By PAT KRAUSE
Ironwood — At the 2014 Pro Vintage snowmobile races, adverse weather and track conditions forced the cancelation of the final day of snowmobile racing at the Gogebic County Fairgrounds on Sunday. But Pro Vintage Director Kurt Krueger still termed the fourth annual event "very successful."
Even with temperatures hovering around minus ten degrees and wind chills approaching 25 below zero at times, Krueger said it wasn't the cold that stopped the races.
"It was a very hard decision, because the guys came here to race," Krueger said. "But we had to stop the races. It was a safety issue. Snow dust on the track led to poor visibility. We actually had three races on Sunday. When they guys came in, we talked to them. The first two places could see, but third place on back couldn't see anything because of the snow dust flying up. It was just too dangerous."
Many drivers said the decision was "disappointing," but said they understood. Some said they appreciated Pro Vintage officials putting their safety first.
Krueger summed up the 2014 Pro Vintage Racing.
"Excellent, fast racing, cold weather and hard ice," he said. "We had 380 registrations, which is down a little, but anything over 300 is good. We had lots of new drivers. The word is spreading. Ironwood is the place to come race at."
Saturday is usually a qualifying round for Sunday's finals. But drivers were told to go all out on Saturday, because if Sunday's racing was canceled, Saturday's results would count as the finals.
There were some big winners at Pro Vintage Racing this weekend.
When Donny Fedrie, of Mondovi, Wis. races his Arctic Cat and Mercury Snow Twister snowmobiles, he usually wins.
"All my sleds are set up right," Fedrie said. "And I work out to build up arm strength, because you can't lose your grip. I do lots of hand exercises to build up my wrists and for hand strength and my forearms."
Fedrie said he also gets natural strength from working as a well-driller.
Fedrie likes Ironwood's track and won three races here last year. He said he will be back in 2015.
Russell Liba, of Warburg, Alberta Canada, drove 25 hours to Ironwood but made it worth his while by winning four of the four races he entered. He won the Masters 340 IFS, 440 IFS, 440 IFS X and the 340 IFS on a Ski-doo.
"The fuel system in my truck froze up and I just made it to Ironwood on Friday," Liba said. "I quit for 21 years and I'm just getting back into it. I've never been to the Ironwood race, but I've always wanted to race here. There's good competition here and that brings out the best in you. And the track here is awesome. I can't say enough about the track maintenance."
Liba said he felt he won the four races because of the way he rides his snowmobile.
"I'm a hard driver and I figure it's either go hard or go home," Liba said. "I'm 53 years old and I run with the 24 year old guys. They tell me they like the way I drive."
Richard and Dave Strand are a father and son team from Ironwood and they were the top local racers at the Pro Vintage.
Richard Strand was one of the few drivers to race on Sunday and he took a second in the Super Stock 340 F/A.
"I rode real well," he said. "The machine was fast but had some problems. It was misfiring, so I pumped the throttle and it went like a rocket. I had to come from behind."
He also finished fifth in the Stock 340 F/A and said it was "a tough day" with timing issues.
Dave Strand came from behind to place second in the Pure Stock 340 on Saturday.
"I had some runs on the leader, but he took my lines away," he said. "I'm happy with second place, because I had my battles with the machine and the cold weather didn't help."
The Strands said they took Jared Olson, of Hurley, under their wing for the Pro Vintage. The 15-year old didn't have a snowmobile, so they gave him one of theirs. He finished second in the Juniors 1:11-17 years old race.
"And it was a strong second," Dave Strand said.
The United States Snowmobile Association will return to Ironwood next weekend after an 18 year absence. The USSA recently teamed up with the Ironwood Olympus and the TLR Cup to bring late model snowmobile racing to the Gogebic County Fairgrounds.