GREENVILLE, Maine — Due to unseasonably warm weather, the first United States Cross Country snowmobile racing event of its kind in Maine was a no-go Friday afternoon.
In the space of about 15 hours, however, it turned into a really great show.
Thanks to quick thinking, great timing, some luck, and a cooperative effort by townspeople, chamber of commerce officials, and game wardens, the inaugural Victory Motorsports Maine 100 not only wasn’t canceled, it was a big success.
The final stop in the 2009-10 USCC East and overall USCC schedule drew 81 registered racers and more than 400 admission-paying fans to the all-day event featuring 16 racing classes in five different races.
“We originally had a course set up on a 12-mile loop over the mountains, but [Friday] we ran the course and the sun and warmth turned the last mile and a half from snow to mud,” said race coordinator Tom McCormick, who is also president of Moosehead Riders Snowmobile Club. “So at 3 p.m. Friday, the race was canceled.”
That was before McCormick made a last-ditch, desperation call to Greenville town manager John Simko.
“I asked what we could do, that maybe we could get on the lake. He wasn’t sure, but he happened to be on his way to the Maine wardens banquet, where the commissioner and other officials were.”
Those officials also happened to be the only ones able to approve permits for the event to be run on Moosehead Lake.
Those officials and wardens were agreeable, but there was another snag: No one connected with the Victory 100 had a permit in their names to run races on the frozen lake.
Once again, someone stepped up to unravel the snag. This time the hero was Doug Whitney, the owner of Bullwinkle’s Raceway in Greenville, which was going to be used as part of the original course layout. Whitney had permits for lake racing and he signed them over to McCormick and the USCC.
That left organizers one final major hurdle: Designing a suitable course over the next 12 hours in time for racers to be able to start their engines on time at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
“We had no idea how we’d pull it off Friday night, but we reconvened a safety meeting to see what we could do on the lake. They brought lights out that night to look it over and first thing in the morning, they came out to see what would work best,” McCormick said.
Officials from the USCC were out at first light and created a 3.2-mile course in three hours.
“It was a million-to-one shot, but we pulled it off thanks to a lot of people,” McCormick said.
Sponsors, racers, fans and USCC officials were impressed.
“The whole race committee and everyone involved was first class, from the organization to the way the community got behind it. We typically don’t see that in the midwest,” said USCC president Pat Mach. “This is encouraging.
“I think knowing what they could do with their backs up against the wall speaks volumes for their ability to host races here and draw people.”
Mach said the effort and the turnout solidifies the notion that Greenville is a solid location for future USCC racing. That’s great news for New England snow-cross racers.
“I’ve been semi retired the last four or five years, but I’ve been back trail riding and looking for something like this to happen,” said race competitor Chad Jones, a chief engineer on a crane ship that builds offshore structures in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jones returns to his native Abbott every other month during his four-weeks-on, four-weeks-off work schedule.
“Cross country is really my thing and I’d really like to see this take off,” said Jones, who finished second in the day’s premier race — the Maine 100 Pro 600 race — with a time of 47 minutes, 55.7 seconds. “I’m excited to see them bring it to the eastern part of the country.”
So is first-time competitive racer Michael Mayo Smith, who traveled from Somerville, Mass., to win the Sport 600 with a time of 21:46.7.
“It was actually a really good course. I have some background in amateur car racing, so I think I was able to bring a lot of knowledge for cornering and handling that the snow-cross guys didn’t have,” said Mayo Smith. “This was probably somewhere between an auto-cross road course and rally car racing layout. For lake racing, it was about as good as it could be.”
That’s music to the ears of McCormick, who spent the past two months trying to dispel the notion among skeptical racers — especially outside Maine — there wasn’t enough snow to hold the event.
“We basically had to keep convincing people that we did have snow and there would be racing, and then that happened, so I’m on top of the world right now,” McCormick said.
He’s not the only one.
Jackman native Erik Frigon, who now lives in Pownal, took home a couple of cash prizes for finishing second in the Maine 100 Semipro 600 and first in the Maine 100 Cecil R. Post American Legion Vet 30 division. But that’s not the only thing he had to smile about.
“If this had been canceled, that would have affected next year for sure, not only for Greenville, but for the whole East coast,” said Frigon, who wants to be the USCC’s East coordinator in 2011. “I told Tom if we can get through this year successfully, we shouldn’t have any major issues getting a race together again in the future with a lot longer to plan it.”
Frigon was the initial catalyst for the entire event with one single phone call.
“Erik wanted to get into this type of racing and he contacted them about putting some races in Maine,” McCormick said. “They called me, I said ‘definitely’ and everything kind of went from there.”
The winner of the day’s main event was D.J. Ekre of Shevlin, Minn. Ekre, one of 46 snowmobilers who traveled from either North Dakota, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Minnesota. Ekre won the Pro 600 with a time of 45:40.9 and finished second in the season standings.
Mike Brown of Hope won the Maine State Championship title with a time of 22:32.9.
Final standings in various race classes and the overall order of finish in races were determined by the time it took to complete the 3.2-mile course.