Say “goodbye” to these stunning and tricked-out Pro Open mod sleds in snocross this coming season.
They’re gone, replaced by Stock sleds with raspier, slightly louder exhaust.
That sound you hear? Sadly, it’s not the howl of 160-hp mod engines and twin tuned pipes. Instead, it’s the proverbial road to hell, being paved with good intentions.
This past weekend, some of the powers*** who guide snocross racing implemented a new Pro Open class rule for the upcoming season, in which these riders will race essentially stock sleds that are equipped with loud(er) mufflers. No engine mods, no changes to the pipe, no chassis changes, just a louder can.
This will sound familiar if you saw the Pro Lite class this past season, which ran under the same rules. Pro Lite will again race stock-with-loud-mufflers again this upcoming season.
The MAJOR difference between Pro Lite and Pro Open sleds for 2018? Well, the Pro Open sleds are allowed to “obscure” their headlights, but not remove them (don’t ask, it’s a long story for another time).
What this means for racing fans who throw down their entertainment dollars to attend a snocross national (including extra fees to walk the pits), is that the only tricked-out, visually modified snowmobiles parked outside of race trailers or braaaping on the track will be kids’ Champ 120 sleds. Makes sense that the most exotic snowmobiles will be raced by 6-year olds, right?
There are many layers to this onion, and this story isn’t going to peel back every single one. But I would like to tackle a few.
First, why this happened.
From what I’ve gathered, this all started because circuits are concerned about the lack of entries in the Pro Open class where, this past season, there were barely enough racers to have two heat races.
The circuits’ belief is that would-be Pro Open teams/racers are intimidated by ultra-exotic Open sleds that (they believe) are only available to a handful of racers; and the cost of going Pro Open racing is too high.
In their minds, a switch to Stock class sleds in Pro Open solves all these problems: It levels the playing field and reduces costs; therefore, more racers are going to jump into the Pro Open class.
Circuits have this ass-backwards. Here’s why:
First, I call BS on the premise that racers aren’t jumping into the Open class because they believe there’s unequal equipment. Racers aren’t moving up because:
1. There’s a huge difference in talent/experience between the top Pro Open racers and the next tier of Pro Open racers. Likewise, there’s another jump in talent/experience between the second tier Open racers and those in Pro Lite. We’ve watched what happens when most Pro Lite racers make the jump to Open: they get chewed up and spit out the back.
This isn’t a knock on these racers, rather, it’s an acknowledgement of just how talented, experienced and prepared the very top Pro racers are. Changing the rules to Stock sleds isn’t going to reduce the talent, experience and preparedness of the top racers one bit.
2. Some OEMs reward Pro Lite and Sport class racers to win Lite and Sport races and championships. Why would these racers forgo the riches – as well as the television time devoted to them by the race circuits – to move into a higher class and then struggle to qualify for the finals? They won’t.
Second, why the new rule changes will do very little to reduce costs and grow participation.
Now that the top Pros will race stock sleds, the cost of those sleds is going to skyrocket for EVERYONE (including Sport, Junior and the proverbial newcomers). That’s because in their quest to win, the OEMs will build production sleds with more exotic, lighter materials and more time spent on the development dyno. In the history of snowmobile racing, when the Pros race true stock sleds, the OEMs produce ever more sophisticated (and costly) stock sleds. It’s always been this way.
That translates into increased costs. Maybe not for the top Pro teams (which, I remind you, consists of about 15 total racers) who get free sleds, but for the hundreds of Junior and Sport riders who actually comprise the foundation of racing. And who pay for their snowmobiles.
So what the circuits just did was to increase the cost of race sleds for ALL snocross racers in order to save a few grand for 15 riders.
I agree with the sentiment that the cost of going snocross racing is too high, but the way to fix the situations isn’t to make rules that will force OEMs to build more expensive stock sleds.
If the national circuits want to reduce the costs of racing, let them start by:
* Eliminating race locations that cost piles of money for teams to get to and that don’t bring in many fans;
* Canceling races if there isn’t adequate snow (or if it’s a mudfest), rather than having a race that ends up destroying engines, tracks, skidframes and more;
* Create production sled rules that require EPA compliancy, which will make it possible for racers to sell their machines at a decent price at the end of the race season;
* Build National race tracks that cater to 120, Junior and Sport class racers, and revise the daily schedule to accommodate it, which might mean scheduling Pro classes on Saturday, then “switching” the track to a 120/Junior/Sport layout and focusing on these classes for Sunday. Watching the feeder class kids pound into monstrous jumps sized and spaced for more powerful sleds lap-after-lap does not look fun. And it isn’t, according to kids I’ve talked to. Make their tracks fun and designed for lower power, and these classes will look far more appealing to would-be racers. Conversely, the “Pro track” could then be made without consideration for the small classes, and thus be more fun/challenging for the racers and more entertaining for the spectators.
The last point I’ll make is this: If the race circuits want to grow the sport, I believe they need to invert their thinking (rather than the starts). The best way to grow anything is to focus on the foundation. For a race circuit, that means the Junior and Sport classes, not the Pro Open riders.
I’m pretty fired up about this whole deal. In part because I want to see true Pro Open sleds, but mainly because I think the rule change will do the exact opposite of its intention.
I believe the circuits and aftermarket group are trying to do the right thing for the sport, they just have it wrong.
I fully expect the cream to do what it always does: rise to the top. The Pro Open class will struggle to fill two heats and the same few guys will continue to win.
But everyone else is going to pay for it. And the fans won’t get to see the badass mod sleds oozing custom trickery.
***Due to a procedural hiccup, the Pro Open sled rule change was made by the race circuits and the aftermarket advisory group, not by any OEMs or ISR itself. Polaris and some of the circuits pushed it through. Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo and ISR were very much against this major change.
Worse, rules like this are supposed to go into effect for the FOLLOWING race season, not the upcoming one. The circuits violated their own rules on this one.