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It’s understandable pro snowcross racers aren’t satisfied when they lose, but Tucker Hibbert is the top pro snowmobile racer on the planet because he is more demanding than the normal racer. “I’m not always satisfied when I win,” Hibbert said at Spirit Mountain before last weekend’s AMSOIL Championship -- the season-opening race on the 9-race 2013-14 schedule.
But after a slow start, Hibbert was definitely satisfied after sweeping both Pro Open feature races Saturday and Sunday. Not that it started out smoothly. Hibbert, who has won seven Snowcross championships but failed to win either last season or the season before at Spirit Mountain, went out on the creatively challenging jumps and hills carved into the top of Spirit Mountain and promptly had a problem in the match-race dominator competition Friday night. He came back to not only win Saturday night’s feature, but he lapped the entire field in the process.
On Sunday afternoon, with a large and enthusiastic crowd in the stands and spilling out of the chalet, Hibbert’s Arctic Cat was beaten off the starting surge by Kyle Pallin’s Polaris, and after they hopped, leaped and churned up the backside and came around the top of the course, Hibbert caught up. When they came past the finish line, Hibbert took the inside line and actually made the pass on Pallin as the two flew through the air and landed at the bottom turn.
From there, Hibbert made no mistakes, cruising to the victory that gave him a sweep of the weekend’s two Pro Open features and capped the weekend that also saw Pro Lites, Amateur, Women, and Junior Novice classes. The top two categories are the Pro Lites, for stock 600 cc. engines, and the Pro Open for modified, highly sophisticated 600s.
In Minnesota, Arctic Cats, which are made in Thief River Falls, and Polaris, which are made in Roseau, are the homestate favorites, but Canada’s Bombardier Ski-Doo machines, and the new Yamaha racers offer more competition. Hibbert, who now lives in Pelican Rapids, MN., grew up in Thief River Falls, and, naturally, has raced Arctic Cats since he started racing semi-pro, and turned to Pro in 2001. “We have a 600 cc. two-stroke engine displacement limit, and Arctic Cat uses Suzuki engines,” said Hibbert. “We can make modifications to the oompression ratio and exhaust, and we make a lot of mods to the chassis and suspension.”
Year-round workouts, including motocross motorcycles in the summertime, keep riders like Hibbert in shape for the pounding they take on a course such as Spirit Mountain. The series is similar to NASCAR, where the season opens with the Daytona 500 -- the biggest race of the season. The troupe moves to Blackjack Resort in Bessemer, Michigan, for the second race this weekend, then takes a break until the January 3-4 weekend at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.
An estimated 30,000 fans showed up for the three-day races. Among the colorful people who make Snowcross racing such an entertaining event are people like Rob Dahlen, who helps Tucker Hibbert and his brother and crew chief Kirk Hibbert with managerial duties. “When I was growing up in Thief River Falls, I raced a Polaris,” said Dahlen. “That didn’t go over too well and I got a lot of flak for being the only one on a Polaris when everybody else in Thief River Falls was on a green Arctic Cat. I was probably the first victim of bullying.”
Then there was Jake Scott, a rookie in the Pro Open category, who came to Minnesota a couple years ago and is now making the move up from Pro Lites as a teammate of veteran Levi LaValee on a Team LaValee Polaris. “I grew up on Long Island, and started racing snowmobiles when I was 13, in Vermont,” Scott said. “I did pretty well there, so I figured I’d come out west and see what it was like. It’s totally different; these guys are animals.”Scott said it was his first time being interviewed. When asked how old he was, he said: “I’m 19, but I’ll be 20 in 10 months.” Doing the math, that also means he’s just two months past being 18.
Asked if he works on the engines, Scott said: “No way. I wouldn’t ride anything I built!” When his assessment was sought, and whether his mentor, Levi LaVallee, might be the favorite, Scott said: “That’d be great, but at this point, if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Tucker Hibbert.”
Quick learner, this rookie.