Despite several hours of rain on Saturday, the crowds eventually came and Duluth fulfilled the season-opening promise its delivered for the past 20 years.
After a decade of winning (and usually dominating) the Duluth opener, Tucker Hibbert found himself in the unusual position of notching a fourth and third in the two Pro Open finals.
The most exciting race of the weekend took place on Saturday when, on the second of 20 laps, Hibbert went from third to 14th following a weird tail-swap that put him off the track. Upon re-entering the track, Hibbert put on a show of speed, determination and brute force that was nothing short of stunning. There is no doubt in my mind that had the off-track excursion not occurred, Hibbert would have won the final.
With Hibberts finishes and some sparse success in other classes, there’s naturally some talk and concern about Team Arctic’s prospects for the season. I’ll post something about that subject later this week, but for now I’ll simply say this: With an all-new sled that has had very little test time going against two VERY developed competitors, and a race program that doesn’t have the massive budgets of those other brands, expecting the usual success at the season opener was an unrealistic expectation. The wins will come, but it’s going to take some more seat time.
Tucker is going to win races this year.
Dan Ebert is another racer who will continue to improve this season as he figures out the nuances of his machine and logs important test time.
The first race of the season also happened to be the Pro class debut for Factory Team Arctic’s Cody Thomsen. Cody commented to me that the big differences between Semi Pro and Pro was that ALL of the Pros are fast, and that getting a holeshot is critical in the big class.
Cody had a few bobbles during the weekend, and a few moments of blazing speed. This will be a learning season for him as he adjusts to the intesity of the top class.
Cody’s teammate, Kyle Pallin, also made the jump to the Pro class for this season. With its two top Semi Pro’s gone from the class (which is now named Pro Lite), Team Arctic had a tough weekend.
Give them a few weeks of testing the new sled and racers like Matt Pichner, Taylor Meuwisson, Devin Bertoch and others will find greater speed, comfort and success in Pro Lite.
An off-season knee injury/surgery put Logan Christian on the injured-reserve until a week prior to Duluth. With zero test/practice time, the Christian Bros. Racing/DRIFT racer wasn’t expected to go full-pace. But Logan is a racer and, once the doctor gave the green light, he wasn’t about to wait for his form to come later in the season.
CBR/DRIFT/Arctic Cat teammate Cory Davis is also back in the saddle after working through injury last season.
2011 European Snocross Champion Magnus Lindback of Alta, Norway, returned to Duluth for the second year in a row. Riding for the Frattalone/Arctic Cat team, Lindback looked fast and stylish despite competing in the Pro class aboard a mostly-stock Sno Pro.
With three Pro racers, the Factory Arctic Cat team’s race rig was a flurry of activity throughout the weekend.
Keeping the Mod race sleds of Dan Ebert, Cody Thomsen and Kyle Pallin running at their best is serious business. So much work is compressed into such little available time, especially this season with an all-new race sled that, in Mod form, wasn’t completed until Tuesday prior to Spirit weekend.
Battling a nasty case of the flu, Crew Chief Russ Ebert soldiered through the weekend to help tune and calibrate the all-new Sno Pro race sled. Here he talks with Team Arctic Race Manager, Mike Kloety, about changed they’d implemented on the skidframe.
Russ also had several discussions with Riger Skime (r), VP of Engineering, comparing notes about where the new sled excelled, and where in needed more test time and calibration.
Both of these guys have seen many, many first-year race sled efforts, and both know that it takes a few races before the suspensions, engines, carburetion, clutching and shocks are optimized. Yet both are also tenacious competitors who hate to lose. After several years of dominating the Spirit National, experiencing a winless weekend was a bitter pill to swallow.
The determination I saw on their faces and heard in their voices is a powerful reminder that success will soon follow.
One key to Team Arctic’s past and future success is Steve Houle, owner of Speedwerx and one of the very best motor and clutch men this sport has ever seen. The Team Arctic Pro racers are all using Speedwerx mod motors, while practically every Team Arctic racer uses his clutch calibration regardless if it’s a mod or stock sled.
Steve Houle’s hands work magic on Dan Ebert’s clutch.
Another person who influences Team Arctic’s success, Rick Strobel (r) of FOX Racing Shox discusses with Dan Ebert which direction to go with calibration the shocks on Ebert’s sled.
This is a never-ending collaboration that plays out each and every weekend through the season. FOX is a key partner to Team Arctic’s race and consumer sled program because of their outstanding knowledge, effort and support.
I heard mixed reactions from the Pros about racing only Mod sleds and no stocker. For my money, I like when they race both and I see trouble ahead with ever-more-expensive Mod-only pursuits. Think about how twin-trackers nearly killed oval racing…that’s where unbridled mod-racing can lead.
The Mod-only rule definitely favors the big-budget race programs, while hurting the more modest efforts.
Plus, I simply liked seeing how various racers compared to each other in both Mod and Stock classes.
Next stop: the #68 race trailer. Tucker tries very hard to keep me out of the Hibbert/Monster/Arctic Cat race trailer, using these fancy signs and rugged chain, but I have my methods of avoiding this baloney.
When I passed the armed guards and got inside, Kirk Hibbert was bleeding the brake on Tucker’s race sled.
Races are an amalgamation of many things, especially the season opener at Duluth. For the crew, they represent a deadline to finish building and see where you stack up against the competition. With a late build date (followed by some even-later arrivals of key parts), Team Arctic racers entered Duluth with only a couple days of riding, and almost no testing.
Kirk was one of many who was running on very little sleep and a lot of Monster.
Mother T, aka Teresa Hibbert, has probably been to more races than anyone besides husband Kirk. She still watches some of the races, but she also catches up on some important reading. I think the book this weekend was about clutch and shock calibration.
After working with the Factory Arctic Cat riders, Strobel was inside Hibbert’s trailer talking with Kirk and Tucker about calibration suggestions for the array of FOX shocks the team uses.
Arctic Cat engineers Troy Halvorson (l) and Lynn Berberich were watching, talking and planning throughout the weekend.
Ditto for engineer/racer Brian Dick (l), who I captured here talking with legendary dad, Paul. These two are tackling the Iron Dog race together this season aboard Sno Pro 600 race sleds. I can’t wait to hear the stories they’ll tell.
Speaking of Iron Dog and legends, Team Arctic’s Scott Davis was at Duluth, drinking coffee and showing off his ability to rotate his right shoulder post-surgery. Davis raced the Iron Dog with his son Cory last season, but will stay on the sidelines this year while his shoulder heals.
Speaking of healing, that’s what’s in store for Megan Campbell. A crash in the Women’s final on Sunday put the Michigan racer in the hospital, looking at the X-ray below. Get healed up, Megan!
There were some podium finishes in the other classes. Jacob Blanshan scored a pair of second-place finishes in the Sport class. Nice riding, Jacob!
Wakenda Peters finished second in the Women’s Pro-Am final.
Tyler Adams of Arlington Heights, IL, nailed a hefty second in Jr. 14-15 and a fourth in Jr. 16-17.
Christian Bros. Racing has a spiffy new vending trailer that will be at all of the Nationals and a few of the USCC cross-country races. All kinds of DRIFT gear, as well as Troy Lee Designs stuff!
Good to see the sledNecks out in full-force at Duluth, even though high winds prevented the freestyle show from happening.
Thanks for reading.