For more than three decades, the first major cross-country race of the year has happened on Pine Lake near Gonvick, Minn.
Now named the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial, it was the first race of the USXC season.
As a lake cross-country (rather than a ditch/trail event), the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial is an event that rewards top speed and cornering speed. Nearly non-existent snow this year meant that the course was not just fast, but wide enough for multiple lines, which made for great racing.
With new race rules that introduced consumer-available, EFI-equipped engines in the premier classes, this year’s USXC events have a new level of drama.
Polaris showed up with the factory trailer at Pine Lake on the Monday before race weekend and spent the week testing their new AXYS racer. Arctic Cat had been at Pine Lake off and on for the past few weeks, and showed up for full on testing on Wednesday. I never heard when Yamaha showed (if you know the answer, please post in the comments), but they were definitely looking more prepared and in better contention than a year ago. Ski-Doo would prove to be the only brand whose presence seemed less than impactful.
If you read the Team Arctic press release from the weekend, you know that Team Green won 14 of 20 finals while capturing more than 70 percent of all the podium places. It was an excellent start to the race season.
As always, this weekend of racing would reveal some interesting story lines and fodder for speculation.
I’m going to start this recap with two photos of Chad Dyrdahl. The first is of Chad the race promoter… the principle organizer of all the great people who make this race happen.
If you hadn’t guessed, Chad is the son of the event’s namesake, and a loooooongtime cross-country and enduro racer. He’s also a great guy.
The second photo is of Chad the racer: a guy who can still go out and rip fast laps on a Dean Larson-prepped ZR4000RR in the Expert 85 class. How fast were his laps? Fast enough to win the class ahead of kids who aren’t even half his age!
Some of the crew at Pine Lake working on calibrations for the new race sleds included (L-to-R) Steve Houle from Speedwerx; Corey Berberich (Christian Bros. Racing), Al Shimpa (Team Arctic engineering tech); and Hector Olson (CBR).
Steve Houle confers with Arctic Cat engineer/racer Brian Dick (middle) and Al Shimpa. The whole group is working to come up with improved calibration on the new sleds, so that the info can be passed along to all the racers. It’s a work-in-progress, as it’s been since day one in this sport.
Brian Dick did not race at Pine Lake. His plan is to race the I-500 and the Soo 500 this season, but will be at the other races as an engineer.
Mike Carver of Carver Performance was another guy doing a lot of wrenching at Pine Lake. Carver probably sets up more shocks for cross-country racers than anyone else. He was going non-stop throughout the weekend.
Mild weather combined with the typically lower-key atmosphere of the cross-country events brings the racers out of the trailers and into the pits. Here Team Arctic racers (L-to-R) Zach Herfindahl, Logan Christian, Wes Selby and Lance Efteland shared a laugh on Sunday while waiting for their classes to run.
Ean Voigt was one guy who was REALLY cooking all weekend. With a ZR4000RR that was hitting 92 mph on the nearly mile-long straights AND a smooth/fast riding style, Voigt scored a win in the Trail class and a second in Jr. 14-17.
[Note: I was at Pine Lake on Sunday only, so I missed getting pix of the Junior, Vintage and Classic classes. Sorry folks. -John]
Jeremy Grove won the Expert 85 Improved class and took fourth in Expert 85.
One of the questions going into the weekend was how the new ZR4000RR would compare with the Sno Pro 500. From what I saw, they’re pretty equal and both machines won against the other.
One of the winning Sno Pro 500s was at the experienced hands of Marty Feil, who won Sport 85.
A new name emerged in the Women’s class: Jodie Black. She’s the better half of Arctic Cat engineer Ron Black, and she was fast enough to finish second. Perennial race winner Jolene Bute finished fourth.
Hunter Houle picked up where he left off last season, winning the Junior 14-17 class and finishing a mere 3.3 seconds behind Chad Dyrdahl in Expert 85.
In addition to his blazing fast speed, Hunter knows an excellent website when he sees it. Wait, what???
Last year Brad Naplin tore up the Classic IFS class on his ZR440. This year he’s hopped into the Semi Pro class on a modern ZR and rode to a solid 8th place in the final.
Finishing one spot ahead of Naplin in Semi Pro Stock was this guy, Ryan Trout. That’s also super impressive considering that Trout is just 16 years old and was racing a Sno Pro 500 in the Junior 14-17 class last season.
Except for the Pro class, all other classes at Pine Lake were run against the clock. That didn’t prevent some good battles from occurring, like this one between Lance Efteland (right) and Dylan Stevens in the Semi Pro Stock final.
Stevens would get around Efteland to win the class, giving Team Arctic a solid 1-2 finish in this highly competitive field.
For his first race on Arctic Cat, Dylan Stevens could not have been any more impressive. Winning Semi Pro Stock was huge!
I was impressed with a lot of performances at Pine Lake, and of the greatest was Efteland’s. He won Semi Pro Improved. Then, within a few minutes of his second place finish in Semi Pro Stock, the guy lined up for the Pro Stock final (USXC allows racers to jump up a class), where he would eventually finish in eighth!
Efteland was definitely the ironman of Pine Lake.
For the Pro Stock final, USXC opted for heads-up format rather than the typical time-trial of racing against the clock. This would pit the 23 pros in a winner-takes-all situation, which would deliver the most exciting cross-country race I have ever seen.
The racers comprised four rows based on their points from two heat races on Saturday. There was a three second gap between each of the rows, so that the fourth row started nine seconds after the first row.
The Yamahas had a 2-3 mph speed advantage over the field, and Re Wadena used that speed to bolt into the lead within the first few miles of the opening lap.
As the line of racers came back towards the shore at 100 mph, within arms’ reach of one another, it was as thrilling a racing scene as I can remember.
With nine laps in store for the 11-mile course, it was anyone’s guess how this race would unfold. Unfortunately for Wadena, a broken track would end his race a mile after this photo was taken.
Among the Pros was Nick Fischer, who was using the race as a tune up for his primary goal of winning another championship in the Cor PowerSports cross-country circuit. Fischer would finish 20th on the day.
After winning a pile of Semi Pro classes in previous years, Jon Arneson jumped into the Pro class at Pine Lake and finished 19th.
With an off weekend from ISOC snocross, Logan Christian showed up at Pine Lake and proceeded to find his ice racing mojo to finish 18th. He had a blast racing on the ice and was all smiles before and after the final.
Another newcomer to the Pro ranks, Ben Langaas would cruise to a 17th place finish.
Perennial top runner Chad Lian finished 15th.
Casey Pries also moved into the Pro Class after winning multiple Semi Pro events last season. Despite struggling to find the top speed he wanted, Pries finished the day in 14th.
Jordan Torgerson started the day with a second place in the Pro Open class, then proceeded to finish 12th in the Stock final.
Cody Kallock isn’t the biggest fan of ice racing, but he proved fast and smooth enough to finish the day in 11th.
As I wrote earlier, Lance Efteland (right) won Semi Pro Improved, took a second in Semi Pro Stock and, with less than 10 minutes rest, went out and finished 8th in the Pro Stock final. Awesome!
As the defending Pro Stock champion and the winner at Pine Lake a year ago, Zach Herfindahl carried a lot of extra weight on his shoulders this past weekend. Throughout the final Zach hovered among the leaders, usually between third and fourth place. Like the other Arctic Cat racers, he was down one or maybe two mph from the Polaris sleds, so he had to make up the difference by cornering faster and braking later.
It was a similar story for Wes Selby, except that Selby started the day in the third row (and was last off the line in his flight). Selby rode a few blistering-fast laps to catch the leaders, then settled down to save his brakes and survey the lines his competitors were using.
For the middle portion of the final, you could throw a blanket over the top four racers, with Polaris’ Bobby Menne and Ryan Faust leading.
I’ve probably watched more than a hundred cross-country finals in my lifetime and never seen a final with five guys who were so close to one another and capable of taking the lead. It was breathtakingly thrilling!
And just when it seemed like the situation couldn’t get any more dramatic, Menne, Faust, Selby and Herfindahl all pitted on the same lap. Taking a chance, Herfindahl and Selby took only the required 2-gallon minimum, while Menne and Faust took a dash more. The difference allowed the Cats to leave the fuel stop in the lead!
In the rush of the moment, Menne drove his sled out of the fuel stop rather than running it out like racers are required to. It would prove a costly error.
A mile or so after the fuel stop Herfindahl was shuffled back to fourth while Selby took the lead. While he wished for that extra 1-2 mph of his red rivals, his smooth lines and late braking kept him in the lead. With two laps to go it looked as if Selby might notch his first-ever Pro win.
Then he took one corner wide and plowed through water that had come over the ice (from so many skis wearing a groove through the 16 inches of ice). It would prove a double-whammy, first by slowing him down enough for Menne to pass and then by getting water on his clutches. His sled immediately lost a few hundred RPM and, with it, the speed needed to win.
Faust passed Selby for second to begin the final lap, just as Polaris’ Justin Tate had caught Herfindahl in fourth.
Menne crossed the finish line first, followed by Faust, Selby, Tate and Herfindahl. Not long after, USXC officials gave Menne a 1-minute time penalty for driving out of the fuel stop, which moved him back to 7th.
Exactly 2.877 seconds would separate the top four racers!
When the helmets came off there were some tired faces, yet also some smiles for having just raced 100 miles with five guys who were within seconds of each other.
For Selby, there was the slightly bitter taste of disappointment. That one mistake of going wide and into the water changed the outcome of the race.
For having started last off the line in the third row, Selby delivered the best performance of the afternoon.
Herfindahl was feeling the frustration of being down on speed. After the final he talked with Race Manager Mike Kloety (left), Al Shimpa and Brian Dick.
The team had worked for several days on the new sleds. On the one hand, Team Arctic won 14 of 20 classes, several of which were on the new ZR6000R XC sled. No other brand came close to that kind of performance at Pine Lake.
Yet the Pro Stock class is the premier event of the weekend. Finishing second and fouth didn’t sit right with Selby, Herfindahl or the team.
Less than two weeks from now USXC lake racing will resume in Detroit Lakes. Lots of work to be done between now and then. This is going to be an interesting year of racing.
Congrats to all the racers who competed at Pine Lake, no matter what color your sled.
Thanks for reading.