Is It Snowmobile Racing?

Would reigning Eagle River champ P.J. Wanderscheid be as exciting to watch if he were strapped into an Outlaw 600?

Engine builder John Hooper, owner of Hooper Race Engines, knows ice oval racing and has been an integral part of the programs of Eagle River World Champions P.J. Wanderscheid and Gary Moyle. He’s a smart guy, and his latest brainchild is an oval racing machine he calls the Outlaw 600. The guys Hooper thinks will race these sleds are: “retired or older snowmobile racers from ovals, snocross and drags 28-50 yrs old; summertime racers of various ages from Karts, stock cars and sprint cars; trail riders that love racing but know they are not physically capable of racing a normal sled in snocross or ice ovals.”

 

Here’s a video of the proposed vehicle:

While it looks like a fun, well-built machine, there are many issues with the Outlaw 600 that start on a basic level. Will these people commit to spend $10-12K building one of these sleds and actually come out and race? That remains to be seen. It’s neither a car or a snowmobile, so would it appeal to either group? But, most importantly, it takes away the most important aspect of snowmobile racing which is rider control of the machine. If this thing starts getting crossed up in the braking bumps going into Turn 1 at Eagle River, what are you going to do? You’re strapped into it holding on to the steering wheel so you can’t use your body to influence the machine.

Also, the proposed vehicle has many safety issues. For example, it lacks a protective foot box, a breakaway steering column and the rider sits in a thin aluminum seat with no back protection. Riders are required to wear a fire suit but, while not in the rules, it should have a fuel cell with a bladder. If the sled were fully-outfitted with required safety items bare-bones build prices may approach $15K, which is what a competitive Champ will cost you. Lastly if it wins on Sunday what will it sell on Monday?

Terry Wahl's twin tracker from 1995. Photo: www.snowmobilehalloffame.com

Then there’s the proposed Formula 1 SuperSeries twin-track class (supposedly) set to debut in 2012.

The press release from parent company Pacific Group Inc. (no doubt written by the same people who used to do PR for Redline snowmobiles) makes some big promises regarding sponsorships from “Fortune 500 corporations” and the machine is promised to be “the most exotic, and competitive twin-track built to date.”

While I highly doubt this race series will ever see the light of day, my question is: didn’t we already try this?

And who in this sport still knows how to build twin trackers?

Perhaps a better question is, who still knows how to build twin trackers and wants to build them? Dave Wahl maybe? Certainly no OEMs would go down that road again.

And who knows how to ride them? These things were insanely fast and even guys who used to ride them back in the day say they wouldn’t get back on one.

I could pick apart both these ideas til the cows come home, but the main problem is neither one of these proposed ideas is snowmobile racing. At least not what snowmobile racing should be. Moreover, the problem with ice oval racing isn’t that it needs a new racing class on the pointy end of the talent and budget stick, it needs to go grassroots.

I have firsthand experience with the USCC cross-country race circuit (the only racing circuit that continues to grow year after year) and I can tell you the reason its so successful is NOT that it has a handful of teams and riders dumping pickup loads of cash into a hand-build sled designed to run a select few races. Rather, it’s successful because anyone can go buy a sled at their dealer, jump on it and go racing. You don’t need to shop for a chassis builder, you don’t need to search for an engine or source a bunch of parts – it’s all right there, ready to ride on the showroom floor. I’ll take it a step farther and say grassroots is the answer to ANY of the questions on how to grow snowmobile racing and keep it healthy.

“OK Jim,” you say, “if you’re so smart, what would you do to help oval racing?” First off, instead of following visionaries into the unknown or trying to play off its past, oval racing needs to focus on three things:

1. Bringing in new and younger riders (not “retired or older snowmobile racers from ovals, snocross and drags”)

2. Keeping racing affordable

3. Keep it fun.

This is true for ALL forms of racing, not just oval.

But I also have some specific changes I’d like to see made to ovals:

1. Get rid of 10,500RPM Champ engines and make the top class 600cc stock, single pipe, blueprinted engines (with a loud can, of course).

2. Put an expiration date on Champ chassis and set a resale price on them so new/younger riders can get a cheap chassis to start racing. Or, create rules for spec chassis for the semi-pro class so anyone can build their own.

3. Make the Semi-Pro class a 600cc single pipe class with engine intake restrictions (throttle block). This way, semi-pros are already riding the sled they’ll race in the Champ class.

Right now there are a ton of Champ 440 riders, but there is no feeder class. Most guys race vintage Sno Pro sleds to gear up for Champ, but that’s hardly an effective plan as a feeder class. Fact is, most people trying to get into racing Champ need a lot of help from the established guys, from sharpening carbides to setup tips, to used parts, it’s a tough sport to get into.

So what does the future hold? Maybe the answer for oval racing lies in a snow oval circuit as suggested by Arctic Insider’s John Sandberg?

Whatever happens, ice oval racing would better serve itself to pull back and go grassroots instead of chasing a new, high-dollar vehicle with its own distinct racing class to which the average snowmobiler, snowmobile dealer or manufacturer can claim no connection.

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