"It lets you get more familiar with (your sled). Especially in my case since I'm on a new sled this year."
—Austin Gabbert, 18, about the benefits of having snow in Craig to practice riding for Snocross.
After racing in Duluth, Minn., local Snocross riders came back to Craig disappointed in their performance.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much they could do about it. At the time there was no snow on the ground in Craig, which meant no opportunity to get back on their sleds and practice.
But since the snow came down in force Wesley Chapman, Austin Gabbert and A.J. Stoffle have been making the most of it. The teenage Snocross competitors have gone snowmobiling at Black Mountain several times and Chapman even built a snow ramp in his back yard.
“We’ve been riding up on the mountain for a little bit,” Stoffle said. “Mainly for fun, but also to get some seat time.”
The result has been stronger finishes in subsequent races. In their Xtreme Mountain Racing (XMR) league, two races have run in Grand Lake so far, and the Craig racers have been at the top.
Chapman has won the Pro-Lite class in both Grand Lake events (Jan. 5 and 12), while Stoffle has taken three firsts and a second place home in the Sport 1 and Sport 2 classes. Gabbert, racing in Sport 1, 2 and Extreme, has four runner-up and two third-place finishes.
They attribute the smoother racing to more comfort with their sleds, a product of spending more time practicing in Colorado's snow.
“It lets you get more familiar with (your sled),” Gabbert said of getting practice time. “Especially in my case since I’m on a new sled this year.”
Winning XMR races is nothing new for Chapman and Stoffle, who each took home points championships last season. But they said getting to participate in those races will make a difference when they head to their next race in Deadwood, S.D for the International Series of Champions (ISOC) Deadwood Snocross Shootout Feb. 2.
None of the three riders felt as comfortable as they would have liked in their first nationwide race of the year, in Duluth. They have higher expectations this time around.
“I want to be on top of the box,” Stoffle said, referring to a first-place finish atop the podium.
For Chapman and Gabbert, the goals aren’t as lofty, but as 18-year-olds, the challenge is greater. Racing against about 100 other riders in their divisions means simply making the finals will be an accomplishment.
“(In XMR) you’re shooting for a win, not to make it in the top 20,” Chapman said. “(At the ISOC races) everybody is really fast and willing to do whatever it takes.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org