MEDWAY, Maine — The 3 to 5 inches of snow on the ground outside the East Branch Sno-Rovers clubhouse Saturday were not nearly enough for snowmobile riding, but plenty for snowmobile drag racing.
That’s why organizers of the Katahdin Area Snowmobile Racing Affilliates, or KASRA, are hopeful that next weekend’s Northeast Winter Nationals drag races will draw hundreds of snowmobile racers and fans to the clubhouse.
Jim Stanley, a volunteer race coordinator, said the club’s dozen or so racetrack volunteers have been spraying the 2,200-foot drag racing track or piling snow scraped from the club’s parking lot and a nearby field since Christmas.
Volunteers Maynard Michaud, Steve York and Willard Perry used pickup trucks, backhoes and two dump trucks to plow together piles of snow in the lot and carry them to the far end of the track on the southern end of the club property Saturday.
Volunteers will polish the track daily until the first races start at 11 a.m. Jan. 21.
“I believe we have 10 inches of ice out there right now, or more. It is a big block of ice,” said club president O.C. Stanley, who is Jim Stanley’s cousin.
“Making that track ice is the biggest thing we have to do every year,” Jim Stanley said. “We can only draw so much water out of our hydrant at one time. There were times we drew down so much water that we had to leave it alone for a few days.
“We are making wine out of water, that’s for sure,” Stanley added.
Club members formed KASRA to celebrate snowmobiling, carve a unique niche in the Maine outdoors sports scene with snowmobile drag racing, and develop a new revenue stream for the Katahdin region economy, which already has world-renowned snowmobile trails.
Snowmobile drag racing is not unlike auto drag racing. It’s loud, precise and a little amazing to the eyes. From the starter’s light pole to the finish line is 660 feet of ice. That’s the racing portion of the track. The rest is for slowing down.
Located at the clubhouse on Hathaway Road, about a mile from the East Millinocket line, the snowmobile drag racing track is the only one in Maine not built on a waterway. The club charges a $5 gate fee for people 12 and older.
The first and second years of racing were challenging for the club’s race organizers as they had to assuage doubts from their landlord, Katahdin Forest Management President Marcia McKeague, that the event would be safe for riders and spectators. Racers commonly hit speeds in excess of 120 mph.
But no serious accidents have been reported since the event’s beginning, O.C. Stanley said. That’s a tribute to the club’s volunteers and the members of the East Millinocket and Medway fire departments, who donate water and pumps to the track-making.
“We take our safety as seriously as we take our racing,” O.C. Stanley said.
The Stanleys hope that the lack of snowmobiling in the Katahdin region will help draw more of a crowd to the events. Pre-race registration will run from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday, with races starting at 11 a.m. that day. Sunday’s races start at 10 a.m.
“At least this weekend it will be a big boost for this area,” Jim Stanley said. “We have racers from New York to Nova Scotia calling and saying they are going to come.”