With all but a couple (hillclimb) races to go, the 2012-13 snowmobile racing season is in the books. And like usual, Team Arctic saw its share of success as well as its challenges.
In this first of a two-part interview, Team Arctic Race Manager Mike Kloety talks about the season from his perspective.
AI: I’d like to get your general thoughts on how the season went for Team Arctic for each of the major disciplines of competition: cross-country, snocross, hillclimb, oval, enduro and drag?
Kloety: First off I would like to say a big thank you to all those that help make racing possible, promote our products all season long & follow AI religiously.
This season’s race effort was similar to most of the past 19 years that I’ve been involved with Team Arctic, with many ups and downs… and not all of them were associated with wins and losses. I know the temptation to evaluate success only by wins, but there are many other factors I like to look at, or hear about, that may tell the real story. Every venue of racing has its “super bowl” event that people seem to remember till next year, and I would love it if an Arctic Cat won each of them.
In cross-country racing and the I-500, we had a very strong year. Ryan Simons won the I-500 and the high-point championship in both Pro Stock and Open, while Team Arctic racers took 13 class championships. The sleds showed good speed, handling and durability and we have many quality racers and teams. We were strong in XC racing in 2012 as well butwe made some big improvements in the sled itself for ‘13. Now can we rest on where we are at? NO. I hope to see this venue continue to grow and have a bigger impact on our future production sleds as I know our customers will benefit. If we can keep all the racers we have racing for us we will be ready for next season as well.
In snocross I’d say we were successful. What more can you say about the season Tucker Hibbert had this year!? He won 11 of 16 finals and the Pro Open Championship, his sixth Winter X Games gold medal and the Clash of Nations in Sweden. I also deem this season a success because it’s only the second year racing the new ProCross chassis on which we made many changes, the results of which were significant. With the 500 Sno Pro we have a very strong group of young racers coming up in both snocross and cross-country. The Show Down at Sundown in Geneva that brings together many top regional racers from all over North America proved we have good results in many regions around the country and, if you look at the National support classes, we have many racers in the top 10 in points this season.
For hillclimb racing, Team Arctic’s Al Shimpa spends most of his winter out west working with our racers and he sees the huge effort it takes to compete in this venue. The Jackson Hole World Championships is like the Superbowl of the hillclimb, and once again Kyle Tapio dominated that event in several classes and walked away with the King of Kings. It would be hard to argue about his results. We want our stock class effort improve and mimic the success we have in the improved and open classes now.
Enduro racing has the Soo I-500 race which seems to be gaining popularity and was personally the most disappointing event of the season for me because of the bad luck that negated the chances we had with the many great racers and teams that we had there. The racers, teams and I expected a much better showing so I will write it off to the Sophmore jinx. On the bright side, Cadarette racing did win the MIRA points championship this year.
For oval racing, Eagle River is still one of those must-see events for any race fan. I wish that there was some late-model snowmobiles classes but there just isn’t any stock class oval racing today, which is too bad because good oval competition still brings people to their feet. Team Arctic racers P.J. Wanderscheid and Gary Moyle both made the Champ final at Eagle, and P.J. even led the first lap before the red-flagged restart. But the win that they (and we) were hoping for didn’t materialize this year.
Drag racing is another venue that is still struggling with racer participation. For sure we have racers that work very hard at drag racing and speed runs, but I believe its struggle is similar to oval racing, that only a handful of people have the knowledge to win. In Grass drag racing last summer and fall, we pretty much dominated the big stock class with our XF800.
AI: Why is Team Arctic so much more dominant in cross-country than in the other forms?
Kloety: One reason is that many of the races are just about in our back yard, although that’s also true for Polaris. Another factor is that back in 2001, which was about the last year cross-country racing was hugely popular, we had a really strong team filled with young talent learning to race on the popular 440 Z Sno Pro, and many of those racers are now the top guys in the sport. Similar to 2001, today we have our 500 Sno Pro for the young racers to get started, and the domination of the 85 hp and Junior classes shows that. With strong product and support we have introduced another great group of racers and teams to the sport of cross-country racing.
AI: I get feedback here on ArcticInsider and in talking with some Cat fans that they’re disappointed in the team’s overall snocross success, in particular that we don’t have another pro besides Tucker Hibbert who was consistently hitting the podium and also that we don’t have a top Pro Lite rider. What’s your take on that?
Kloety: First of all, Tucker is a phenom, the likes of which we may never see in snowmobile racing again. To match that young man’s talent with his pure drive to win, plus the support group he surrounds himself with, puts him in a league of his own.
Secondly, remember that through 2011 Team Arctic had been on top of the Semi Pro/Pro Lite ranks with points champions and multi race winners, like Logan Christian and Cody Thomsen. Those guys moved to Pro Open which takes some time to adapt, plus we lost a couple key up-and-coming riders (either to other brands or other paths in life) and we found ourselves really shorthanded in both the Sport and Pro Lite classes.
Now… why not more podiums for Team Arctic? Last year was a serious learning curve with the all-new race chassis, PLUS we were forced to race in the Pro Open class with it, which is another learning curve all together! In the end, our Pro Open riders didn’t have the evolved equipment to compete at the level our competition was currently at.
We closed that gap big time this past season and, had we not gotten bitten by injuries, I feel we would have closed the season a lot stronger. Logan Christian made the podium once and was very close a couple other times, and on a positive note, he finished his season with a strong third place in the Clash of Nations in Sweden. Garth Kaufman was consistently finishing in the top 5-6 before his injury, and Cody Thomsen showed great promise until his wrist injury. I have said before that an injury is one of the most difficult things for a racer and team to deal with, and I guess that can go for the fans as well.
Looking down the road… we’ve spent a the past two years fine-tuning our race sled and our support classes, so that in a couple years we will have a better showing in the Pro Lite class.
AI: What’s your opinion on the idea of buying top Pro or Pro Lite talent versus growing and nurturing riders from the Junior and Sport classes?
Kloety: Without a doubt building your own group of racers is the way to go. The earlier you can get a racer started in your program, the better chance they will have to succeed. It is very difficult to switch brands, and I don’t care how good you think you are, you will basically lose one season of being competitive when switching brands. I struggle to think of a racer that was any more successful that first year after switching, than they ever were on their original brand. There are times and places when you need to go outside your own group of racers to fill voids and we are talking about areas we may need to get active in more quickly.
Inside the Team Arctic Factory Snocross trailer.
AI: This year in snocross you took a different approach with the factory trailer by having a single pro (Cody Thomsen, until his injury) then bringing in a few different Pro Lite and Sport riders during the season with the goal that these riders would learn the techniques for keeping their sled in optimal condition. How did that program go for you and the racers?
Kloety: Except for Cody’s injury, I’m really happy with how things turned out in the Factory trailer. The team got to meet and or get to know 5-6 different riders that were able to race out of the Factory trailer for a weekend or two, where they learned a lot from the experience that will help them in the future. One goal was to show them that to be successful you don’t need a big, fancy trailer, because there is nothing done in there that they cannot do on their own.
Look for PART 2 of the Mike Kloety interview later this week, where he discusses the 2014 Arctic Cat Sno Pro race sleds and the general health of snowmobile racing. Plus a good Roger Skime story.