“I will never forget the first time I saw Blair Morgan race.”
These are words that I’ve heard spoken by innumerable fans and even other racers. So stunning was the sight of #7c that it was burned forever into the memory of those who saw him race.
I too will never forget the first time I saw Blair race. It was at the Duluth snocross in 1997. Instead of sitting, he stood on the running boards of his Arctic Cat ZR. He linked double-jump sequences unlike any snocross racer before him. He raced relaxed, almost like he was playing around, yet he was clearly the fastest man on the track. In one stunning weekend and during the seasons that followed, Blair Morgan redefined both snocross and the sport of snowmobiling.
Likewise, I will never forget hearing the news on Sept. 21, 2008, that Blair had broken his back while practicing at the Montreal supercross race and was paralyzed. It seemed impossible that anything could take down the man we called “Superman.”
And now, after interviewing Blair last week, I’m ever-grateful that my newest never-forget memory of the now-37-year-old Morgan is the genuine and graceful way he answered questions about his career, his life, his rivalries and his upcoming induction into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame.
AI: Let’s start with the immediate: Tell us what’s going on in your life these days. What are you doing with your time?
Morgan: I devote the majority of my time and energy to my kids, Corbin (12) and Breck (9). I get them up in morning, off to school and to the various after-school activities they have every day. Other than that, I sometimes help out with family farm. At this point in my life I don’t have a job.
(Long pause) For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve observed other families and situations. I see some families where the parents don’t have much time for their kids. My kids are at such important ages as they transition to teenagers… I think that it’s really important to keep focusing on them. After they get older I can figure out what I’m going to do with my life.
So to answer the question of what I’m doing now: I don’t do anything. (Laughter)
Blair with his two kids at their home in Prince Albert, Sask. (Prince Albert Herald photo by Alex Di Pietro)
AI: (Laughing) No, you’re a full-time dad which, aside from the challenges, is also a huge blessing for you.
Morgan: Oh for sure. Racing was good for me financially. It enabled me to take this time and be with my kids. Of course without working now for four years, I’ve had to change our lifestyle and live within a strict budget. We don’t travel and we live a pretty contained lifestyle, but it’s what’s best for us.
Even if I hadn’t had the accident and become paralyzed, I wouldn’t have transitioned into a more normal job. I’d been a professional racer for more than a decade with the luxury of being home all week… there was no way I would could have jumped into a regular 9-to-5 job.
AI: When we talked the other day, you mentioned that you had just gotten back from a snowmobile ride. Tell me about that and the other kinds of activities and recreation you do these days.
Morgan: Yeah, we ride snowmobile all the time. This has been a good winter with lots of snow. So yeah, we go snowmobiling and I pull the kids on a sled. In the summer we ride the Yamaha Rhino side-by-side a lot, we go to the lake to swim and I also help coach a soccer team.
AI: I love that you still ride sleds! I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous to talk with you about your paralysis because I don’t want to offend you. However I want to know more about what it’s like for you? So where on your body are you paralyzed, and what movements do you have?
Morgan: I broke my T4, which is pretty high, about mid-back. There are different levels of this kind of thing: Mine is complete paralysis because I shattered my spine and severed my spinal cord.
I’m paraplegic, with no movement or feeling on my body below my nipples. I still have the complete movement of my arms, shoulders and neck. I have to use my arms so much now that they and my shoulders are big and strong. My digestive system still works fine, as do my diaphragm and lungs.
So I move around now via a regular, non-electric wheelchair. Right now I still have the original chair I got immediately after the accident in 2008. It’s a basic chair that has full adjustability and isn’t tricked-out or anything. It’s actually pretty beat up from getting dragged into and out of my truck so I need to get a new one, which will be a custom titanium chair.
AI: Are you one of those people who are crazy-fast with your chair?
Morgan: Sometimes. I’m crazy-fast getting into my truck and pulling the chair in after removing the wheels. I can do that in about 30 seconds, which is fast.
This has all been a huge learning process for me that I’m still figuring out. I get asked why I don’t do more, like exercising or doing certain activities. Well, I broke my right shoulder while I was still racing, so I have to be super careful not to reinjure my arms or shoulders now because I’d be screwed.
AI: For many of us in the snowmobile world who haven’t seen or talked to you much since the accident, there’s some fear or concern about confronting your paralysis. So, is it weird or uncomfortable to talk about it like we are right now?
Morgan: Not really. This has been my reality for a long time. The people here in Prince Albert are totally used to it. It’s just normal now. I sometimes forget that it still feels new to people who haven’t seen me or talked to me.
This has obviously been a long process to come to terms with, both for me and the people in my life. I’ve changed in a lot of ways, and many of them are for the better.
AI: Tell what you mean by that.
Morgan: My injury happened in September 2008. In the four years since then I’ve gotten divorced and my dad got Alzheimer’s to the point that he lives in a special home with constant care and doesn’t recognize us anymore. Those are three huge things and, in some ways, my injury was the least important of all.
(Pause) I went from sitting on top of the world to crashing down pretty hard. Over the past four years I’ve had a lot of time to think about my life and question the choices I’ve made. Looking back…(pause)… to be the kind of successful racer I was required me to be very selfish. I had to live completely focused on myself. But now I live for someone else: My two kids. Which is a change I’m thankful for.
The injury was a massive wake-up call that either forced or allowed me to think about everything that’s happened in life. And of course one big question I wrestle with is, was it worth it… meaning all my racing and selfish focus on that?
I had a great career, awesome experiences and was financially successful. But I’m also paralyzed.
Obviously the risks were there the whole time. I saw what happened when Jamie (Anseeuw, his friend and team manager) was paralyzed in 1999. I broke my own back in 2003. So I dodged bullets for a long time practicing and racing both motocross and snocross. And the whole time I was carefree, just loving the sports and never expecting to get injured like this. But eventually the averages caught up with me.
So some days I think that it wasn’t worth the sacrifice and wish I’d had a regular job, but other days I’m glad I made the choices that I did. In the end I think I’ll look back and be happy.
AI: That’s a really powerful, honest answer Blair. I appreciate you expressing that.
Morgan: Well, I’ve had a lot stuff happen that’s forced me to think about it.
AI: Okay, let me do a big set up for a question: You won 84 National snocross finals; 13 high-points championships; five ESPN X Games gold medals; and garnered Racer of the Year honors from both Snow Week and Snow Action magazines. You singlehandedly popularized stand-up riding, which was quickly adopted by other racers (then trail riders) leading to the eventual creation of snowmobiles for this style of riding. You literally changed the sport. Furthermore, you also launched the snowmobile freestyle scene by being the first to do Supermans, heel-clickers, nac-nacs and such over the finish line jumps.
Of all of those outstanding accomplishments, are there particular highlights for you?
Morgan: (Long pause) The early part of my career was probably the best for me… winning my first race in 1997, my first championship and then my first gold medal in 2001. Everything just happened so quickly and it was pretty cool.
I remember before I started racing, I was probably 14 years old. I would do laps and laps around my yard on my 1992 Prowler Special, pretending I was racing Kirk Hibbert. I would do that all the time. Then, it seemed like overnight, I was actually racing him. And when I beat him… it was just surreal, like I was dreaming.
So yeah, that early period of my career was definitely the highlight period and the most fun. By the time I was winning my 80th final, the newness had long ago worn off and it wasn’t so much fun.
AI: Talk about that tough side of racing because I’m not sure most of us race fans really understand it.
Morgan: It’s great to be a professional racer, but it’s also a curse. You have to give up your life to be a top-level rider. Everything is training, racing or traveling. For year after year. It’s not a very complete, rounded life.
People sometimes think that the victory lap is what being a professional racer is all about, but really that’s just a tiny fraction of it all. I always looked forward to race day, because that was the easiest day of the week. Both physically and mentally. All the work that went into getting there… that isn’t much fun.
AI: When I think of your competition and rivalries, it seems to me you had two: Chris Vincent during the early part of your career, then Tucker Hibbert after that. Tell me about the rivalry with Vincent, what you remember about it and whether it felt as explosive on the track as it looked to those of us watching.
Morgan: Obviously there were other guys I battled with… I can think of a lot of races against D.J. Ekstrom. But yeah, the big rivalry I had was with Chris Vincent.
My introduction to him was in Yellowstone in March 1997 at my first ever big snocross race. Jesse Strege was his teammate on Team Yamaha. Jesse was, and is, a super nice guy and was giving me a tour of the Yamaha big rig
We go inside and Chris is sitting there. All of sudden, Chris and Jesse start screaming and yelling at each other! It was crazy, and super weird. Then later that day I saw Chris on the on track, where he was just launching off jumps, totally landing into faces of other jumps, lap after lap. I kept wondering what the heck he was doing? Like, does he not know that he’s riding completely wrong? So that was my first introduction to Vincent.
The next fall, at the first race of the season in Sault St. Marie, he totally cleaned me out at the top of hill in a heat race. It broke the throttle off my sled. I had to pull on the throttle cable to run the engine in order to ride the sled down the hill and to the pits.
Well, just as I was pulling off the track, like half on the track and half off, I saw the leaders in our heat coming towards me, so I paused to see who was in front when all of the sudden WHAM!… he piled into the back of me! It was crazy.
Prior to the next heat race he comes up to me, puts me in a headlock and says, “This is what it’s going to be like between me and you.”
I had never experienced anyone like that before.
So yeah, all of that sort of set the stage for my rivalry with Chris.
AI: I don’t want to slam on Chris, but I’ll say this: I thought you two had an on-track rivalry, but not really a rivalry when it came to race results. You were a far better racer than he was.
Morgan: Yeah, I’d agree with that. It wasn’t like we battled for entire races. He always got great holeshots while I never did start very well. So our racing rivalry happened when I bumped him while passing him halfway through the race. That’s where the excitement occurred when we raced each other.
Here’s the thing about my feelings toward Chris: I didn’t hate the guy, I just didn’t like his on-track shenanigans. On the other hand, if I was going into an actual war battle, he’s the guy I would want next to me and fighting with me.
It’s hard to explain, but I think that all racers are sort of wired the same. We’re all more similar than we are different from each other.
AI: You had a different kind of rivalry with Tucker. Describe that.
Morgan: Oh for sure. Tucker and I were totally clean racing each other. First of all, we were teammates for the first couple of years. But even after that, we were always clean racing each other. I didn’t respect Vincent’s style of racing, but I completely respected the way Tucker raced.
He was my strongest competitor, that’s for sure. That one year, 2001, he and I won every single pro final the whole year. That was cool.
AI: What did you enjoy the most about racing snocross?
Morgan: Making a living doing something I loved. I really loved racing.
Winston Churchill made the great quote: “Once you find a job you love, you’ll never work again.” It’s true.
AI: Once your career ended, most of us didn’t see or hear much about you. I know that you’re a pretty private person… has there been anything in particular that has kept you away from snocross?
Morgan: Well, like said before, there were those three major changes in my life, in addition to being a dad.
I did go to a couple motocross races and…I wished I was still out there. I missed it so much. So I don’t want to be at races because I don’t like that feeling.
AI: That makes sense. How much do you keep track of snocross and motocross these days?
Morgan: I get the results via email. I talked to Robbie Malinoski after he won Duluth this season. I really wish that snocross was on TV here in Canada where I live. I have such crummy internet service that the online streaming doesn’t work so well.
I watch AMA Supercross a lot. I don’t follow Canadian supercross so much because I don’t know the racers too well.
I can’t wait for Anaheim-1. Everyone’s healthy, there’s probably seven guys who can win. My money is on Justin Barcia. I think Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart are fastest, but both have missed too much time to injury and I think they’ll be a bit rusty and make some mistakes. For sure Stewart will. I think Villopoto will win the championship though. He’s fast and in-control.
[Editor’s note: Like nearly everyone on planet supercross, Blair did not predict the eventual winner, Davi Millsaps. Oh well…]
AI: Okay, now a few not-so-serious questions… What’s your all-time favorite snowmobile?
Morgan: You’ll love this one… it’s my 1998 or 1999 ZR Mod sled with the Black Magic 678 motor. I LOVED that sled. It was a perfect sled. It reminded me of a motocross bike more than any other sled I raced. The motor was so awesome and snappy, and so well balanced with the sled. I owned and would still ride that sled until 2003, maybe even after that. I think I ended up selling the chassis to Robbie Malinoski.
Handling wise the old, original REV [below] was the best of all my race sleds, even better than new REV. But I liked the stocker the best because those Mod REVs with the 800s were too powerful. They had something like 180-hp which was insane.
AI: Are you more of an Arctic Cat guy, or a Ski-Doo guy?
Morgan: I’m a snowmobile guy. (Laughs)
Seriously, I love snowmobiles and I love both brands.
I used to get so much grief from Arctic Cat fans when I went to Ski-Doo. Arctic Cat has a special place in my heart in part because it was my first brand so to speak, but also becauseI always liked Cat growing up, even though we lived in Ski-Doo country where everybody called the sport ski-dooing.
I think career-wise that I timed it all good, being on Cat in the years when they were the best and then moving to Ski-Doo in 2002 when they became the best.
Now, it looks like they’re all pretty similar, like motocross bikes. Each has some different traits, but they’re all pretty even.
I liked racing for both companies as they each had a unique culture. Arctic Cat felt small and tight-knit, like a family, while Ski-Doo felt really big, almost like a government. It’s hard to explain… I felt more at home at Cat.
Blair Morgan unveils the first signature-edition Arctic Cat (the 2000 Blair Morgan Arctic Cat ZR 600) and the 7c line of Arcticwear at Hay Days in the fall of 1999. That’s Blair taking a moment to wave to the camera.
AI: What snowmobiles do you currently own?
Morgan: I own a 2009 Ski-Doo 600 E-Tec, which we ride a lot; a 2000 Blair Morgan edition Arctic Cat ZR 600 that has 300 miles and that I don’t like being ridden because I want to preserve it; and finally, my last X Games-winning Ski-Doo Mod from 2006, with the bumblebee hood wrap.
AI: Congratulations on your upcoming induction into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame! What does that mean to you?
Morgan: It’s a big deal for me… I’m honored. I’ve been to the Hall seen the sleds and even given them two of my race sleds [see above]. I remember being there when Kirk Hibbert was inducted, which was really cool. So I’ve seen what it’s all about and its great history of the sport. I’m sure that once it’s all said and done that the whole situation will sink in a bit more and I’ll have an even greater sense of what it means. I’m excited for that weekend.
AI: Okay, I’ll end this interview with a request that I make of everyone: Tell me a good Roger Skime story.
Morgan: The last time I visited him there was an old poster of me on his wall. And on that I’d written to him that he was my hero. Well, when I visited him that day, he looked at me and said, “Blair, you’re MY hero.”
AI: Blair, you really are a hero to so many people! Thanks so much for doing this interview.
Morgan: You’re welcome.
This was literally Blair’s introduction of himself at the 1997 Duluth Snocross national. It happened on the first day, when they had a brief driver introduction of sorts. I’m pretty sure it was the first time anyone had intentionally done a freestyle maneuver of this caliber on a snowmobile, and the crowd was in shock.
And hence why he earned the nickname “Superman.”
Perhaps the biggest shock that weekend in Duluth came when we watched Blair stand up as he rode around the track, kicking everyone’s butt in the process. Blair singlehandedly popularized stand-up riding, first for snocross and then for the entire sport.
As soon as the snowmobile media saw Blair at Duluth in 1997, he was the most popular photo subject by FAR. Everyone wanted to capture his magic.
Blair put his stamp of authority at Duluth in 1997, and immediately became a force that confounded all of his competitors.
Not only did Blair ride completely different than any other snowmobile racers at Duluth in 1997, he looked different. Yep, he was the complete package that turned the snowmobile world upside-down.
When the snocross tour hit Canterbury that same 1997-98 season, Blair was destroying the field and dropping all kinds of finishline maneuvers to the awe-struck crowd.
Blair at Canterbury, this time in 1999.
Yep, Blair was and is Superman.