This weekend marks the first-ever cross-country snowmobile race run by USXC, the race circuit started by Team Arctic legend Brian Nelson. While USXC is new, both Nelson and the location of this race are “well seasoned.”
The location: Pine Lake near Gonvick, Minn.
In the early 1990s Pine Lake was always the first cross-country race of the season, usually the first or second weekend of December. As such, it rarely had much snow which, coupled with the loooong straights and mostly sweeping corners, meant that it was a test of top speed more so than pure handling.
Hosted by the Clearwater Trail Blazers Snowmobile Club, this event has long been a milestone of great snowmobile competition going back to 1987. Now it’s called the Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial Pine Lake 200, in honor of the patriarch of a great snowmobile racing family. Gerald’s sons Chad, Bryan and Brady have been great members of Team Arctic over the years, and Chad is very involved with this year’s race. Cool!
Last year USCC reprised this classic event as Plan B because of the lack of snow. Not surprisingly the event was a success. And when he launched USXC this summer, Brian Nelson recalled his own strong history with Pine Lake and made it his priority to kick-off the new circuit/season in grand tradition.
I along with hundreds of other interested spectators will make the trek to this Northwestern Minnesota lake to witness the unveiling of a new cross-country racing season. We’ll learn who’s fast, who’s been testing, who’s practiced their fuel stops and who’s smooth and in control.
For those of you interested in following the race in the comfort of your own home, here’s the skinny: Internet access at the venue is spotty. So while it’s possible that there will be live streaming coverage (start HERE on the USXC Homepage), it’s more likely that you’ll have to get updates HERE on the USXC Facebook page.
Of course I will also have a full report early next week, detailing what I observed about the new Arctic Cat Sno Pro racer as well as the Cat-heavy competitors that compete in USXC.
So until then, enjoy a trip back through some of the earlier years at Pine Lake.
Donning the same sweet leathers he’d raced with in 1979, Brian Nelson went to Pine Lake in Dec. 1989 aboard the outstanding Arctic Cat EXT Special, and for the first time the brand had a SOLID answer to the venerable Polaris Indy when it came to cross-country competition.
While there had been cross-country races at Pine Lake beginning in 1987, it was the birth of the big-time ISOC circuit that brought huge attention to this traditional season opener. At the first ISOC event at Pine Lake in December of 1992, Team Arctic Cat’s Jeremy Fyle led teammates Kirk Hibbert and Dan Skallet to a 1-2-3 finish on the brand-new Arctic Cat ZR.
The ZR was indeed the official end of Indy domination of cross-country, and the beginning of a new era for Team Green.
Kirk Hibbert scored a Pine Lake win for the ZR and himself in the 1994-95 season. My goodness could those sleds (and Kirk) go around the corners, carving the ice with 10-in. sharpened runners and 192 sharpened picks in the track!
After Fyle and Hibbert, it was Brad Pake’s turn to top the field at Pine Lake, which he did for the 1995-96 season. Ahhh, the beginning of green for Cat!
Historically Pine Lake (and all lake cross-country races) featured heads-up competition, in which large fields raced at the same time (as opposed to timed events). USXC is reprising heads-up racing this year, which pleases me.
There is a raw energy and drama that only heads-up racing offers.
Fuel stops have always been a part of Pine Lake and most cross-country events. Here Kirk Hibbert gets topped off by Al Shimpa and Mike Kloety.
The top-five at the 1994 event (from R-to-L): Kirk Hibbert, Brad Pake, Lee Falck, Paul Mack and Steve Houle. I like to tease the Polaris faithful, but I also respect the heck out of their cross-country program. Beating those guys and their sleds was a huge accomplishment for anyone, and when the ZR era brought Cat their own decade of domination, it felt REALLY satisfying.
Aaron Scheele showed up at Pine Lake in the 1995-96 season.
Before he won a record five I-500 events, Bryan Dyrdahl was a fast young buck who could haul the mail on ice.
Two people who I always enjoyed seeing at Pine Lake: Jesse Strege (L) and Jamie Anseeuw.
Another great Team Arctic racer/person, Tom Mattila, shown in the pits at Pine Lake circa 1995.
Okay, enough of the old stuff…
This is the kind of action we’ll see this weekend…Brian Dick going hell-bent on a new Arctic Cat Sno Pro 600.
Last year Brian won the Pro 600 final and led a Team Arctic tour de force that resulted in 13 (of 17) class victories. While I think that Cat will have another strong showing this weekend, the odds don’t favor that kind of crushing. Seriously, that’s an amazing weekend.
One of the guys who will try to dethrone Brian Dick is his own Christian Bros. teammate, D.J. Ekre, who finished second to Dick last year.
I’ll end this post with a photo of Brian Nelson who, along with a dedicated crew of help, will be a huge part of cross-country’s growth and prosperity this and coming seasons.
Good luck to everyone this weekend! And smile when you see my camera.