This summer, facing another season as a Factory Team Arctic Cat snocross racer with the perspective of having just recovered from a nasty elbow injury while juggling a 75-event commitment to dirt track competition, 24-year-old Dan Ebert of Lake Shore, Minn., found himself at a crossroads: What to do with the next period of life?
To transition from racer to crew chief for the Factory snocross effort for the 2013 season, following in the mighty-big footsteps of his father, Russ Ebert.
AI: It sounds like you’ll see some big changes for this coming season.
Ebert: I will! After a lot of consideration, I made the decision to step back from racing snocross in order to manage the Factory Team Arctic snocross effort as crew chief.
AI: Yeah, that’s a big change alright. Why did you decide to do that?
Ebert: The decision was brewing for awhile, going back to last winter when I injured my elbow which prevented me from racing. After that happened, I spent my days and weekends helping out Cody (Thomsen) and Kyle (Pallin), actually thinking about engineering ideas and working on sleds instead of riding them. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. It opened my eyes to some other possibilities and opportunities.
Another factor was that I’ve been serious about my dirt track racing effort the past several years, which meant that I was racing upwards of five times each week. So pretty much all I’ve done for the past few years is race. It’s been great, but I also run myself pretty ragged trying to train and be competitive year-round in both forms of racing.
Considering all this, I made the decision to be the crew chief for the Factory snocross effort this season.
AI: What exactly does it mean to be the crew chief for Team Arctic’s Factory snocross effort?
Ebert: It means managing the day to day operations of this team. I’ll determine where and when we test; what we’re going to test; what direction we take with mod sled development, not just for our current race sled but also for future sleds; I’ll set the truck schedule for where and when it needs to be at events; and literally a hundred other details.
Cody is our Factory Pro for this season, but we’re going to add to the program in two unique and important ways compared to previous seasons.
First, we’re going to also prepare a stock Sno Pro race sled for this season [Editor’s note: Beginning last year, Pro riders competed on Mod sleds only, which meant there was very little factory development of the stock sled.] Then, periodically throughout the season, we’ll have a different Team Arctic racer working with us out of the Factory trailer.
They’ll learn how our approach to racing, testing and working on equipment, which we believe will be a significant benefit. It will be like a full-immersion, two-week race school for these riders. Plus it will allow us to further evaluate talent while knowing exactly the capabilities of the sled they’re racing.
Really, so much of our push this season is aimed at helping all Team Arctic racers, which is exciting.
AI: What’s your dad’s (Russ Ebert) role going to be going forward?
Ebert: He’s going to teach me all the stuff that’s required as crew chief! But there’s more to it than that. Now he’ll have more time to free up his brain in order to concentrate on how to do things better and engineer better snowmobiles… to sit there with a Sharpie and paper, and figure out how to make the snowmobile work better. That’s always been his strength, but it’s something that he hasn’t had enough time for when he was crew chief.
Just as important, at the races he’ll be able to work with the legion of Team Arctic racers, getting information to them, assisting with sled set-up and such. That too will really help our stock class program.
AI: That fires me up, in part because of what people will learn from your crew! I’ve heard you talk many times about how the misperception of what it takes to be a top-level racer. Explain what you mean.
Ebert: There’s a mistaking belief that magic happens inside of these trailers, and that being successful means having some top-secret parts or information. That’s never been the case.
What really happens inside the top trailers and programs is methodical preparation, attention to detail and hard work. Those are the secrets to successful race programs.
From a racer’s perspective the difference between a so-so sled set-up and a good set-up is huge. A sled that is set-up well is strong off the line, goes through the bumps in-control, corners well and does what you ask of it.
However, the set-up differences between a so-so sled and that great sled are actually pretty small. In other words, a few clicks of the shocks; a quarter-inch difference in front arm travel; a freshly-cleaned clutch… it’s the cumulative effects of these small differences that turns a so-so sled into a great sled.
AI: I have a hard time seeing you quit snowmobile racing cold-turkey. Is it possible you’ll do any racing, perhaps taking a shot at winning another I-500?
Ebert: Don’t be surprised to see me lining up in a cross-country race or two this year. I really enjoy cross-country and it’s definitely a style of racing that rewards experience and good judgment rather than risk taking. We’ll see how the season plays out, but I hope to race one or two cross-country events.
AI: Compare your strengths and abilities with your dad’s… engineering creativity, fabrication, calibration and such.
Ebert: We’re pretty similar in those areas. I can’t do those things at his level simply because of his sheer experience level. But those are skills I have too.
On the other hand, I can actually ride the snowmobile and feel what it’s doing. I can relay the info from the track to the shop. And I’ll definitely strap the helmet on a lot this season and test alongside Cody and the other racers. So that combination of being able to ride a sled, feel what it’s doing and be creative about what it needs… that’s a unique set of skills that I bring to this program.
AI: For sure that’s a huge skill pairing that only a few other people have! Okay, let’s talk dirt track car racing for a bit. You’ve had another remarkable season, tell us about it.
Ebert: It was a great season. We raced around 76 events, usually about 4-5 race-nights each week. We took 25 feature wins in our Wissota B Mod and seven wins in our A Mod.
To put that in perspective, you could think of the B Mod class being similar to the snocross Pro Lite class, with A Mod being similar to Pro Open. Both are extremely competitive classes, as the Midwest is loaded with top talent.
This summer was great because Arctic Cat were great sponsors of our race effort. Their support was excellent and it made a big impact. I felt like we brought Arctic Cat into an arena of potential customers, and gave them great exposure. It felt good to keep wearing our colors even though it was summertime.
AI: Where does car racing fit into to your future plans?
Ebert: I’m a little up in the air about that. I really enjoy it and I’m not sure where it might lead. I would expect to have a similar program of racing next year.
AI: Okay, one last question… Have you tested the new Arctic Cat Sno Pro 600 race sled and what is your opinion on it?
Ebert: Last spring I rode an early version of it during one of the first engineering trips. I felt like the durability will be much improved over last year, plus we made some strong gains in cornering and ride calibration. The sled improved after that trip, but I didn’t ride the next version because those trips happened during my car race season.