The I-500 is a race of beauty and grace.
A racer hurling full-tilt down a windswept ditch – his/her sled dancing off the tips of drifts as a white plume of snow dust stretches behind – is pure beauty for any fan of cross-country.
But like any form of racing, cross-country can deliver heartbreak and cruel witness; where a racer is unceremoniously ripped from the sublime and tossed like a rag-doll into a cartwheeling mess of plastic and pain.
I captured three sequences of such cruelty on the first day of this year’s I-500, less than one mile from start line and at just the fourth ditch approach of the race.
I offer these three sequences not as ridicule to the three drivers, but rather a testament to the nerves, vulnerability and gamble involved in cross-country racing. I know exactly what it feels like to be “this” racer, as I too offered wide-eyed onlookers a spectacular cartwheel of sled and body just one mile from this very spot during the first day of the 2008 edition.
The first sequence involved Spencer Kadlec, a top pro who regularly runs in or near the top-10. Kadlec survived this crash and went on to finish the day in 5th place overall, 3:30 behind Brian Dick. A stuck clutch on day two would end Kadlec’s I-500.
This next sequence involves Yamaha Pro racer Matt Piche, who has had his fair share of get-offs this season.
Like Kadlec, Piche would settle into a nicer ryhthm after this crash and finish the day in eighth, six minutes behind race leader Brian Dick.
I didn’t hear what ended Piche’s race on the second day, so if anyone knows please post it in the comments.
Piche’s was the least spectacular of the three crashed I photographed, which is suppose is some small consolation.
The third, final and most damaging crash belonged to Semi Pro Gunnar Arlaud.
Unfortunately for Arlaud, his friends were parked at this very spot and saw the whole episode (I know that if I crashed in front of my friends, I would NEVER be allowed to forget it). On the flip side, those same friends helped him duct tape his hood back onto the sled.
Arlaud dodged one bullet when, a moment after his crash, he was almost clipped by Arctic Cat’s Garret Johnson.
The worse thing that happened to Arlaud though wasn’t the crash: it was the slowness with which he arose and tried to move his sled.
Unfortunately, it was too slow: About one minute after the crash, his sled still sitting in the middle of the ditch (he was picking up the GoPro camera that jettisoned off his helmet and surveying the sled), Jay Ilstrup unwittingly plowed into Arlaud’s sled, peeling off the hood in the process.
I guess he could only dodge one bullet?
At this point his friends waved their arms to warn oncoming racers, then helped him move and fix his sled.
Arlaud eventually got going and finished the day. But he didn’t finish the race, as he succumbed to something else on day two.