Snowmobile race organizer miffed by lack of support

Posted Jan. 09, 2011, at 8:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:24 a.m.

MEDWAY, Maine — Saturday’s Katahdin Area Snowmobile Racing Affiliates’ test and tune races were over. A dozen East Branch Sno-Rover’s Club volunteers, many already having worked 12 hours, were preparing the club’s track for Sunday’s drag races.

Conditions were good, but volunteer race director Brian Wiley was annoyed.

“There are hotels and restaurants who are failing to support our efforts even though they benefit from this the most,” Wiley said Saturday.

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The club, which sells sponsorships for $250 to $2,500, needs eight $250 sponsors to reach the club’s goal of $10,000 in prize money for what might be its biggest event, the Northeast Winter Nationals, on Jan. 21-23, he said.

“I understand times are tough,” Wiley said, “but we are here trying to do a public service. We are asking our people to work not just today and tomorrow and every race weekend we have, and they are willing to do everything that needs to be done, for free.”

Sponsorships are crucial to eventually making the club a premier stop on the snowmobile drag-racing circuit that runs from Michigan through the Northeast into Canada, volunteer assistant race director Jim Stanley said.

“We are talking about growing the single-biggest snowmobile weekend in Maine,” Stanley said of the nationals.

Big purses draw the best racers, who draw the biggest crowds, said Walter Joy, a professional snowmobiler from Northwood, N.H., who races 10 to 15 circuit events annually.

Given Maine’s international standing for snowmobile trails, creating a similar drag-racing scene will be lucrative for the region, Wiley said. Snowmobiling is already an economic cornerstone for Maine, and last year’s East Branch races drew several thousand spectators.

Some businesspeople see the races’ potential.

“I like the money this brings into the area,” said Jaimie Wallace, owner of Lennie’s Superette of Medway and a $500 sponsor. “They do a great job.”

Charity events for residents distressed by disasters or health crises uniformly draw strong support in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes regions. Yet the regions don’t always support regional development. Some blame community rivalries on decades of competition among paper mills.

The Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce has sometimes lacked funding, and as a former Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce president, Wiley said he regularly saw difficulty getting East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket businesses to help one another.

Wiley transcends the rivalries. An East Millinocket resident and East Branch club president, he helped organize a truck and tractor pull that drew about 3,000 people to Millinocket Regional Airport in September.

The Brian Wiley Multi-Use Recreational Bridge just west of Millinocket was named after him in February 2010 for his work developing multiuse recreational trail networks in Katahdin.

But his patience with the lack of sponsors has limits, he said.

“When people want to know where they should stay or eat, we’ll send them to the people who help us,” Wiley said. “We are not going to send anybody to the people who do not support us.”

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