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USXC Pine Lake Cross-Country Preview & Historical Perspective

Brian Dick, Arctic Cat racer and engineer, photo:

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.


Team Arctic Cat's Brian Nelson on a 1990 EXT Special

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.


Team Arctic Cat's Jeremy Fyle won Pine Lake in 1992

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.


Team Arctic Cat legend Kirk Hibbert won Pine Lake in 1994

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!


Team Arctic Cat ace Brad Pake won Pine Lake in 1995

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!


Starting line at Pine Lake cross-country snowmobile race

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.


Pine Lake cross-country snowmobile racing

There is a raw energy and drama that only heads-up racing offers.


Kirk Hibbert gets gas in cross-country racing

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.


1994-95 Pine Lake top 5 including Team Arctic's Kirk Hibbert and Brad Pake

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.


Team Arctic Cat "Iceman" Aaron Scheele

Aaron Scheele showed up at Pine Lake in the 1995-96 season.


Team Arctic Cat's Bryan Dyrdahl

Before he won a record five I-500 events, Bryan Dyrdahl was a fast young buck who could haul the mail on ice.


Team Arctic Cat's Jesse Strege and Jamie Anseeuw

Two people who I always enjoyed seeing at Pine Lake: Jesse Strege (L) and Jamie Anseeuw.


Team Arctic Cat racer Tom Mattila

Another great Team Arctic racer/person, Tom Mattila, shown in the pits at Pine Lake circa 1995.

Okay, enough of the old stuff…

Brian Dick, Arctic Cat racer and engineer, photo:

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.


D.J. Ekre, Arctic Cat racer and engineer, photo:

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.


USXC owner Brian Nelson

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.



  1. Good luck to Brian Nelson, the USXC crew and all of the competitors on this season opening event. Will be eager to read all about it on monday.

    You pulled out the good stuff for this report Sandberg. Makes me want to go out and ride an old ZR.

  2. John,
    Really fun memories! Hope to make some more this weekend! Hope you can bring your young sidekick and his sled. Always cool to say you raced at Pine Lake!

  3. will they make a video for sale so some of us at the other end of the world can watch , if so please contact me if any body has a video

  4. will they make a video for sale so some of us at the other end of the world can watch , if so please contact me if any body has a video

  5. I still have the “Barney purple” factory Team Arctic race suit shown in so many of these photos. It goes well with my 97 Z440. Is that considered vintage yet?

  6. Court Jester (King)
    Nice work! The article and pics bring back good memories. Think about this,if Polaris never made the Indy XCR 440 Arctic Cat would never have made the game changing ZR 440. The 91-92 Prowler Special with the AWS II front suspension just could not take the punishment of cross-country racing,or even an aggressive trail rider. I had a 92 EXT Special that I bought as a left over,just because I had to have the flamed graphics. To this day it is one of my most favorite Cats I’ve owned. But by 1995 the front end collapsed on me in the,Upper Peninsula on a moguled out trail when a pack of ski doos went flying past our group. Well I could not let that happen,even though I had to find a welder that morning to repair the cross members that were cracked I chased them down doubling the big moguls just like a real racer would. I passed them and kept it hammered because the rhythm and momentum I had was just way to fun. Than on one final jump my hood popped up when the cross member finally broke,leaving a mess of fox shock oil,and myself sitting on the trail side. After 2-4 minutes the Doo riders passed,than 8-10 minutes later my group caught up. But in my mind I was a victorious 23 year old kid that thought he just won a race,and it was worth the sacrifice of my beloved 92 EXT special that had served me well and left me with great memories of victory and defeat.
    Jester I will dig up those pics from that story and e-mail them to you,and would he honored if you used them in one of your articles.
    Happy Holidays to all.

  7. As always John a great article! The pictures bring back a lot of great memories. The Pine Lake Race was always a high speed fun event. Nice to see Chad involved in putting on what I’m sure will continue to be a great event. The Dyrdahl Family have been great supporters of cross country racing, I really enjoyed seeing them back in the day at all the races.

    With Brian Nelson’s attention to detail, I know cross crountry snowmobile racing is in good hand’s. Hope to see you in Hoyt Lakes later this winter!

  8. Cat had something special going on with those ZR’s. I remember riding a buddy’s sled and being blown away by how well it cornered. It cornered better than an Indy, what the heck!

    Those pics of the early 90’s apparel made me laugh. That had to be the worst time period for the motorsports industry. MX gear looked awful and Polaris had some type of love affair with purple and decided if some is good, more is better and everything featured it. They must have got a good deal on that stuff in bulk. Thanks for the pics!

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