From left: Wesley Chapman, 18, Austin Gabbert, 18, and A.J. Stoffle, 14, stand with Gabbert's Snocross sled. The Craig residents and Snocross competitors started driving today for the International Series of Champions season kickoff in Duluth, Minn. They will race Nov. 23-25, and race throughout the winter around Colorado and Wyoming.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

From left: Wesley Chapman, 18, Austin Gabbert, 18, and A.J. Stoffle, 14, stand with Gabbert's Snocross sled. The Craig residents and Snocross competitors started driving today for the International Series of Champions season kickoff in Duluth, Minn. They will race Nov. 23-25, and race throughout the winter around Colorado and Wyoming.

Craig locals starting Snocross season in style

For three teenagers from Craig, a winter sports season began today with a lengthy drive.

A.J. Stoffle, Wesley Chapman and Austin Gabbert began driving early Saturday morning, along with Stoffle’s parents Teresa and Mike, to Duluth, Minn., to kick off their Snocross season.

The three friends from Craig (A.J., 14, is a freshman at Moffat County High School, Chapman, 18, and Gabbert, 18, graduated in May) race most frequently in a Colorado and Wyoming Xtreme Mountain Racing (XMR) circuit, but also go to several International Series of Champions (ISOC) events over the course of the November-March season.

The AMSOIL Duluth National is the first big race of the season, much like the Daytona 500 in NASCAR, Chapman said. While XMR races feature smaller fields, 80-100 riders will race in each class over the three-day event Nov. 23-25, Gabbert said.

“The starting line sounds pretty epic,” Gabbert said. “Compared to XMR where you’ve got six riders in your class, you go to a national and you’ve got 15 riders pinned to the first corner (in each heat). It’s going to be a rush.”

The boys’ interest in Snocross, which has been featured at the X-Games in the past and is making a return this year, started with A.J. almost 10 years ago, as mom Teresa tells it.

“He was four years old when he started,” she said. “We took (A.J.) to Steamboat to watch our nephew run and he said I want to do this. We had a snowmobile, we went and bought him all the gear and he raced that night. I did daycare, and Wesley was in my daycare so he was around it all the time, so he started three years ago, and then last year Austin started.”

Their love for the sport is clear. Stoffle, Chapman and Gabbert all put in time on the maintenance and upkeep of their sleds, seek out their own sponsors and work during the offseason to be able to pay their way to the big events.

As the newest to the sport, Gabbert loved his first season on the XMR circuit.

“Through XMR I’ve met some of the coolest people I’ve met,” he said. “Plus the adrenaline rush is great.”

The hard work has also paid off in success. Chapman has won nine XMR points championships in the past three years (winning in three different classes each year) and came in second in the Duluth race in 2011. A.J. won three points championships of his own last year along with a first place at an ISOC event in Utah, and Gabbert won another in his first year racing.

All three cite the rush of racing as a primary part of the fun to be had in Snocross, but there are other attractive aspects of the sport.

“Meeting everybody,” Chapman said. “There will be riders (in Duluth) from Sweden and Canada. The Monster (energy drink) girls will be at nationals too.”

“I love the competition,” A.J. said. “We don’t have that range of riders in our circuit, which makes it fun.”

A.J., Chapman and Gabbert are all excited to be headed out for another season. Even with their success, they are still humble and appreciative of the opportunities they get to race, and know it wouldn’t happen without help.

“Thanks to all our sponsors that help us get to where we are,” A.J. said.

“It is expensive going back east,” Gabbert said. “So it’s a big thanks to Teresa and Mike for helping us get there also.”

A.J. will race in the Junior 14-15 class Nov. 23 while Chapman and Gabbert will compete in the Sport classes Nov. 23 and 24.

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com. Follow Craig Daily Press sports coverage on Twitter at @CDP_Sports.

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