Ahhh… the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial Pine Lake cross-country! As the first cross-country race of the 2012-13 season (and the inaugural event for the upstart USXC race organization), this classic venue once again provided answers to compelling questions that linger prior to the start of every race season.
Like, which machines appear fast and durable? Not surprisingly, news that the Polaris racer is pumping out 140-hp has brought concern to Arctic Cat race personnel because, if true, that would be enough to offer a speed advantage over the Sno Pro 600.
How about Yamaha and Ski-Doo?
Which racers are ready? Will a new name emerge amongst the established stars?
I headed to Pine Lake (in Gonvick, Minn.) on Sunday with the aim to answer these and other questions.
With only a skiff of snow (defined by Kirk Hibbert as 1-in. or less), Pine Lake necessitated slammed suspensions and plenty of traction in the form of sharpened pix and carbides.
Such set-up was pretty standard throughout the 1980s and 90s. But as lake racing took a hiatus for the past decade or so, this kind of set-up naturally fell out of favor. What I saw at Pine Lake indicated that racers/crews have learned a lot about going fast on ice, however, I saw lots of pitched-sideways-through-the-corners style that suggests there’s more to learn about setting up modern rider-forward machines (with 1.25-in. tracks) to rail around the corners.
In fact, during several discussions on Sunday, multiple people and I wondered aloud what would happen if Kirk, Brad Pake, Jeremy Fyle and other previous-generation fast men showed up on a ’97 ZR 440 and raced against the modern warriors.
The modern 600 sleds are faster but, if my memory serves correct, they don’t yet go around the corners with the same slotcar-like perfection.
First races of the season are chance to see old friends. One of the first guys I ran into was Chad Dyrdahl. A member of the Clearwater Trailblazers club and the eldest son of Gerald Dyrdahl, Chad is integral to this event. It was good to see him and his mom, Sharon.
Likewise it was good to see longtime Arctic Cat rider/racer/volunteer Robert Johnson, who has been involved with racing (especially in this area) for as long as I can remember. Robert’s son Dan works at Arctic Cat (and was a great racer in his day). Strong ties to the company for this family.
No it wasn’t a DRIFT Clothing convention at Pine Lake. These are some of the USXC crew, who were having a little powwow inbetween races.
Thankfully a good number of former USCC crew work with the new USXC circuit, along with new blood. Snowmobile races only happen because people like these have a passion and dedicated to provide them. Thanks to all of you!
Two former USCC-now-USXC officials who deserve a lot of credit for their efforts include Scott Schuster (L) and Noel Schanilec. Great guys who have been a part of snowmobile racing since before Edgar Hetteen was born. Well, almost.
USXC owner Brian Nelson was his usual self at Pine Lake, intently focused on excellence and improvement. After the race, Brian told me that he graded the effort a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.
Even with so many returning officials, starting a new race circuit is a colassal undertaking. Nelson deserves a big pat on the back for his and his crews’ efforts.
With 280 class entries, this was a great start to the season for both USXC and xc racing.
I wasn’t the only one at Pine Lake in search of answers. Kirk Hibbert (L) took a break from building his son’s race sleds to check out the action on Sunday and offer some encouragement to Wes Selby and the other Cat racers.
Wandering through the pits I came across one of my favorite sights of the day.
There, sprawled across the ice and working out of the back of a pickup truck was Team Arctic pro (and engineer and defending Pine Lake champion) Brian Dick. Even better, he and mechanic Joe Lesmeister (middle) were being assisted by Arctic Cat VP Roger Skime (left). The task? Changing hyfax.
The day previous Brian Dick finished second to Christian Bros. Racing teammate Ryan Simons in the 100-mile Pro Open class.
Finishing third in that same Pro Open final was another CBR racer, Zach Herfindahl. Sixteen-year-old Zach contested the Semi Pro class last season and had moved up (and to CBR) for this season.
The fact that he finished third in the Pro Open final was remarkable. Was it a fluke? The 100 mile Pro Stock class later this day would answer the question.
The Herfindahl name is a familiar one to Arctic Cat cross-country fans. His uncle is this guy, Tom Herfindahl. Besides being a truly great guy and the father to current xc Junior racers Blair and Marcus, Tom WAS the ace mechanic for Brad Pake during the latter’s remarkable career.
New to lake cross-country races this season is the move from timed events to heads-up racing. It’s a pretty big change for a generation of racers who have only raced against the clock, and there were a few who struggled with it, which is understandable. The great news is that there were no serious crashes or injury throughout the weekend. And the style of racing is certainly more dramatic.
On another note… seeing this 85-hp class on the line makes me wonder why no other OEMs build a sled to contest this class? It’s a shame for them and for racing.
Yamaha is contesting the Pro Open and Semi Pro open classes with a kitted Nytro featuring a vastly improved front end. Powered by the big 1000cc 4-stroke, these machines have bigtime top speed. Proving that fact was Ben Lindbom, who won the Semi Pro Open class.
Surprisingly, there appeared to be as many Yamahas racing at Pine Lake as there were Ski-Doos. Because the Yamahas aren’t stock, they’re confined to the Open classes.
While I love that fact that Arctic Cat is utterly, completely dominating cross-country in recent years, I also wish that the other OEMs would more fully fund their xc programs, if for no other reason than to grow the sport.
In all seriousness, I worry that Polaris and Ski-Doo are so seriously getting trounced that it’s easier for them to stand by the sidelines.
Ultimately though, it’s their loss, both in terms of sales and the potential for development.
While the 11-mile course at Pine Lake this year had more corners than those of the 1990s, it still had a few long straights for the sleds to stretch out and hit their top speeds.
Reports from the guys holding radar guns indicated that, in the Pro classes, the fastest top speed (112mph) was recorded by one of the modified Yamaha Nytros. The fastest Arctic Cats were hitting 108 mph while the Polaris machines were just cracking the 100-mph mark.
Erik Nymann won Sport 600 Improved and took a second in Sport 600 Stock.
Jon Arneson had a VERY solid weekend, winning the Semi Pro Stock class, third in Masters 40-plus and fourth in Expert 85.
Longtime Team Arctic Cat racer Marty Feil scored two third-place finishes on the weekend.
CJ VandePutte looked solid in the Semi Pro class, taking sixth.
Tyler Johnsrud is poised to have another great season in Semi Pro, taking third in Stock and second in Open at Pine Lake.
For Team Arctic, Pine Lake 2012 proved that the team is a juggernaut with no serious and comprehensive competition. Of the 20 classes that ran at Pine Lake, Team Arctic won 16. Of those 16 class wins, 13 were complete sweeps of the podium. It was a historic performance worthy of legend status.
And the icing of the cake unfolded during the Pro 600 final, the last (and premier) event of the weekend:
Three rows of machines was a dramatic prelude to the 9-lap, 100-mile final. Taking the very inside, Ryan Simons was looking to backup his Open class victory the day before with a solid holeshot. Mission accomplished, as Simons took the lead into the first series of corners and across to the far end of the lake!
A couple minutes later, on the long straight back towards the starting area, Simons had established strong lead. But as we all know, such leads can evaporate in an instant during a 100-mile xc.
Hot on Simons’s snowflap was his Christian Bros. Racing teammate D.J. Ekre, who himself had a good gap on the rest of the field.
Simons and Ekre have had epic battles the past few years, and today would be no different. For the next half-dozen laps, these two maintained their gaps over the competitors while burning 10-minute lap times on the 11-mile course.
Meanwhile, a pack of other racers were sorting themselves out. Having moved up to the Pro class this year, Wes Selby was uncertain of what to expect. He cranked out fast, consistent laps and would end up finishing fourth.
There were a lot of questions and expectations when 2-time Eagle River World Champ and Soo 500 strongman Gary Moyle indicated his intentions to race at Pine Lake. Racing a heavier stock machine and turning right proved a big challenge for Moyle, however he got into the finals and logged a lot of laps in advance of his bigger goals (Eagle River and the Soo) later this season.
Brother’s Motorsports/FOX Shox pro Ryan Greening had a solid groove going in the Pro stock final until a blown belt took him out.
The Kallock racing family was out in force at Pine Lake, with Marissa taking second in Jr. Girls 10-15; father Tom busting out the ZR to take second in Classic IFS; Timmy netting a fourth and fifth in the two Semi Pro classes; and Cody (pictured above) finishing ninth in Pro Stock.
Gabe Bunke was the top finishing Polaris driver in the Pro classes, taking fifth. Like the other Polaris riders, he was down on top speed.
Simons on the other hand had all kinds of speed and handling. This was just his third-ever ice race, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching him carve up the course with speed and precision.
The mandatory 2-gallon-minimum fuel stop was a potential for drama, but the Christian Bros. Racing crew handled themselves flawlessly.
All the CBR riders came in at the same time, including Simons, Ekre, Herfindahl and Dick. Except for Dick dropping his fuel cap, it was a problem-free affair.
In fact, it was a bit comical for a few moments when Ekre yelled to Simons that he was going to run him down.
And try he did to make good on that promise, but alas, disaster struck (again) when his engine burned down with a few laps to finish. The same thing happened during the Pro Open final the day before. Needless to say, Ekre was not happy, as he heads into the season with a big points deficit.
With Ekre out of the race and nice gap over second place, Simons put it in cruise for the last couple laps.
Conversely, Brian Dick was doing everything he could to go faster. After tangling with another racer on the first lap (which put Dick well back in the pack), he had steadily moved up until he was in third place, behind teammate Zach Herfindahl.
Their battle of cat-and-mouse played out for 4-5 laps. Speculation was that the young Herfindahl would succumb to nerves or fatigue, and that his veteran teammate would sneak by.
Apparently though nobody bothered to inform Herfindahl of such possibilities. So he continued to crank out fast, consistent laps despite the heavy pressure from Brian Dick.
In an outstanding debut in the Pro class, Herfindahl took second in Stock and third in Open. I don’t remember the last time I saw a newcomer make such a huge impression in cross-country pro class competition. For a 16-year old, Herfindahl showed a poise that is usually associated with the class elders. Indeed, Herfindahl has a very bright future.
Serious kudos to Ryan Simons as well for winning both Pro Stock and Open finals. As the high point champ the previous two years in USCC, Simons showed his intentions of winning his third title in a row.
It was a jubilant scene in the pits after the final, as the Christian Bros. Racing crew celebrated their 1-2-3 sweep of their second Pro final of the weekend.
It was a historic moment in snowmobile racing that gives me pause even now as I type this.
Herfindahl (left) and Brian Dick (right) share war stories and congratulations for each other. Brian’s dad Paul stands between them.
Of course Roger Skime was there, congratulating his racers and inspecting their machines for clues about what needs improvement.
Look close and you’ll see Roger squeezing Simons’s brake, which had turned spongy with three laps to go.
To the victor go the spoils, as well as the interviews with media and photographers.
I want to congratulate all of the racers who competed at the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial Pine Lake race. Likewise, a huge tip of the hat to all the Team Arctic racers who made this a very painful weekend for anyone wearing red or yellow.
I also want to thank USXC for a great start to the next era in cross-country racing, as well as thanking the former USCC circuit for making it possible.
The next race on the USXC calendar is Jan. 5 in Detroit Lakes. It will be another lake race, after which the series moves onto ditch and river (weather permitting).
I’ll have more to report from these upcoming events.
Thanks for reading.