When the sun set on this past summer, so too did the career of a truly remarkable snowmobiule racer who has competed for more than 35 consecutive years: Dale Lindbeck.
If you grew up going to races in the Midwest or reading Snow Week magazine, you know Lindbeck as a Team Arctic racer who raced in snocross, ice LeMans, cross-country and watercross, where he’s a 4-time World Champion.
At 57 years old, the married father of one who lives in Chisago City, Minn., will stop chasing checkered flags and start chasing new life experiences.
Dale has been one of my all-time favorite personalities since I started covering this sport as a journalist in 1989, and he was gracious to let me interview him about his career.
AI: Dude, you’ve been racing for what seems like forever. When did it all begin?
Lindbeck: I grew up in White Bear Lake, Minn., a few blocks from where Jim Dimmerman lived. I was the youngest of six in a family that didn’t have much money. My dad was against me racing or even riding dirt bikes, but for some reason was OK with snowmobiles. We had an old Evinrude, with the understanding that I could ride it if I could start it. That happened beginning in about the third-grade.
I was 12 years old when I went to the Dayco Holiday Spectacular oval race in Alexandria, Minn. I saw the factory teams there, and that was the spark.
My first race was in 1981 or ’82, racing lake races in CCC [Central Cross-Country circuit, in Minnesota]. You’d probably consider it Ice Lemans-style. The announcer was Lyle Hazeltine, the “tiltin’ Hilton” guy who announced at Hay Days forever. It was throttle-to-the-handlebar, slamming through the bumps-style racing, especially for me on a 1979 Yamaha SRX. I raced the SRX, then a few years later I got a Phazer followed by an SRV.
My cousin’s dealership, Century Powersports, had Yamaha and Cat. I started with Yamaha because I had the bikes. After Cat came back into business, I got on the Team Arctic race program with a 1986 Cougar.
AI: That was the beginning of a pretty varied race career. Give the snapshot of what you’ve done since.
Lindbeck: I moved on to MRP snocross racing in the mid-1980s and 1990s, after teaming up with Jerry Dillon, who eventually owned MRP. Later I teamed up with Aaron Scheele and did some ice lemans. I raced a few of the old ISOC cross-countries when that was the premier circuit. I was all over the map.
I raced Eagle River for the first time in the mid-1980s and finished second, literally racing out of the back of my truck. I remember it feeling kind of boring compared to ice Lemans, which had about 10 turns per lap, because [at Eagle] we had all kinds of time between the corners (laughs).
I switched to USSA Ice Ovals in the late 1980s. I got a Wildcat and built it into an F-III sled. It was pretty rough, which is understandable considering I was still pretty new racing and just working out of my garage. T/S Racing had built like 10 chassis that year, which were WAY ahead of anything I knew. I wrecked my sled at a race in North Dakota and ended up getting one of those T/S chassis. I think Roger Skime made that deal happen. Either way, it was a huge change, because I finished second in Formula III at the next race.
I remember one year at Eagle River, seeing all the famous racers I’d read about in Snow Week. In one class I was battling with Wayne Nicholson. I was so in awe and thrilled to see him that I waved while passing him down the straightaway, during the race. Many years later, after becoming friends with Wayne, he told me that when I did the wave, he thought I was being so cocky. (Laughter) The truth was that I was really just thrilled to be racing with a guy I’d read about for years in Snow Week. We both laugh about it now.
Racing goes through cycles. I tended to follow what was popular at the time.
AI: I like that you were totally a hardcore independent racer, doing it on the cheap.
Lindbeck: I didn’t have any choice. I had a 1984 El Camino SS. I’d drive it to the races with my sled and carbide grinder in the back. I did a lot of racing out of the back of a truck. Even in some of my last years of winter racing, in the early 2000s when I was in Pro Vet, which ran only on Sundays, I’d show up race morning with the sled in the truck.
AI: You haven’t mentioned watercross yet. That’s where you had the most success. How did that start?
Lindbeck: The first year of F-III ice ovals at Alexandria, watercross legend Mark Maki came up to me. He was starting with ice racing and in the heavy learning phase. You know… pulling carbides out of the package and putting them straight onto the skis. He didn’t know you had to sharpen them. So I helped him grind his carbides, then got him set up with better studs. We became friends.
He said I should try watercross, because I already had all this stuff from F-III sleds that could be used to build a watercrosser. The next summer, my friend Pete Behm and I went to Grantsburg. It looked fun, so the next year I came and raced it. And of course I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. My sled had all the power but none of the handling. I signed up for Pro because, you know, I’m a pro (laughter). That was 1988 and I’ve gone back ever since.
AI: What are some of your career highlights?
Lindbeck: I’m most proud of my watercross career, of winning four World Championship titles [1996, 2001, 2005 and 2013], and for bringing Arctic Cat to that arena.
I finished second overall in USSA Formula III points one year. I qualified in the top-4 for that class at Eagle River one year.
As you mentioned, I was always an independent racer and never had the big factory support. The year that Sturgeon and Dinger got hurt [1991, -Ed.], I was given the opportunity to race on the T/S Racing program, on Sturgeon’s sleds, until he recovered and came back late in the season. That was a highlight.
Teaming up with Iceman Scheele was a highlight. I learned so much from racing with him. I got a lot better racing and testing.
AI: Where have you had the most fun during all these experiences?
Lindbeck: Probably the early years of watercross. It was relatively new; everyone in the circuit helped you. It was a driver-run circuit for the drivers and it didn’t matter what brand you were on, especially if you were a new guy. Nobody had secrets; everyone was trying to grow the sport. It’s still that way. At the end of the day, when the racing’s over, it’s potluck dinners with everyone. It’s a friendly and family-oriented get-together, like a family picnic. That’s pretty unique to watercross.
AI: What was racing F-III like, back when that class was just starting out?
Lindbeck: The idea around the class was to take each brand’s biggest musclesled and race it as a mod sled. Well, with a modified motor. Those sleds had gobs of power but were heavy and didn’t corner so great at first, so class seemed to evolve and change each week as people figured out how to make them corner.
I was doing it while carrying a full time job. I’d test on a private pond at night…one a 150-hp sled that weighed a ton and didn’t have a headlight! Just set up some orange cones and do laps. It’s kind of crazy to think about now, but it probably helped me with racing in snow dust, because I was learning how to race without seeing the course. (Laughs) I learned not to panic.
It was a pretty thrilling time. The Arctic Cats always cornered really well. It was a big, heavy piece of machinery. The other brand sleds were always pitched sideways, but the Cats handled like slot cars, going wherever you pointed them. It was so powerful, just a gas to ride. I really loved that racing.
AI: How did you start and stay with Arctic Cat?
Lindbeck: The company was getting back in the swing of business and were building the race program just as I was starting to get serious about racing. My teammate Jerry Dillon had already been with them for a year and it looked like they’d have a better long-term approach to racing than Yamaha.
In 1987 I raced an AFS El Tigre while Jerry was on a Pantera. They handled so great compared to everything else! It was really fun and solidified how cool it could be to go racing.
Once you get to know the people at Arctic Cat, you become an Arctic Cat guy. There are so many good people there, that’s why I stayed with the brand.
AI: You always raced while carrying a year-round, full-time job, right?
Lindbeck: Yeah…it was all…busy. (Long pause) It was hard.
In the early years, racing out of my converted bread van, my dad found a guy who was selling a bed that had been in a Winnebago RV. We got it and put it in the truck. Every week, I’d wrench on my sleds until we had to leave for race, then sleep in the van on the way to the race and getting there just in time to register. Always running on a few hours of crappy sleep.
There was no working out, no eating right and being in shape. Instead it was work at my real job 40 hours a week while trying to get the sleds ready, do some testing, repair the truck and the million other things that have to get done.
I wasn’t the only guy living that life. It was fun but it was also really hard.
AI: What do you think the difference was between your equipment and the stuff that Brian Sturgeon, Mike Houle or Tim Bender had?
Lindbeck: I don’t really know what the difference was between my sleds and the factory sleds. T/S did a great job building sleds that the regular guys could buy and race well.
I’m not the guy who says, “I’d have done great with a factory sled.” Because I don’t really know if that stuff was better or not.
When I raced in Sturgeon’s spot for that season he was hurt, I had a team of people working on my stuff. I could actually sleep on race nights, and everything still got done on the sleds. THAT was HUGE difference.
There were a handful of guys I raced against who didn’t have to work full-time in the winter. That would have been pretty nice.
AI: Okay, answer a few questions with the first thing that pops into your mind…the gnarliest thing you’ve ever seen in a race?
Lindbeck: Easy, and it was only a few years ago. I went to Siberia Russia with SledHead 24/7 and Paul Mack. There are a hundred crazy things I could tell you about that trip, but I’ll keep it to something that’s printable.
We get there and it’s -25 below zero, and we’re lined up for a cross-country race against some top European snocrossers plus a bunch of Inuit wearing caribou skins. They’re thinking it’s a picnic and we’re worried about survival.
It’s literally a race going across the country – four 50-mile loops in the tundra – barely wide enough for one sled.
One of Inuit drivers got stuck. Jim Kendall, another American who came with us, got off his sled and helped pull the guy out. The guy ran straight over top of Kendall and just kept going! Later in the race Kendall got stuck and a different Inuit came up from behind and simply ran him to continue. Those dudes didn’t care what kind of damage they did, they only wanted to win some money! And poor Jim ended up with a concussion.
I had no business to being there and my only goal was to NOT test there health care system and to get back home. I wouldn’t even think about going back to that situation again. It was an experience, but I wouldn’t call it fun.
AI: Funniest thing you’ve ever experienced at a race?
Lindbeck: (Long pause) I almost hate to say this, because he’s a legend who’s accomplished pretty much everything, but I saw Kirk Hibbert unintentionally do a backflip once at Spirit Mountain. He was such an icon, and that moment was a realization that he could also be human like the rest of us.
AI: All-time favorite race sled?
Lindbeck: Anything with a lot of horsepower. My current mod watercrosser has around 200hp, It’s a hoot. I have a new M8000 on order and I’m hoping that will be me new favorite sled.
AI: All-time favorite play sled?
Lindbeck: I really liked the 2000 ZR 440 Sno Pro race sled. It felt like a 125cc motocross bike: light, nimble, and you could make it do whatever you wanted.
AI: Craziest racer you competed against?
Lindbeck: Hmmm, it has to be Paul Mack. What can I say about him that’s printable? (Laughter) Here’s a Mack story from that same Russia trip that I mentioned before.
Seven of us Team USA racers were there competing in one of two classes. One class was a regular Pro class and the other a Utility class. Paul figured out that both classes paid the same, but that most people were probably going to be in the Pro class, so he talks me into joining him in the Utility class. You know, to make some money!
Paul lined up this whole trip and was supposed to get Tucker Hibbert and Ross Martin to come race. But instead it’s an old watercrosser, an old cross-country guy and a vet hillclimber. Not quite the A-Team. (Laughs)
We hauled a lot of our own parts there, like carbides, windshields, hand gauntlets and skis. Of course, Paul being Paul, he had Polaris totally set up a utility sled with a snocross suspension, which he then took off and had ME haul to Siberia when I flew over.
So we’re there, in the middle of Siberia, where there is no trail riding and no luxury sleds. Pretty much everything there is a utility sled that they use for towing dead caribou, and they’re damn good at riding those sleds.
They’re wearing animal furs. And here we are, Team USA, wearing all this fancy neon gear. It was a huge contrast and it’s setting up as an epic battle. And there is A LOT of money to win this race, with live TV coverage, big military helicopters flying around, bands, dancing…it was a pretty big deal, especially for the locals.
The Russians wanted to have the upper hand and throughout the week you could tell they were pulling a few shenanigans to set up a win.
Well, the race happens and Paul wins. And afterwards the young Inuit who finished second complained that Paul had cheater parts, which might or might not be the case. (Laughter)
So Paul, in front of the crowd and cameras, puts his arm around the kid and asks, “What’s it like getting beat by a guy who’s older than your dad?”
Everyone busts out in laughter! The kid is literally speechless. And just like that, everyone forgets about the cheater parts and Paul keeps the win.
Paul is so damn slick, he has a way of squeaking through situations that would otherwise create an international incident.
AI: That’s awesome! I want to be serious for a moment and ask why you’re hanging up your race number?
Lindbeck: (Long pause) I’ve dragged my wife around the country for 30-some years, going to races. I can’t even tell you how many nights I’ve been in the shop instead of with her and the other people in my life. In the past couple years I’ve been to two funerals for people my age. It’s time.
I’ve accomplished as much as I can in watercross. It’s time to do some different things.
This was the 29th year of watercross racing for me, the perfect time to call it an end.
I don’t have to wake up to rattling exhaust pipes in the pits. My wife tells me there are actually places to go to with the motorhome that AREN’T race venues! (Laughs)
AI: I get it. I’ll bet you’ve raced for more consecutive years than anyone else in the sport right now.
Lindbeck: Hmmm, I wonder…that might be true.
AI: Who are some of the people who were important to your career and that you’d like to thank?
Lindbeck: My wife Char for hanging around this long. My son DJ. My mechanic, Jimmy Butler. Mike Kloety from Arctic Cat.
And my teammates from over the years: Jerry Dillon, Aaron Scheele, Michael Richter and Joe Kuehn. I’ve appreciated all of them.
AI: How about sponsors?
Lindbeck: My sponsors now are Arctic Cat and Speedwerx, Waconia Farm Supply, Century Power Sports, Millenium Technologies, Lettertech Graphics, Sam’s Marine and Performance, Frog Z Skins and Skinz Protective Gear.
AI: Without racing to consume all your free time and extra money, what are your future recreational plans?
Lindbeck: Besides camping in the RV? I had my first side-by-side ride recently and it was a blast. I could see doing that for fun in the future. Char and I both golf, so we’ll do more of that.
We’ll still go to some races, whether it’s cars or boats or whatever. You can be sure I’ll be at Grantsburg.
It’s too easy to keep racing when you have a sled staring at you, so I sold my mod sled to an upcoming Semi Pro. I’ll probably help him out a bit. I want to see him do well and see the sled do well.
It’s not easy quitting, otherwise would have done it years ago. I didn’t cry about any of this until the sled actually left my house.
AI: Tell me a Roger Skime story.
Lindbeck: That guy is an idol to me. He’s had so much influence on this sport and Arctic Cat. I see him at events, he’s always so kind and nice. You would never know he’s a legend.
The first time I displayed my Mod sled at Hay Days, he came up to me and asked if the rope on my sled was for tying up to the dock when I come in from a race. (Laughter)
But at the moment he asked it, I thought he was being serious! So I responded, “No, it’s for retrieving the sled. All watercross sleds have them in case they sink.”
It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized he was joking with me.
So…Roger, I’d like a do-over on the question. And this time I’ll try to respond with an answer that’s as funny as your question.
AI: Dale, you’ve been a great ambassador for Team Arctic for all these years. Thanks for all that you’ve done for the sport and Arctic Cat.
Lindbeck: Thanks for saying that. I’ve really enjoyed it all.
From a 1991 issue of Snow Week magazine and its coverage of a USSA oval race in Antigo, Wis.
An Arctic Cat ad from 1988-89 featuring Lindbeck and other top racers.
Dale, seated, flanked by his brother Bill, who helped with a lot of wrenching over the years.
Lindbeck enjoying a USSA Formula III win and the spoils that go along with it.
Lindbeck family-style racing with his wife Char and son DJ.
Getting the cover of Snow Week!
Holy $#!T Batman, that Lindbeck dude can FLY! According to Dale, the IWA watercross circuit wanted to amp-up the excitement level one season with a jumping contest. Entertaining as heck, but it was quickly scrubbed because racers were wrecking stuff.
Thanks for reading!