbed a photo of themselves with Blair prior to the ride, which is EXACTLY what the RWTC is all about.
Seriously, if you ever wanted to meet and ride with some of the all-time great racers, this is a must-attend ride.
Before the ride started, Tucker and Blair were joking with each other and proclaiming that there would be some paint-trading during the ride. I thought it was pure joking, but I and everyone else in the group would soon learn otherwise!
Yep, for more than 60 miles of riding this day, Tucker and Blair were never more than 20-feet apart from each other (and often within inches of each other!). I can confirm that they were cutting each other off in corners, block-passing and generally harassing each other non-stop.
And those of us fortunate enough to watch the antics were having the times of our lives. Seriously, it was like watching them on the track for all those years… they showed the same respect while simultaneously looked for every advantage over the other rider. And it was an absolute joy to watch.
For the record, Blair rides a snowmobile faster than 99% of the rest of us, all in complete control.
After lunch many in the group posed for a photo with Blair, Tucker and Jamie, including the great friends in the Blair Morgan Racing Team.
Personally speaking, it was an honor to ride with these guys.
Later that evening it was time for the SHOF autograph session which, thanks to the all-star cast, was more crowded than I can remember it ever being in previous years.
So cool to see young kids handing their RWTC bibs to legends like Stan Hayes for an autograph!
Every year at the banquet there’s a silent auction that raises money for the SHOF. This year, Blair’s former manager Jamie Anseeuw brought a couple extra items that were auctioned off live, including this Operation Inspiration helmet that was originally raced by Team Arctic’s Cory Davis then bought by Anseeuw as part of a fundraiser for Blair following his accident in 2008.
Jamie donated the helmet for the SHOF live auction, at which Tucker Hibbert was the highest bidder as a fundraiser for the SHOF. So this one helmet has raised more than $1,000 twice for great causes.
I particularly enjoy the acceptace speeches of those who are inducted, and this year I loved listening to grass dragger Norman Ball III talk about how he kinda-sorta lied to his wife about how much he was spending to go racing for so many years.
Ball epitomized the working-man racer who scraped together every resource in order to race, never winning much money but taking great satisfaction that he was competitive and enduring.
Thanks for the great career (and speech) Norman!
Blair’s speech was short and sweet, with him thanking his crew and sponsors and then basically saying that wasn’t so sure about his deserving to be up there because “all I did was just kind of race and have fun.”
I think I can speak for the entire world of snowmobile racing Blair: You deserve to be in the SHOF a thousand times over. You not only won everything there was to win in snocross, but you completely changed the sport of snowmobiling.
L-to-R: Norman Ball III, Blair Morgan, John Zeglin and Steve Landon (who accepted the award for Bob Bracey’s widow, Carol).
Congratulations SHOF inductees for 2013. You all deserve your place among the greats.
I’ll end this post with a photo of crew, friends and colleagues of Blair Morgan Racing who, after the award ceremony was over, posed for some extra photos then just hung out for another hour or so, laughing and sharing stories about the great years they spent together.
Snowmobiling is a sport loaded with great people.
Some of them raced snowmobiles so crazy-fast that it made our heads spin with wonder and awe. Some of them spent hundreds (and thousands) of hours working on race sleds in shops while the rest of the world slept. Some dedicated their spare time to create an event that we could all participate in. Others spent years to create a network of trails. Some built sleds while others built bridges.
All of them shared a passion for excellence. Whether you were one of the few who have been recognized with a SHOF plaque or one of the vast majority who have gone without official recognition, your accomplishments have made this a better sport, and a better world.
Thank you all.
And thanks for reading.