A.J. Stoffle navigates a turn at the Duluth National race in Duluth, Minn. last weekend. Stoffle placed seventh in the Junior 14-15 class.

SpeedPunks Images/courtesy

A.J. Stoffle navigates a turn at the Duluth National race in Duluth, Minn. last weekend. Stoffle placed seventh in the Junior 14-15 class.

Craig boys return from national Snocross race

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Wesley Chapman rides his snowmobile at the International Series of Champions Duluth National Snocross event last week. Chapman, 18, and friends Austin Gabbert and A.J. Stoffle attended the international race in Duluth, Minn. to kick off the Snocross season.

There was no hardware to accompany the Snocross sleds on the way back from Minnesota, but plenty to be proud of and plenty to look forward to.

Three Craig teenagers returned Monday from the International Series of Champions kickoff event, the AMSOIL Duluth National in Duluth, Minn. A.J. Stoffle, Wesley Chapman and Austin Gabbert were competing at their first race of the Snocross season.

Chapman and Gabbert, both 18, raced in the Sport category, which is for amateur racers ages 18 and older. Neither racer qualified for the finals on Friday or Saturday’s Sport classes, and said they didn’t feel as prepared as they could have been.

“I felt like it was definitely the first race of the year,” Chapman said. “I didn’t do as good as I was hoping.”

“There’s still a lot of cobwebs to work out,” Gabbert said.

They both struggled to get strong enough starts, an important aspect of racing in the packed heats in Duluth, where racers can easily be pushed to the back of the pack at the first turn.

In his four races, Chapman finished eighth, seventh and fourth twice. Gabbert was 10th, eighth and seventh twice. In the field of 107 competing in Sport, those finishes were not good enough to advance to the finals, comprised of 15 riders.

“You pretty much had to win both your heats or your weekend was done,” Chapman said. “A third-place finish, and your weekend was probably over because there were so many people.”

Both were disappointed with their finishes, but knew it would be a tough race moving into the Sport division for the first time.

“There are a lot more big name riders and teams (in Sport),” Gabbert said. “Sport class is just crazy, those riders are out of control.”

Last year Chapman had finished second in the Junior 16-17 class, so he had high hopes of being among the best again. But it didn’t work out that way.

This was Gabbert’s first ISOC race and he said it taught him valuable lessons for the future.

The third racer from Craig had more success, however. Racing in the Junior 14-15 class, 14-year-old A.J. Stoffle qualified for the finals, where he took seventh place.

Stoffle was happy with the result, but hungry for more.

“I felt good but there’s definitely room for improvement,” he said. “It was different this year, harder competition, but I’ll hopefully do better next time.”

Now the boys will hope for snow to come to Craig so they can practice and race more. Without any snow to ride on before the Duluth race, they said it was a disadvantage. Now the snow becomes important as their Xtreme Mountain Racing season in Colorado and Wyoming nears.

“Last year we fought (the lack of snow) really bad,” Gabbert said. “The Craig race got canceled. The only place that really had enough snow was Grand Lake. Hopefully we’ll get some snow between now and (the start of XMR).

The first XMR race is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Grand Lake, but there will need to be weather before then for the race to go as planned. Chapman, Gabbert and Stoffle also plan on attending another ISOC race in South Dakota in February.

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com.

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