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Snowmobile drag-racing season starts in Medway

Bangor Daily News | BDN
Bangor Daily News | BDN
A sledder accelerates down the 2,200-foot ice covered track at the East Branch Sno-Rovers Club in Medway on Sunday, January 9, 2011 during the Katahdin Area Snowmobile Racing Affiliates race. BDN Photo by Kevin Bennett
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MEDWAY, Maine — Thirteen-year-old Trevor Stanley had never run his Arctic Cat Crossfire 500 snowmobile with the throttle wide open, with studs on its tracks to help it grip the ice. After trying it several times on Saturday, he was a little surprised.

“I didn’t know my sled could go that fast. It was still going faster when I crossed the finish line,” Stanley said of his first run at the Katahdin Area Snowmobile Racing Affiliates race. “You have to be really careful because if you turn it just slightly, you can go right off the side of the track, and it feels like it [the sled’s accelera-tion and inertial drag] will rip you right off the sled. You have to hang on really tight.”

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Stanley, who won two trophies in two classes for his 73.2 and 73.8 mph performances, was among about 50 racers who entered KASRA’s Radar Run and Test and Tune at the East Branch Sno-Rovers Club on Hathaway Road near the East Millinocket line.

As many as 600 spectators attended the two-day event, the first such snowmobile race held in the Northeast, said Brian Wiley, club vice president and race director.

No injuries were reported on both days, though two mishaps occurred. On Saturday, sledder Austin Woods of Houlton did a tail stand — overgunning the engine so much that the snowmobile went perpendicular to the track — but managed to put the sled back down without wiping out. “He did a helluva job riding the sled out,” Wiley said.

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On Sunday, racer Max Voisine of Chester wrecked his Arctic Cat Pro Stock 1000 when he flipped it over at about 118 mph. He flew off the machine a few hundred feet, but he walked away from the accident, requiring treatment for only minor injuries at the scene.

“I would have liked to have seen more people,” Wiley said, “but it was a good turnout considering that it’s so early in the season. The reports we get from a lot of professional teams in Canada is that this is early for them because they are really not expecting to be able to race.

“We had some [racing] classes that we didn’t fill, but a lot of that has to do with people not being ready. Lots of teams are still getting sleds ready, building their engines. They weren’t here today,” Wiley added. “There are a lot of them who prefer to test their sleds privately instead of on a radar track like we ran today.”

Wiley and assistant race director Jim Stanley, Trevor’s father, said they expected more racers and spectators Jan. 21-23 when the club holds the Northeast Winter Nationals, the first chance for professional racers to test the clubhouse’s 2,200-foot ice track in a regular-season races. The club charges a $3 gate fee for spectators ages 12 and over.

The club also will hold six KASRA races over the next several weeks, awarding money, jackets and other prizes, Stanley said. The KASRA State Championship will be held Feb. 20.

Holding the race so early in the national and Canadian winter snowmobile drag-racing season was a bid to take advantage of the club’s being the only standing or ground-based track in the U.S. Northeast, Wiley said. All other tracks are built on lakes and rivers whose ice hasn’t formed yet.

By effectively lengthening the racing season by a week and laying claim to the calendar weekend, Wiley said, organizers hope to draw more top-flight professional racers and eventually make East Branch one of the premier stops on the professional winter snowmobile drag-racing circuit that runs from Michigan to New York to New England and into Canada.

“We wanted to use this race to introduce people to the track and let them know that we have a first-class operation,” Wiley said. “We can do it because it’s cold enough to and we have the dirt-based track.”

The club could easily become a favorite spot on the circuit, said professional racer Walter Joy, 45, of Northwood, N.H., who rode his Ski-Doo 800 Pro Stock snowmobile to a second-place overall finish on the day by crossing the finish line at 123.07 mph. Race speeds can reach 150 mph.

“It’s a man-made track so there is only so much you can do. They did a good job with it. We’ll come back,” Joy said of his racing team. “I would rather come to a land track like this. You don’t have to worry about falling through the ice” as you would on a river or lake.

Club members began holding races last winter with an eye toward improving the Katahdin region’s economy and building on the region’s international reputation for excellent snowmobiling and eventually perhaps rivaling New England’s largest snowmobile drag-racing event, the Epping, N.H., Grass Drags, which are run on grass in October and draw at least 10,000 people.

A club drag-racing event held Jan. 16-17 last year drew almost 200 racers and about 1,700 spectators, a promising start for the club’s inaugural season.

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