Tomorrow morning, Thurs. Feb. 6, the green flag will drop on the USXC Seven Clans Casino I-500 in Thief River Falls, Minn. (CLICK HERE to listen to live coverage from KTRF radio).
This will be the 41st edition of a legendary event that first ran in 1966, and that’s captured the imaginations of men and women ever since.
The image of a lone racer hurling down a windswept ditch line – skis dangling in the air and the bitter cold clearly visible in the rider’s hunkered posture – is a sight that has stirred the soul of untold numbers of racers and fans alike.
Arctic Cat has prevailed to win the I-500 13 times, bested only by Polaris (18) and followed by Ski-Doo (8). The only other brand to win was John Deere, at the hands of USXC president Brian Nelson in 1976.
Arctic Cat racers have captured the past three editions, with Dan Ebert in 2010, Brian Dick in 2011 and defending champion Ryan Simons in 2013 (the race was cancelled for weather in 2012).
The smart money is on Arctic Cat winning again this year, with Simons, Dick, Zach Herfindahl, Wes Selby and Cody Kallock being five key names to watch for.
But anyone who knows cross-country is well aware that this form of racing (and this race in particular) is anything but predictable. There is a cadre of racers on other brand machines who will definitely contend for victory.
And of course there are all the other USXC classes to consider, from Juniors to Vintage to Women and even the all-new 120 Mini I-5. As I write this, there are 170 entries in the three-day classes, plus 40 in Vintage, 30 in Junior and 30 in the 120 classes, the latter three of which will race on Saturday only.
No matter what brand of machine or what class you compete in, I wish you the very best of luck at the granddaddy of all cross-country races.
If you see me along the route, camera in hand, don’t worry about waving. Just do everything you can to get to the finish line!
Thanks for reading.
Team Arctic Cat’s 2011 I-500 winner, Brian Dick.
Former Team Arctic World Champ Roger Janssen chases the I-500 checkers, this time on a Polaris.
Dale Cormican won back-to-back I-500s in 1968 and ’69.
Brian Nelson scored his second I-500 win in 1978 on an Arctic Cat.
Brad Pake won back-to-back I-500s in 1995 and 1996. He’s shown here racing the 1999 edition.
Defending USXC Seven Clans Casino I-500 champion Ryan Simons is the man to beat at this year’s event.