This past weekend, Arctic Cat engineer-racers Brian Dick and Wes Selby teamed up with Christian Brothers Racing to win the 47th Annual Soo 500 International Enduro in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. It was only the second time an Arctic Cat has won the famed event, the first being 2010 by Cadarette Racing’s Troy Dewald and Jeff Luenberger.
Cadarette Racing finished second this year while Christian Brothers Racing other duo of Zach Herfindahl and Ryan Simons took eighth, giving Arctic Cat its strongest finish ever.
I caught up with Brian and Wes just after they arrived home from their whirlwind week at the Soo.
AI: Congratulations on this win Brian and Wes, it’s a huge achievement!
Brian: Thanks, it feels really good to finally win it. This was the seventh time I’d raced it. The first was with Justin Winter, back in 2004 I believe. I don’t remember if we got third or fourth. I know I finished fourth with Gary Moyle in 2012. Either way, this was my best result.
Really, it’s a team effort. Besides Wes and I as drivers, it included Jeremy Houle, Ron Gilland, Joe Lesmeister, Blake Schoh, Paul Dick and Nathan Peters.
Plus our teammates Zach Herfindahl and Ryan Simons (who finished eighth) and their crew, including Hector Olson, Corey Berberich, Lance Efteland, Greg Herfindahl, Mike Carver and Bubba Ness
And then there was the added help at the race from Mike Kloety, Roger Skime, Alicia Dick, Judy Dick and Dean Larson.
Making the whole thing even greater was that the three sleds we built for the race all finished in the top-10, with Cadarette Racing’s Troy Dewald, Chad Lian and Cody Miaskoch taking second, and with Zach and Ryan in eighth.
Wes: I raced the Soo last year, but the team I was on suffered some engine problems. We made it 190 laps, of which the last 50 or 60 were with me on the sled. So I didn’t have the long history with this race that Vern did [“Vern” is Brian Dick’s nickname. –Ed.]. I’m more happy for him than I am for myself.
AI: Tell us about those sleds:
Brian: The three sleds started as 2015 ZR 6000R race sleds, with the Arctic Cat 600 C-TEC EFI engine. Speedwerx engineered a mod package for the engine, which was itself a huge project. It was the first EFI 2-stroke engine to win the Soo 500, which says a lot about the Arctic Cat engine as well as what Speedwerx did to it.
Soo rules allow a 45-in. ski stance, so we built wider A-arms to have the maximum width. We made some changes to the rear suspension, and of course we built shocks that were set up for the conditions that range from smooth ice to whooped-out snow/dirt/ice. We had things like quick-change ski bolts and a few other tricks for racing at the Soo.
I can’t emphasize enough what a great accomplishment this win is for the C-TEC2 engine. We had great help from Dave Sabo and the rest of our Engine group. Wes did a lot of testing on a first version of this engine in the Pro Open class at the various cross-country races this season.
The sled ran great, had great speed, but the truth is that we have more room to develop it even further.
AI: How did the sleds work during the race?
Brian: I thought they worked pretty good. Our top speed was equal to or better than the fastest Polaris sleds. We qualified third in Tuesday’s qualifying rounds, (and were considered the top “Soo Set-up” Qualifier) right behind two Champ sleds. Those sleds are built pretty much just for qualifying and don’t expect to run more that 50 or 60 laps in the final. What did you think of the sled Wes?
Wes: It handled really well, running straight without the twitchiness you see in a lot of the sleds. The set-up was pretty similar to what I’ve been running in cross-country, so I felt comfortable on it. We never actually rode these sleds until we got to the Soo, and we were making changes right up to the race…things like suspension coupling, springs, ride height. So I think we have a lot more room for improvement in the future, which is exciting.
AI: Describe the periods you were on the sled, and what happened during them.
Brian: I started the race since Wes was considered a rookie, and slotted into second. At lap 43 the pole-winning #60 sled pulled off and we were in lead. Right before caution came out, Ryan Simons passed me. I think all three of the Cats were up front in top three or four at that point.
I came in for fuel around lap 68, at which point Wes took over. Not long into that, he reported that the engine RPM was down. We discussed with Hector some options for a clutch change, and on lap 87 Wes came in for a top-off of fuel and a new clutch. He stayed out there for another 103 laps, which was a long time. We wanted him to stay out because he was going really, really well. Passing people when and where he wanted to. But we were gambling a bit with fuel.
Mike Carver and I kept doing calculations for fuel, making sure that he was okay. Finally a yellow caution flag came out, so Wes came in for fuel and I was ready to drive.
That was around lap 200. About 15 laps into it I crashed coming into turn one. I hit some bumps awkwardly, the sled swapped and I rolled (laughs).
The handlebar was bent, but otherwise was fine. Of course the crash caused a caution flag, and I dropped back to fourth or fifth.
AI: After that is when things got extra exciting, with what turned out to be the last laps of the race.
Brian: After I got going from the crash, I just ran hard and worked my way back up. There were some cautions here and there. When the final caution flag of the race came out, some sleds went in to pit, but we stayed out. And we were in the lead.
AI: So you inherited the lead because other sleds pitted?
Brian: I had raced into second place, behind the #74 sled of Bunke, before the caution came out. I then passed into first going down the front stretch, just before the timing light. The lap indicator showed I was in the lead at that point, however, a yellow had come out somewhere else on the track just as I was passing into the lead.
Just after I passed into the lead, a flagman pointed the yellow at us, and I took it to mean that I should be in second, so I waved the #74 sled in front of me. Even now, I don’t know if I should have stayed at the front or have let #74 by. I do know that the official lap count of the race has us in the lead for that lap, but also that the officials didn’t put me back into the lead after I’d let #74 by on yellow.
It became a moot point a few laps later when the #74 sled pitted, while I stayed on the track, which for sure put me into the lead.
Our carbides were good, we had a half a tank of fuel, the sled felt great and we’d been going faster than the other leaders at that point. We were ready to race.
Wes: They brought the plow trucks out on that yellow, but by then the snow was already coming down pretty hard and the visibility went from bad to worse. That caution lasted for something like 29 laps, with us in the lead. They ran one green lap, but somebody crashed but nobody could see it until after all the sleds had passed, so officials called the race over at 282 laps.
AI: What did you guys think of that decision?
Brian: I was bummed out, because I wanted to win the race by going 500 laps. But it was a good call by the officials. During that caution I could see okay, but I was up front. Ryan Simons told me that back in eighth, he couldn’t see anything that defined the track going down the backstretch; he just had to ride based on what little he could see of the sled in front of him.
Wes: It was pretty crazy even before the snow started falling. It was cold, there’s a lot of snow dust, and the moguls got to be 2-feet tall in the corners. You’re going down the straights at 111 mph, and you can barely make out the sleds around you, especially the guys who had crummy tail lights. When it started snowing hard at the end of the race, it was pretty much a whiteout. It sucks that they cancelled the race, but it was definitely dangerous. I’ve raced in snow dust a lot, this was by far the worse.
Brian: Our sled was running excellent at that point, I felt great, Wes was probably the fastest guy on the track.
Here’s the thing: nobody was surprised by the race’s decision. Everyone saw the horrible snow dust during the Woody’s Challenge race on Thursday night. Race officials told us at the driver’s meeting that snow would be moving in and, that if we got in at least 250 laps, that they would end the race if conditions got bad.
AI: Was it your strategy to lead the race as much as you did?
Brian: Yes. Up until the past few years, it seemed like the guys that went fast from the get-go and then slowed down at the end of the race. But in the last few years, Bunke has ridden hard from the start and has won. The pace never backed down.
We wanted to stay on lead lap. We anticipated bad snow dust in the pack and the forecast was for snow. We wanted to run with the cleanest visibility as possible, which is the front of the pack.
AI: I’m not sure most of us know how the track transforms during the race. Describe it.
Wes: It goes from a smooth ice oval to a bump-filled oval. In the corners the bumps were nearly 2 feet tall, and there are dirt spots all over the place. They plow every once in a while, which smoothens the track for 20 laps or so, but then it gets wild again. Your sled it catching air all the time.
AI: That sounds like a cross-country race. What kind of speeds were you seeing?
Wes: On the straights in qualifying, the sled was going 113-114 mph on the straights. In the race we were 111-112 mph. I don’t know exactly how fast we go through the corners, but I would look down while I was exiting the corners and it showed 80-85 mph, so I’d say the speed was probably 60-80 mph through the corners. It’s fast.
AI: I heard that #52 sled of Zach Herfindahl and Ryan Simons had a brake problem.
Brian: Yeah, they lost their brakes pretty early into the race when Ryan was on it. We just swapped in new pads and topped off the fluid and then it was fine.
Those guys were close to getting back on the lead lap when the race ended. If the race had gone the full distance, I have no doubt that we would have been contending with them for the win.
AI: Brian, you’ve won two I-500 cross-countries, and now the Soo 500. How do they compare and what’s different about those victories?
Brian: The Soo is special because it’s a race with a partner, and mine was a friend who I work with; plus with a team that takes coordination and more strategy than most cross-country races. I was disappointed that the race was called after 282 laps. It takes away a little of the magic of winning compared to going the full distance. Regardless, a win is a win. We led more laps than any other team.
The same thing happened with my first I-500 win in 2011, when they cancelled the last day. When I won the I-500 again last year, it felt a little sweeter.
Winning cross-country races is definitely something pretty sweet. The racing is different because you’re by yourself most of the time. I like both types of racing.
AI: Wes, you won your first Pro Stock cross-country [at the USXC Park Rapids event] and now the Soo in the span of one week. Has it all sunk in yet?
Wes: The stock class win was a long time coming. I’ve been close in the past, but little things happened over the years that got in the way. I’ve learned from those. I put myself in the position where the little stuff was less likely to happen. Winning that was really satisfying. I’ve had a lot of nights working on my sled in my trailer until 2am the morning of a race…to finally get the win was pretty great.
The Soo… it’s a pretty historic win. There are a lot of great racers who have never won that race. That’s pretty big deal.
AI: What will become of the sled? Will you just bring it out again for next year’s race, or maybe run it in USXC, or maybe stuff it into your shop for 20 years?
Wes: We haven’t decided yet. We’re talking about just parking it and never riding it again, which is what I want to happen. It needs to be preserved.
I talk with Larry [Coltom] and Roger [Skime], and those guys never kept their historic winning sleds, but now they wish they had a couple of them. So I hope we do that.
Right now, the sled is sitting in the Arctic Cat lobby, next to Ryan and Tucker’s X Games sleds. I washed it today and it looks brand new. It could go another250 miles.
We’re maybe going to take Zach’s sled to test and practice with it. See what it would do with another 250 hard miles on it. It will give us more information for how we build next year’s sleds.
AI: What’s next for you guys this season?
Brian: I’m back to work as my real job as Product Team Manager at Arctic Cat. Maybe I’ll sneak out and do a race towards the end of the season. I’d like to race again this year. It’s a bummer the USXC I-500 cross-country was cancelled, because I wanted to defend my title in that. There’s more testing needed for next year.
Wes: I’m going to finish out the USXC season. If there’s snow I’ll probably race the Red Bull cross-country race in Duluth in March. If they don’t have that, then I’ll probably try the Jackson Hole hillclimb. I also plan to do a qualifier for X Games hillcross later this spring.
Plus there’s lots of work to do here on next year’s race sleds…testing, putting the hours on them.