I had a handful of hours to steal away and watch some racing yesterday, so I headed over to the USXC cross-country in Willmar, Minn.
For the second time this year, I was lame and missed the Junior, Sport, Women’s and Girl’s classes. Sorry, just a Pro report for this weekend.
After starting the season with the intention of running heads-up racing (all finalists competing at once) at the lake races, USXC has switched to running timed events. There are pros/cons for both, but I think it boiled down to having enough daylight to race. Timed events take less total time throughout the day because there are no heat races.
In the heat race above, last week’s Pro winner Brian Dick goes off with Polaris rider Ryan Faust.
Earlier in the day in the Pro Open class, Brian Dick had finished a close second (five seconds back) behind Pro rookie sensation Zach Herfindahl.
Yep, 16-year-old Zach Herfindahl is definitely a sensation in the Pro class. Racing for Christian Brothers Racing, Herfindahl notched a 4th, two 3rds and one 2nd place in the two previous USXC races this season, causing quite the stir. And it was only a matter of time before he would be taking the final (top) step of the podium.
I’ve watched Zach race at two different lake races now and here’s what I see: Smoothness and consistency. He looks absolutely fluid as he sets up for corners or does a quick side-to-side transition in the S-curves. There are no sudden or abrupt movements, just smoothness.
Many people are comparing him to Team Arctic cross-country legend Brad Pake. I would hate to put any unnecessary weight on young Zach’s shoulders, but that comparison is valid.
The 10-mile course on Foot Lake in Willmar had both high-speed and tight sections, rewarding speed as much as handling.
Another new-to-the-Pro-class racer is Wes Selby, who has firmly made the transition from snocross to cross-country.
For the past many years Selby raced out of Kirk Hibbert’s shop in Goodridge, Minn., where he learned a lot from the master sled builder/racer. This year Selby is spending most of his shop time in the Team Arctic Racing shop in Thief River Falls.
Last week in Detroit Lakes, Selby nailed a SOLID 2nd/3rd in the Pro 600 Stock/Open finals, puting himself in the same league as Herfindahl as some new, fast blood in the big class.
Like Herfindahl, Selby is smooth and lanky. After running consistent and fast throughout the 100-mile final, Selby notched another solid finish at Willmar to take third place.
Nice job Wes!
Despite the timed nature of the Willmar race there were still plenty of on-track battles that unfolded during the Pro 600 final. Here Ryan Greening mixes it up with Polaris racer Aaron Christensen. Greening finished 10th in the stock final.
Taking 11th in the Pro stock final (and fifth in Open) was Jordan Torgerson.
Ryan Simons started his defense of the cross-country’s Championship title with a pair of wins at the opening USXC race in Pine Lake, MN. Last week he scored a 3rd/2nd in stock/open.
Simons was cooking again at Willmar, but with a little less heat than he had at Pine Lake. Fourth place in the Stock final, second in Open.
Another great battle that unfolded in the second half of the stock class was between Team Arctic’s Chad Lian and Polaris racer Gabe Bunke. Lian would emerge the victor, taking fifth place overall in the final.
The drama of who would win the 10 lap final played out between Brian Dick and Zach Herfindahl. The stop watches and electronic timing told a story of the two running nearly identical lap times for the first few laps; Dick running faster laps in the middle laps; but Herfindahl going faster the last few laps.
When the times were calculated following an hour-and-a-half of wide-open racing, Brian Dick scored his second Pro 600 win in two weeks, narrowly beating Herfindahl by 7 seconds!
Afterwards, Brian talked about his clutching getting heavy the last few laps and losing RPM. Had they gone another lap, it might have been a different outcome.
It was a sea of green lined up for tech inspection after the final. Click HERE for full results.
Here are the top-5:
1. Brian Dick 1:34:40
2. Zach Herfindahl 1:34:47
3. Wes Selby 1:35:40
4. Ryan Simons 1:35:42
5. Chad Lian 1:36:04
In all seriousness, I actually felt kind of bad for any racer who wasn’t on a Cat this weekend, as the Sno Pro 600 is clearly a big step up from the Polaris and Ski-Doo sleds. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Arctic Cat’s decision to make the Sno Pro 600 a great snocrosser and cross-country sled should be resoundingly commended.
It was pretty rough watching the snocross team take their lumps last year, but their hard work has paid off this year, all the while maintaining an advantage in cross-country that looks as formidable as anything I’ve seen in the past 25 years.
Maybe things will even out slightly when cross-country returns to the ditches (which, if there’s snow, will happen in two weeks at Oslo, Minn.), but I wouldn’t bet on it.
For the second week in a row, Team Arctic won 16 of 20 class finals at a USXC race. What’s the next adjective that surpasses “dominant?”
What I’m seeing right now in cross-country is a new “glory days” for Team Arctic. It looks pretty good, but I can’t help but think that the other brands will tire of getting beat and put some more effort into their programs.
Moments after the Pro 600 final Brian Dick (right) talked with Team Arctic Race Manager Mike Kloety. Doubtful they were feeling sorry for the Red and Yellow camps, rather, they were talking about what they saw and experienced during this day that will help them prepare for the next cross-country.
The smile on USXC owner Brian Nelson’s face tells the story of how the circuit faired this weekend. After some rough experiences last week in Detroit Lakes, the crew are running on all cylinders now and are poised for more success in the coming weeks.
Maybe my favorite sight of the whole weekend came when I was leaving the lake to head home. Parked there was Brian Dick’s pickup truck, his race-winning Arctic Cat Sno Pro 600 loaded in the back like it was 1978. I love when new school meets old school.
Thanks for keeping it real, Brian!
And congrats to all the Team Arctic racers who competed at Willmar. You guys and gals absolutely rocked it.
Thanks for reading.