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HomeFeaturesInverted Thinking: Say Goodbye to Mod Sleds in Snocross

Inverted Thinking: Say Goodbye to Mod Sleds in Snocross

Pro Open Snocross sleds, when they were truly Open. Photo by

Pro Open Snocross sleds, when they were truly Open. Photo by

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.

Pro Open Snocross sleds, when they were truly Open. Photo by

Pro Open Snocross sleds, when they were truly Open. Photo by



  1. I couldn’t agree with you more ! ISOC lost my son as a racer because they didn’t care about the kids safety like they should have. Now they lost me as a fan for removing the Mods from the Circuit. what a shame !!!

  2. So, Pro Open and Pro Lite are both running 600cc motors? The only difference being no headlights? Why not allow the Open class to run 800cc (stock) motors to at least differentiate who’s on the track?

    In regards to the health of the race program. They really, really need to follow the snow. It’s no surprise the OEMs have as the mountain market is probably the only market that’s growing YoY.

    Snocross, like many other motorsports, are popular spectator sports. There’s not that many outdoor spectator sports in the dead of winter. So, I think they really need to dig a little deeper and grow the sport there. If they have 10k people there on the race weekend, I can tell you for damn sure you’re going to have exceptionally talented moto guys riding sleds and bringing sponsors over with them.

  3. I am so bummed with this new direction. As a snocross super-fan I want only the best for the sport, it’s racers, it’s promotors and us fans…but…when you start creating rules solely for the purpose of manipulating the outcome of a competitive event…you are walking on a very slippery slope.

  4. This is baffling and mind blowing on so many levels and just pisses me off. These people have their heads up their a$$es. To annoyed to write more.

  5. I wish they would’ve brought back pro stock, pro lite open, and sport open! The races were more fun to go to and watch when we had all these classes. Stock sleds and mod sleds for everybody! The tracks are also way to much like supercross tracks lately. This is snocross not supercross on snow! I have friends whose kid used to race, the biggest grip was the dangerous tracks. This years X games was an absolute joke from a fans stand point. Impossible to watch live and the track was an insult to what snocross at the X games use to be. Its not the highlight of the year like it was and it the sport needs to move on from it if ESPN doesn’t care anymore. On a positive note the racing this year was some of most competitive I’ve seen in a decade. I love the livestreaming and prefer watching the races live versus the edited show on cbs sports. The sport needs a jolt if its going to survive and continue to draw new racers and fans. I think this rule change is a partial fix but just like anything snowmobiling a snowy winter seems to be the cure all!

  6. So Polaris and some other race circuits pushed this through WTF? The Pro Open class sleds was why I watched sno cross. Now we are gunna see Tucker, Tremblay, Christian, etc all run the same sleds as the Pro Lites, what BS man just with a little louder exhaust note?

    I understand that the pro open sleds are expensive, but to eliminate the mod sleds is totally DUMB. No more big air and fast racing which will turn off fans.

    I love the sport, but they just SHOT THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT BIG TIME.

  7. First off I’ll state the rule should’ve been 600 pro lite and 800 pro (open) stockers. The OEM’s pretty much only have a 600 and 800 market for consumers so they should show case that; “win on Sunday sell on Monday” Second OEM’s would be nuts to put exotic metals and carbon into chassis or suspension components, they WILL lose money for this small of a build.
    The point of the EPA is also one I can not follow. People are buying the cross country and snocross sleds anyway and then using them on the trails, no one is regulating the exhaust but they are looking at the noise levels (which the EPA doesn’t care to monitor only Wisconsin DNR cares) Aftermarket components should be allowed to some extent. I still remember the woody’s titanium stud issue from years ago, if you could afford them good for you! But where that rule of adding components to make things better is a long fought discuss to be had later.
    The pipeline of drivers is all but dried up and i think that has more to do with regional circuits that don’t exist. Don’t know too many regional level racers stepping up to race the nationals at Deadwood or Colorado but out EAST there looks to be a healthy pipe line of riders.
    How about some more flash to entice the crowd of people that are interested in possible racing. Show a check for winning and show off the availability of funds for outside sponsorship programs and the OEM’s contingency programs, guarantee that knowledge would help entice people to race.
    Last but least….the notion of only a few select riders and teams that put on a “A” caliper program is what is causing some to quit in rising up the ranks. I feel that most of the groups I was apart of in the past worked hard to win and that meant learning key aspects of the sports. Some look and see the guys that are always on the podium as “they will always win and that all there is too it”. How about a generation of riders and teams that start working harder learn what it takes to perform at a higher level. Every year these riders should be looking to grow and advance. And to be honest i don’t see that happening. I see timid and sand bagging going on. Heck beyond Minnesota almost 90% of the pro open riders are from out country our from out east, pretty disappointing considering the resources that are local in Minnesota for teams.

    some key points to close out as well:

    -X games needs to go away, Carlson is talking about a better event and I’ve always liked that group for the efforts they put into our sport.
    -Regionals need to grow
    -CC changes between the two pro classes
    -More OEM support spread out amongst all the classes.

    And who the heck picks Jackson Hole to host a Snocross race? Just crazy on a lot of levels to why the National circuit picks the weird sites that they do.

  8. So all the pro open sleds will be for sale now that were used just this past race season as they can’t use them anymore. I know some racers used their 2016 sleds even though the 2017’s were available to a certain extent.

    The X Games is all about revenue to the sponsors, TV broadcasters, etc. I believe the X Games sno cross should go, especially after what happened during this years 2017 X Games which many people agree the track layout design was a total joke.

    If the sport of sno cross wants to grow in the right direction, start developing the talent at the grass roots level, promote the riders when they have the talent to move into the next class. Have the OEM’s promote the lower class drivers by giving them more attention and the equipment to race. These big teams have the money available for the Pro Open riders/sleds.

    I may be done watching sno cross after watching the 2017 Duluth opener?

  9. lets have a nascar stock car race with hobby stock equipment but you can paint them to look really cool— about as smart as what the powers to be are thinking about snocross.

  10. $500k+ big rigs and paid crews traveling all over the country and $5,10, or even $15K in savings on a handful of mod sleds is going to cut costs!? Give me a break.

  11. I like the muffler rule. The kids on the trails by me seem to follow it. Dosnt have to be fast as long as its loud

  12. Thanks for the article John! I have read many of the articles and seen a lot of opinions on this. Obviously most everyone is really upset about this. The thought going through my head is this. You and the AI crew, along with many of the other driving forces in this industry are always by the fans and many more. Why don’t all you/us get a group together and see if ISR/ISOC would do entertain something else. You make some very valid points here as do many of the others in the industry. Maybe they didn’t see that, Maybe no one spoke up until the rule was set. I don’t know if you guys already did that or not? In the world of social media today, I don’t think it would take much for your/our voice to be heard.

    Am I wrong to think like this? Were you guys truly blindsided by this? These issues are exactly the reason folks need to be more involved with planning and behind the scenes in the organizations. (Don’t get me wrong, I know you can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen). Or just need to be heard better. Each article I have read about this change have all had great ideas to bring to the table. Were the ideas on the table when this was decided? Were you/we heard prior to the change? Or was there only a couple folks that decided this? Just my $.02

  13. At Lake Geneva, you hear about 4-5 big-rigged, top name teams are dropping out. Sounds like the switch is to Off-Road racing in the “off-season”
    I think a big part of racing is the noise, and now we’ll miss that too!

  14. Lost me as a racer years ago. Now we stick to traik riding our race sleds. One big reason is the lack of practice tracks. We have tons of moto/atv/utv tracks that you can practice on almost every weekend. We make an 8hr drive just to practice on a snox track. If we had practice tracks like we have moto tracks we would be at every weekend and happly pay the fee to ride. Lack of practice makes for a poor performance at race time. Leave the sleds alone and invest in tracks and the local series.

  15. My opinion = Leave Pro Open class as is.

    Bring back the Pro Stock class but with an 800 motor and noise can exhaust.

    Get ALL the right people together to make changes to any race protocol for the future so OUR sport does NOT turn into a bunch of political BS.

    Also, lets not get on the bandwagon on what snowmobile sport is better than the other or what sled brand is the best.
    We are all in this together.

    And yes, I am a diehard Arctic Cat rider.

  16. 130 hp of fury, with a can…lame. Go cross country racing…race for hours at a time rather than a few minutes. Sled is cheaper, and all you need is a pickup to drag it out of. I am serious.

  17. Just another example of the pussification of the USA. look at what has happened to NASCAR, fans leaving in droves. Did any of the rule making bodies take stock as to the wishes of the drivers? More rules, political correctness, whining, jealousy, where does it all stop? Tame the tracks a bit, put the pro’s on 800’s, the semi pro’s on the 600’s and let them have at it.

  18. Textron execs probably had their hand in it. I’m sure they would rather kill this whole snocross thing since it would make them work weekends, they would rather be golfing in their EZ-Go. Can’t wait to see the new TEXTRON trailer roll in to the races. At least we can all remember the good ol days

  19. In my opinion the reason for this new rule is to make riders with a lower skill level more competitive. I think things happen really fast when you’re on one of these Mod sleds and only a handful of the racers have the ability to ride them at a winning level.

  20. Now that Arctic Cat has been acquired by Textron, it’s not clear that Arctic Cat will even field a factory team this coming race season.
    A factory team has to cost big bucks; I can’t see how Arctic Cat is going to make a case that justifies the cost to parent Textron, especially considering the current market conditions, left over inventory in both snow and dirt businesses, and Ski Doo’s and Polaris’s dominant position in the industry.

  21. If you want real racing race/watch the USXC. That is REAL snowmobile racing. Using what mother nature gives you and getting back to the roots of real snowmobile riding!! Snocross is/was fun to watch, but I think we all agree it’s not competitive. I mean you can basically guess correctly who’s going to be on the podium for every final. Also, the way the tracks are set up now, being so narrow, it makes it almost impossible to pass. So then it comes down to the old (and boring) holeshot. If you get the holeshot you basically have the race in the bag. Cross country racing is affordable, you don’t have to travel all over the country, a blast to watch and not to mention fun. BTW, mod sleds are allowed!! #justsaying

  22. Gary, agree with you. I don’t see TEXTRON continuing the Arctic race tradition. These large companies only look at profits short term, they make decisions that bring huge profits today that kill a business long term.

  23. This a huge blow to all the manufacturers and ultimately the consumer. The race track has always been a great place to test their innovations, long before the public knows about it. I can guarantee Tuckers current mod sled has parts on it that may eventually make it to a consumer sled. I recall that his first mod sled eventually became the firecat. The pyrimidal chasis was under all the plastic of the mod sleds for many years. Now what? The testing environment is now back on the factories and their test riders. Might as well send the engineers back to the factory Monday-Friday and hire mechanics out of the dealerships for the weekends. Engineers innovate, mechanics spin wrenches. What a bonehead move.

    My prediction: Tuckers farewell tour starts in Duluth. His team will be bored and it wont be fun any longer. Maybe thats what they wanted, which is sad for the sport and industry.

  24. Well said John… I like your take on this. It seems that in any sport, an attempt to “level the playing field” only decreases the quality of the product.

    What really has me confused, is that we’re coming off of such a fantastic season of racing. Sure, Tucker didn’t win this year, but I can’t remember the last time there were three big time racers who all had a very good shot to win the points title heading into the last weekend of the season. It was high drama, and only highlights the fact that they’re trying to fix something that’s not broken.

    I appreciate that you “let them have it” a little, with your usual well thought out and well supported points and opinions. This kind of writing is why I check in with Arctic Insider on a regular basis!

  25. This is extremely disappointing. Sadly it seems snow-cross racing is on it’s way out. This might produce a few more racers, but it will also produce less spectators. It might be time for the manufacturers to pull out of ISOC, and settle all the factory teams at one track, with one race every two weeks, and NO rules other than displacement!
    The ISOC seems to want to be the farm team, well let em be a farm team.
    I will watch the farm team one weekend, and the serious pro **** the next.

  26. Let me start out and say I’ve been there raced for years, was a mechanic for a pro rider for a few years and had kids who raced. I walked away from the sport a few years back and never really looked back. Do I still enjoy it? Yes! I think this new rule isn’t going to break snocross as its already broken. Its not the cost of the pro sleds or the size of the motors they are running. It starts at the bottom level. It starts at the 4 year old kids and trickles up through the whole sport. Have we ever stepped back and looked at the whole picture here people? The sport is dictated by the little brother circuits.(regional circuits) For example we live in Michigan there isn’t even a regional circuit in Michigan anymore. How has ISOC not stepped in and created one in order to get kids involved in the sport? There is only a select few family’s that can drive half way across the country to race for the weekend. In order to do this you have to leave on Thursday and gone till Monday every weekend witch is impossible for most as the have jobs, kids have school exc. To build the sport on the national level you have to have good regional circuits. In my opinion that all ended at least here in Michigan when ASRA was done. My kid ran the nationals the last year and to be honest it was a joke. I feel the nationals try to broom the kids and lower classes through as fast as possible and treat them as if they don’t even want to deal with them, witch is where I have been going with this it starts at the lower level and that lower level is the future of the sport, and until ISOC addresses the big problem it will continue to die a slow meaningful death. YOUTH BUILDS THE SPORT

  27. I’m actually kinda glad this is happening. Everyone keeps talking about the talent differences between the classes. Well of course there is gonna be a talent gap. Level the field. It then comes down to true talent, not a $100,000 race sled that only a handful of racers can afford. We celebrate talent, right? So let’s see “who is who” in the sport. I think it would be great to see some “no name kid” from some no name town come and whip those million dollar teams on a sled that can be bought by anybody. The after market companies will all still be able to sell there over priced parts, just the same as before. The industry is more at risk from the loss of riding area and environmental issues then a over priced race sled!!

  28. I was sad to hear this. One of my best memories from High School was Tucker and Blair doing battle on the mod sleds. When the pro’s came out of the pits on the Mods, it seemed like it was the equivalent to me of the moment when the lights go dim in a concert because the opening band has finished and the opening act is about to start.
    Hearing (and feeling) that sound and watching how much more those sleds were capable of compared to the stockers was an awesome experience. Guaranteed goosebumps.

  29. Amen, James.
    Next thing you know they’ll start messing with qualifying so the fast guys get screwed. Oh, wait…..
    Really, when oval racing got down to a dozen teams on high dollar twin-track ski-doo’s going in circles people got bored too. I find USXC more interesting.

  30. As you look back over all forms of racing, it seems to me that whenever they have a lot of structure and restrictions, participation dies off. Expense impact is middling at best. You can go back to 1971 and talk about USSA dictating what is a stock sled for ovals. Over time, the hot stockers came along to meet the letter of those rules. Expenses went up, not down to stay in the premium featured stock classes. Yesterdays sleds wound up in alphabet stock and quickly became barn yard fodder. Fast forward about ten years: Sno-Pro moves to one dominant chassis painted in all brands colors, due to a combination of bad economy and one maker’s innovation and rule changes that forced engine size down to as little as 340cc for the premium class for a few years. It dies a few years after. Are we seeing history repeat again? Maybe….. But I do expect some really expensive stock sleds coming again, like 1977 all over again. Just sayin….

  31. Things just seem to be getting better and better all the time. Textron taking Arctic Cat away from the dirt products and now this. What a joke! What is this world coming to. A bunch of idiots making decisions that don’t have the mind set to make these decisions. The really sad part about this is that these idiots truly believe they are smart enough to make these decisions. NOT!

    Racing is about who wins. The person that wins gets the sponsors, money and fame. It’s the hard work and the talent of the driver that gets that win. Isn’t that the way it should be? If you are as good as Tucker and his team then you get that fame and fortune. You can put thousands of dollars into a race machine and team. This does not guarantee that win. My point is that some of you believe that the one with the most money always wins. This is not true.

    I am a big fan of the differences between the classes. I start by watching the little ones race starting from the 120s and then on up. I like watching and wondering which ones may make it through the ranks. I then love watching the Pro Lite drivers. These are the ones that have almost made it and have just one more step to make it. I like to see who may make it up to the ranks of the Pro Open because the Pro Open is the final stepping stone. If you make it to Pro Open then you’ve made it. Isn’t that the goal of every driver and team? Start out in the 120s, work your way up, and possibly end up in the Pro Open. I know this is not how it usually works but I like to watch and see anyway.

    Not liking this change.

  32. @James…the no name kid has all the opportunity in the world to go out there and win with box stock stuff, and be discovered, as the really good ones are. The problem is is that there are very few of them, 2/3 of the pro open class are good riders with a **** load of money. VERY few riders can properly use a 600 Mod let alone an 800 like back in the day. Real talent sticks out like a, well never mind…Sx is a young mans game, unlike XC where experience pays off.

  33. Didn’t the Mod sleds provide us some very beneficial components through the years too? Not to say they would not have showed up but maybe much slower?? How about “improved” sleds? Pipes and silencer?? 800 stockers is an interesting concept. I also miss the days of the pros on the stock sleds!! But then if you look back Elias was putting in faster lap times than the Open sleds when he was in Pro-lite at times….

  34. who wrote this article? I get the aura of a mod. I want rider to beat rider. not sled help beat a rider. It only gets more competitive. Love tucker, but i’m sure the next best cat guy would only benefit having his pocket book. bigger pockets will win. putting a cap on it certainly levels the field. otherwise the cowboys would buy anyone at anytime.

  35. I suggest the fans go check out an oval race this year is going to be a good one and the Champ 440’s are exotic loud and fast.

  36. So now after 7 rounds it doesn’t seem like the Pro Open racing is that much different. Maybe slightly quieter, at least from watching on TV. If it is true that this was initiated by Polaris to knock down Hibbert’s domination it surely backfired. Instead of there being only one Cat dominating in Pro Open (Tucker), now there are several. Also in Pro Light where in the past there were only a couple Cat’s and they usually weren’t contenders, Cat’s have more than doubled and they are dominating there too.

  37. In Michigan they are actually just trying to get people back to the sport. They have tons of classes for SnoX and XC. I’ve never had much interest in racing until I found that they have TONS of different beginner classes


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