Snow X-ing

Sled races draw crowds to Loudy-Simpson

The snowmobile subculture moved into Loudy-Simpson Park Saturday and Sunday for the fourth race in the 2003-2004 Warrior Snocross season.

They came in pickups pulling trailers that would have hauled horses to fairs and rodeos only a few months ago. Only now, the trailers hauled snowmobiles, or sleds, as the racers more simply say. Once the sleds were unloaded and fired up for the races, the trailers became most of the racers' homes for the weekend; providing a place to warm up during the day, and sheltering them from the frigid January nights.

It's nothing as comfortable as the motor homes weekend warriors drive on their expeditions into state parks and national monuments. Most of them are big metal boxes, made to haul machines or animals, but modified to house people. Some have sinks and beds that fold away from the walls.

Generators growled outside the temporary homes, providing racers, their families and supporters, with all the creature comforts of permanent homes.

Cases of soda, water and Red Bull were left stacked by the door to stay cool. Charcoals grills stood outside for lunchtime barbecue.

Collin Howe and Alex Headley of Team Avalanche came in the Taj Mahal of trailers, a 30-foot rig with a lift gate that hauls the sleds in and out, and lifts spectators to the roof for better viewing of the half-mile circuit course.

It's a spacious two floors, nicer than the places many people call home. Most importantly, it's warm inside.

Upon entering, there are stairs to the immediate right that lead to a comfortable living area, complete with a couch, television, micro-fridge and microwave. More stairs in the corner wrap around to the second floor. On the first level, there's a small kitchen area, with a sink and cupboards and plenty of food.

But Howe, a semi-pro who moved from Vermont to Silverthorne so he could train and work with pro racer Headley, said they have bigger plans for the trailer. The duo envisions building another level, adjacent to the sleeping quarters, to house the sleds. Then they can build another living area or more sleeping quarters or whatever they want in the new space.

Howe said they pay for the behemoth by renting out the tractor half of the tractor-trailer for odd jobs during the weeks. They also haul around the Sno-Cat that grooms the courses for the races.

As their weekend homes demonstrate, many of these people live for snowmobile racing. Take Matt Chartier of Rifle. During the summer, he wakes at 4 a.m. to work out for two hours. Then he goes to work until about 4 p.m., comes home, and rides his dirt bike until dark. He doesn't race motocross, but its similar to snocross, and his dirt bike makes for a fitting snowmobile substitute when no snow is around.

Chartier's hard work has paid off, landing him in the national finals last year. But he is by no means the only one for whom snocross has become an obsession.

Everyone says they lift weights. Many of them run. They have to, because snocross is such a physically grueling sport.

"If you aren't in shape, you can barely hold on," said Brandon Hughes of Grand Junction, who was racing in the sport 600 class, a class between the age defined junior classes, and the semi-pros. "You use muscles you hardly ever use."

Hughes said he doesn't know why his legs get so sore that he can barely walk by the end of a day of racing. But the not knowing why doesn't bother him, because the soreness is a byproduct of the racing he loves.

Some have to deal with more than soreness. Stephanie Coleman, a sport racer from Grand Junction, raced with a broken foot last season. On Sunday, two pro women racers intended to race with broken bones. Bobby Hankins, of Action Motorsports, raced with three broken bones last season.

"No one said we were smart," Coleman quipped.

Indeed, injuries are common, even expected, but not especially feared. There were many jumps on the course, and it appeared as though the sleds would land in a heap at the other side. Shawn Murphy, a Parachute resident who took first in the statewide juniors 16-17 class last season, said most racers watch out for one another. They choose their own lane and stay in it, to prevent collision accidents.

But as the day progresses, the course changes, until by late afternoon, it doesn't event seem like the same course it was in the morning, Hughes said. The jumps get dished out in places, and if a racer doesn't hit it quite right, they're knocked off kilter and can slam into one another. Obviously, 500-pound machines colliding in midair can be a problem to a rider.

But it's another problem entirely when a machine won't go at all, or if it's broke and unfit to drive. A sled on its side is a common sight in the race pit. But despite its regularity, it's heartbreaking when it happens to you.

J.C. Deschner drove from Longden, Utah, to race in the juniors 16-17 class. It was to be his first race. But then the tail end broke off his sled and the bolt that connected it was lost.

His team drilled holes in the plastic tail, and tied it back on with thin plastic strips. Then the engine started acting up. The announcer called Deschner's race, but the hood of his sled was still up in the air. His friend, Bobby Snyder, went to see if he could stall the race, while Deschner went in search of another sled. It couldn't be helped. For Deschner, there'd be no race Saturday.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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