Snowmobile enthusiasts will be treated to some high-flying action in February when Fort Frances hosts a weekend of races as part of the Mn North Sno-cross series.
The race—sponsored by Saber Traction of Wisconsin and the Red Dog Inn—is slated Feb. 12-13 at the old horse grounds on McIrvine Road near the airport.
The Sunset Country Snowmobile Club is staging the event and has signed a five-year lease with the town for use of the property.
Cawston, who helped fellow Badiuk Equipment employee Daryl Begin spearhead the idea, said hosting an event like this here will only heighten what’s already a popular winter pastime in the district.
With interest taking off in anticipation of having a good year for snow (after two lacklustre seasons in a row), Cawston predicted this could be an exceptional year for snowmobiling.
“[The idea] has been in the back of our minds for a couple of years,” he said, adding Fort Frances beat out a long list of towns in Minnesota which also had applied to host a weekend of racing.
“I think we were picked because what Fort Frances has to offer, and the fact that we went down there and talked to them and that got the ball rolling.
“That and the fact we’ll bring an international flavour,” Cawston added.
Circuit president Lee Mattfield, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mn., said he’s excited about the prospect of Fort Frances joining their young series (in just its second year).
“We have quite a few Canadian racers travelling down here all the time and I would like to see us expand [up there],” he said last week. “We have to break that invisible border and get racers to go up there.”
Other races on the circuit are slated for Grand Rapids (Dec. 18-19), Proctor, Mn. (Jan. 8-9), Bemidji, Mn. (Jan. 29-30), Hibbing, Mn. (Jan. 29-30 and again March 18-19), and Floodwood, Mn. (Feb. 19-20).
Cawston hopes to attract about 2,000 spectators for the two days of racing, and said they should be in for a real treat in what is considered as the elite sno-cross circuit in North America (part of the World Snowmobiling Association).
Racers can go as fast as 60 mph and will make jumps as high as 25-30 feet, he noted.
“The sport is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Cawston, adding it can be seen on television throughout the winter. “But you almost have to attend an event to get the feel.
“It’s excellent racing and with the heated action, people in Fort Frances haven’t seen anything like it,” he remarked. “It’s to promote snow racing and it’s a lot of fun.
“Wintertime racing is where it’s at,” he enthused.
Mattfield agreed, saying the sport is fun, fan-friendly, and very exciting.
Racers will hail from as far as Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Minnesota, and North Dakota, with Cawston expecting anywhere from 150-250 racing teams to make the trip here.
Joining the out-of-town drivers will be local racers Johnny Lundon, who had success racing the circuit in Minnesota last year, and Brian DeGagne.
Both are expected to be competitive during the races this season but more local drivers are expected to test their talents on the track, particularly in the amateur division.
All drivers are asked to register by at least the Tuesday before the first race. Cost is $30 (U.S.) to register with the circuit and an additional $25 (U.S.) to race in a class.
But because organizers expect several amateur racers to take part, they are asking people to register as soon as possible so they can properly allocate track time.
Racers interested in registering can contact either Heather or Mike Fleischler at 1-612-242-8579 (phone) or 1-612-274-1542 (fax), or Mattfield at 1-218-326-6941 (phone) or 1-218-326-6941 (fax).
Payment can either be by cheque or credit card. Racers also must have the appropriate safety equipment and machinery.
The local snowmobile club will be grooming the track, which will be oval and about a half-mile long with an assortment of “huge” bumps, over the winter using its new BR 180 groomer.
Cawston predicted when they’re done, Fort Frances will have “one of the best tracks [around].”
The club also will be putting up the money to run the event—which Cawston estimated at $8,000-$10,000.
But the event plans to make its money back by charging $10 per day for spectators, and by selling food, coffee, and hot chocolate both days.
Cawston said all money raised will go towards grooming local trails.
Organizers also are confident the weekend will bring an economic boost to the town during what is traditionally a slow time for tourism.
“You’ll have every hotel in Fort Frances sold out,” Cawston asserted.