Competing at his first-ever World Championship Snowmobile Derby last weekend in Eagle River, Wis., Steve Arpin admitted he was nervous before each race.
In fact, the 15-year-old Fort High student admitted he couldn’t even talk before his race.
But then again, who says you have to talk to be a good racer.
Racing in front of a crowd estimated at 30,000, not to mention a live TV audience watching on a Duluth-Superior channel what has routinely been called the “Super Bowl” of snowmobile racing, Arpin had a rather unique way of calming those nerves.
He went out and won himself a world championship in his division.
Arpin first won his qualifying heat, and then the final race in the junior class on the slick, half-mile oval track, which challenges racers with a high 60-degree bank that provides dangerous turns for even the most seasoned drivers.
Meanwhile, Darren Lowes, 30, of Rainy River also stole the show at Eagle River against 300 of the top drivers from both the U.S. and Canada.
He placed first in his heat in the 500 fan division aboard a 440 sled, finished fourth in the semi-final, and then second in the final—all despite battling a problem with his carburetor.
“I passed the leader three times coming out of the corner,” said Lowes.
So how do you explain a pair of relatively inexperienced drivers—accustomed to racing on a flat course—performing so well on a track such as the one at Eagle River?
They both point to their teacher. And their Polaris Indy XCF 440 sleds.
Arpin’s dad, Chuck, the racing guru over at Pinewood Sports and Marine here, helped with their first attempt on an oval track by suggesting they enter the corners “very high” and at “full throttle.”
The advice certainly paid off.
“I would guarantee you that [other racers] wrecked about a million dollars worth of equipment,” said the elder Arpin, a former competitive racer himself.
“I always tell these guys I would rather see them be consistent drivers because you don’t learn anything by crashing,” he added. “Some drivers go faster than they should.”
Lowes said that advice helped them out “quite a bit,” especially considering the pair had no chance to test their sleds on the track before their races—not a good thing considering they were about to race on what is arguably the fastest track in the States.
Still, Chuck Arpin praised the accomplishments of the two racers, as well as the help they’ve received from Pinewood Sports employees Mike Strain and Dave Meades.
And he sees no reason why his drivers won’t continue to dominate on the track.
“Every lap and every race these two guys are in, they’ll learn something more,” he noted. “They’re rookies and they’re still learning.”
To compensate for the difficulty of the track, both drivers were able to get off to good starts—a key to racing in a set-up such as this.
“The [start] is the most important for several reasons,” said Chuck Arpin. “First, they don’t have to work through traffic. They then have the best choice of lanes and they don’t have to drive through snowdust.”
Both Arpin and Lowes expect to finish the season by racing on the MRP Pro Ice circuit in southern Minnesota.