Tick was there to greet us, looking all blue and buff.
Cross-country racing wasn’t the only show in Grafton on this weekend, as the ’80s band Menudo was there playing a gig.
But the big show was definitely the race. There were something in the neighborhood of 260 entries at Grafton, the third event of what looks to be an abbreviated race season (no thanks to Mother Nature).
USCC races have an awesome grassroots feel… a easy approachability that simplifies the spectating and racing. Helping make that possible is an amazing crew of USCC “people,” on of whom is Scott Schuster (R), shown here talking with Joe Lesmeister. Joe is the mechanic for Team Arctic’s Brian Dick, who had to miss Grafton because of a date with the upcoming Iron Dog.
As usual, the Christian Bros. Racing team was out in almost-full-force. Ryan Simons and D.J. Ekre are full-time cross-country racers, while Logan Christian and Cory Davis hit the USCC circuit whenever there’s no conflict with ISOC snocross races.
On Friday night Logan and Cory were roosting the Pontiac Silverdome (with Logan snatching 2nd in Pro Open!), followed by a quick flight home in time for Sunday’s cross-country.
The 20-mile Grafton course consisted of approximately 7 miles of river, followed by good ol’ midwestern ditch running.
Thankfully, a swatch of snow around 6-10 inches fell in the Grafton area a few weeks prior, providing just enough fluff to hold a “typical” cross-country. But with the sun high in the sky and temps around 20 degrees, the course deteriorated throughout the day as riders logged multiple laps in the 17 different USCC classes.
Above, Cody Mathees drops down onto the river to start his first lap in the Semi Pro Improved class.
The river was down to an ice groove early in the day. For this old race-fan, hearing the scream of the engines roll through the woods, getting louder until the sled comes into view, is something that still sends shivers down my spine.
Chasing a cross-country race is incredibly fun, especially when you find little hideaway spots like this shuttered bridge. It made for some fun viewing, and a few surprised riders.
Three riders within a few seconds of each other, throttle to the bar and trying to stay in the ice groove.
Arctic Cat’s commitment to cross-country is plainly evident, with riders stacking the deck in the 85-hp classes aboard the Sno Pro 500, plus the most riders in the 600cc classes aboard the Sno Pro 600. It’s a big contrast to snocross, where cubic dollars speak the loudest and Arctic Cat has a far-quieter voice.
From what I gather, the big number of Team Arctic racers comes not from giving away free sleds and parts allowances, but from simply being committed to the USCC circuit and building sleds specifically for cross-country racing.
One key example is the Sno Pro 500, which absolutely owns the 85-hp classes in XC because of its managable power and ease to prep and ride.
Above, Sara Larson is a regular on the USCC circuit, having started in the 120 classes before graduating to the full-sized machines. Her family loves racing and they’ve found a home with both Cat and USCC. Good people!
Another family whose blood is green and dream revolve around windswept ditches, is the Feils of Bemidji, Minn., area. Here young Matt is ripping down the ditch in the Junior 10-13 class and sporting an Arcticinsider decal (thanks Matt!).
The Bute family is yet another who has supported cross-country and Arctic Cat for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty certain that Jolene Bute is the winningest woman snowmobile racer of all time. And she added to her winning tradition yet again at Grafton.
Jolene’s nephew, Erik, is a mainstay of the Semi Pro class, finishing ninth at Grafton.
Arne Rantanan nailed his first win of the season at Grafton, taking the Expert 85 Improved class. Nice job, Arne!
And Lance Efteland won the Expert 85 class, his first win of the season.
Normally a snocrosser, Wes Selby ran strong on the ice in Detroit Lakes, Minn., a couple weeks ago, and decided to give Grafton a shot. He was smoking-fast, winning the Semi Pro Improved class early in the day and looking like the favorite for the Semi Pro 600 class. But the brutal race course took it’s toll on Selby’s sled and he DNF. Bummer.
The guy to beat in the Semi Pro classes this season, Jordan Torgerson notched a second in Improved and a third in SP 600.
Garth Reinking notched a win the Sport 85 class.
Chad Lian caught and passed Cory Davidson in the Vet 30-plus class and was on his way to a win when…he ran out of fuel not too far from the finish line. Lian limped it in to finish second, no doubt bummed out about the costly mistake.
Jon Arneson led an Arctic Cat sweep of the podium in the 40-plus class. I myself have often used duct tape to create a race number, so I appreciate that Jon does the same.
Boris Mahlich has won at least one class at each of the USCC races this season. In Grafton he topped Sport 600 Improved.
Kelsey Pladson scorched to a win in the Junior Girls 10-15 class with a time that would have put her in third place in the Women’s class. I have a feeling Kelsey will notch lots of big results going forward.
Benjamin Langaas is another Team Arctic racer whose been winning all season in USCC. At Grafton he won Junior 14-17 and took second in Sport 600.
A shout out to Zach Herfindahl who, having just turned 16 a few days before the race, jumped into the Semi Pro 600 class and scored an impressive second-place.
A cool 80-mph dance down a whooped-out ditch is one of the things what makes cross-country racing so dang cool.
Likewise, launching off of the many approaches, like Jay Illstrup is doing here, is a defining characteristic of midwestern cross-country.
Either Nathan Moritz is really into tail-standing and ditch-banging, or he cooked the landing of this ditch approach. No, he didn’t save it.
Since USCC founder Pat Mach’s sad passing last season, former Team Arctic racer Jesse Strege has stepped in as USCC race director. Jesse and the whole USCC crew do a great job, and I think everyone is grateful for their commitment to keep cross-country racing alive and ticking.
Pro 600 is the premier USCC class, and the defending class champ is this guy, Ryan Simons of the Christian Bros. Racing team. Simons scored a second in the Pro 600 Improved class to begin the day in Grafton. And he was looking like he’d finish second again in the Pro 600 class when, halfway through the fifth/final lap, he nailed a rock at wide-open-throttle. Simons was shaken but okay, however, his sled was totalled.
Simons’ CBR teammate Cory Davis finished third in the Pro 600 Improved class and was also looking fast in the 600 class before the brutal race course took its toll on his sled.
The Christian Bros. Racing team suffered another disappointment when Logan Christian broke half-way through the Pro 600 final.
Sixteen pros started, but only seven would finish. It was truly a rough, nasty course.
Another pro who didn’t see the finish line was last year’s Semi Pro champ, Ryan Greening.
One Pro who ran fast and clean all day was Cody Kallock, eventually finishing sixth.
Without question, the fastest guy at Grafton was D.J. Ekre of the Christian Bros. team. Fresh off of his second-place finish (with teammate Ryan Simons) at the Soo 500 Enduro, Ekre wasn’t in the mood for anything other than first.
Ekre is an experienced champ with oodles of wins in his long career. He’s figured out that narrow zone of blazing speed AND smart line line choice AND sled preservation. And at Grafton he found the perfect balance of all three.
Ekre chose to take fuel prior to the fifth and final lap of Pro 600. Here Cory Berberich gives him the gas and reassures Ekre that he has a solid lead.
With a comfortable margin ahead of second, Ekre rode a conservative final lap to win the Grafton 100 by nearly two minutes over second place.
At the finish line Ekre is congratulated by teammates and fellow racers for having ridden the perfect race.
And once again Team Arctic racers and crews delivered an outstanding performance in USCC, taking 13 (of 17) class wins. I’d call that true terrain domination. Congratulations to these and all other other racers on the USCC circuit.
Thanks for reading.