The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Fairgrounds prep in anticipation of Pro Vintage Snowmobile Races

 

December 27, 2017

Pat Krause/Daily Globe

Volunteers Dan Kauppi and Jim Kolesar spray water on the ice oval track at the Gogebic County Fairgrounds in preparation for the Pro Vintage Snowmobile Races on Saturday. Race officials are hoping to have an 8-10 inch ice base by the start of the races.

By PAT KRAUSE

sports@yourdailyglobe.com

Ironwood - The Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus and its crew of volunteers is well under way in the preparation needed to host two snowmobile racing events over the next two weekends.

This Saturday, the Pro Vintage Snowmobile Races will battle upon the historic half-mile oval track at the Gogebic County Fairgrounds with racing starting at 10 a.m. Hot laps are scheduled for 9 a.m. Vintage admission is $10/day and free for children age 12 and under.

Over 125 racers will be driving pre-1985 vintage sleds in 38 scheduled races Saturday. Vintage sleds may be older, but the top ones can still reach speeds around 100 miles per hour.

The USSA Pro Star/TLR races will feature the more modern, faster sleds for two days of racing over Jan. 6 - 7. Admission is $15/day or $25 for a weekend pass while children 12 and under are free.

In talking with a number of snow racers at last year's events, many were of the opinion the Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus races had moved up to be one of the top three race venues in the country, along with Eagle River, Wis. and Alexandria, Minn.

The Ironwood Olympus is attracting snowmobile racers from as far away as Alaska. Mike Smith and his son, Adam Hagen, live about a mile away from Sarah Palin in Wasilla, Alaska and they make the four day, 3,200 mile trip to Ironwood every chance they get.

"Snowmobile racing gets in your blood, this is my 41st year racing" Smith said. "My son and I get a victory once in a while , but it's the people here that make this place so special. Everyone is real helpful and real friendly. This is a great historic race. We'll keep coming back as long as we can afford it."

Race director Tom Auvinen has about 60 volunteers performing a variety of duties for the Snowmobile Olympus and he knows he needs everyone of them.

"The volunteers are very much appreciated," Auvinen said. "They put in countless hours and we can't do this without them. The races are also a big economic boost for our area."

Race fans know one of the most important jobs can start back in July. The tracks needs 2,500 hay bales by late December to line the ice oval to insure driver safety.

Some snowmobile enthusiasts think because the sport is called snowmobile racing, the racing is done on a snow oval. But if you take a good look at it, the snow oval is actually an ice oval.

Snowmobilers and race officials know they need good quality, well-groomed ice.

Auvinen says he has eight workers on ice detail-plowing it, grooming it and spraying it with water to get a firm base of ice. It is a huge, time-consuming job, laying all the required ice.

"Last Saturday, we worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m. with three different crews," Auvinen said. "But it's going good. We'd like to have 8-10 inches of ice by Saturday. Right now, we have 6-7 inches, but we'll make it."

Safety, especially driver safety, is a top priority of race officials and adverse snow conditions have forced the cancelation of two recent final day races.

Ice conditions are why Auvinen and others keep a wary eye out for the local weather forecasts. Earlier in the week, the National Weather Service was calling for Saturday morning temperatures to dip well below zero with highs barely above zero.

"That's could be a long time to stand out in the cold, but now we have the heated concession stand rooms and reserve parking for $25 a day," Auvinen said.

Auvinen says he knows people who live in the U.P. and northern Wisconsin know how to dress for the weather and have plenty of SISU, too.

One of the most popular races on Saturday will be the Jim Adema Memorial Cup Race. Adema is still remembered by many racers and race fans, even though he was tragically killed in a weather-related snowmobile accident in Ironwood 41 years ago.

Michael Pankratz, of Glidden, Wis, knows all about Jim Adema and he was more than happy to win the race named after him last year.

"This is a big win for me, because I've been after this win since 2008," Pankratz said. "Jim Adema was somebody to look up to as a driver and a man. I felt really good after I won, like it was an honor."

One unique feature of this year's Pro Vintage races is that an anonymous donor has contributed $1,000 to Saturday's races. $500 in prize money will be given to the winner of the Jim Adema Memorial Cup race and $500 will be donated to the HOPE Animal Shelter. It is an appreciation gift from the snow racers back to the community.

 
 

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