BANGOR, Maine — Snowmobile enthusiasts from around the state are expected to flock to Bass Park next weekend as the Paul Bunyan Snocross brings its high-speed snow show to the Queen City for the second straight year.
The event, which is a stop on the East Coast Snocross tour, is one of two Maine events planned for this winter’s competition season. The second, the North Woods Sno-X Challenge, will be held March 12-13 at Historic Pittston Farm in Rockwood.
The Paul Bunyan Snocross is organized by the Eastern Maine Community College Foundation and serves as a fundraiser for scholarships to the school.
“[Fans] are going to see wild, flying action,” event coordinator Jennifer Khavari said. “The circuit comes with professional racers — this is all they do.”
But that’s not all you’ll see — or experience — at the races.
More adventurous recreational sledders can also suit up and race during the weekend.
“There’s a trail class, so you or a neighbor, or anybody who owns a snowmobile can enter and run in a heat,” Khavari said. “That’s really exciting for the amateur racers.”
There’s also a 120cc class for youth riders.
“[The young riders] are so cute, and they take it just as seriously as the pro riders,” Khavari said.
Spectator gates open at 10 a.m. Jan. 30 and Jan. 31. Admission is $15 for a single day or $20 for the weekend. Children 7 and under get in free.
Khavari said the first Paul Bunyan Snocross, which was staged a year ago, was “wildly successful,” but attendance wasn’t quite as high as organizers hoped it would be.
“Honestly, we had higher expectations, attendancewise, for sure,” she said. “We were expecting 10,000 [for the weekend], and we got about 6,000.”
One of the reasons for the optimism: Bangor’s rich history of oval-track snowmobile racing, which dates to 1968 and stretched over several years before petering out.
“We didn’t directly get that 1970s oval race fan coming back,” Khavari said. “We had heard that Bass Park drew 12,000 to 15,000 people at one point. We were hoping for a fraction of that, which we got. But again, it was something new for the area and was a revenue-generating source for Bass Park in January, which was really exciting. And the college made some money, which translates to scholarships.”
It also led to some interesting work experience for EMCC students, some of whom served as flaggers during the race. This year, a law enforcement professor at the college and student volunteers will provide security at the venue.
While Bangor is a small city, it’s a thriving metropolis when compared with other host venue for East Coast Snocross, Khavari said.
“This is the most urban setting for this producer of snocross, which is why they wanted to come back again this year,” she said.
Many of the other venues are deep in the woods, Khavari said. That’s certainly the case for the March races that will be held at Historic Pittston Farm.
On Friday, Jan. 29, racers will get a chance to test the track, and Khavari is hoping another event being held in the city that day will lead to some added excitement.
“One of the really fun things this year is we’ve partnered with Waterfront Concerts to co-promote the Brad Paisley concert, which is happening Friday night,” Khavari said. “So we’re hoping — fingers crossed — to get Brad or his crew on a snowmobile at some point. No promises, but that would be something fun and different to do.”
One concern last year — a supply of snow that course builders can work with — doesn’t seem to be a factor this time around, Khavari said.
“I know everybody is talking about how cold it is, but it’s good for us because it keeps the snow piles in piles and it doesn’t melt,” she said. “This year, knock on wood, we are 99.9 percent sure we will not have to make any man-made snow.”
Khavari said she had hoped for an additional 10 inches of snow during a predicted Saturday storm. More current forecasts indicate that won’t happen.
“Just give me two more weeks [of snow and cold],” she said. “Then spring can come.”