by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River’s Extreme Motorpark (ERX) presented the best snocross racers in the world, and packed in well over 10,000 fans combined, on Friday and Saturday in hosting an International Series of Champions (ISOC) event for the first time.
The crowds were treated to the driving skills and magnificent machines of the top stars in the sport along with a freestyle show of spectacular jumps and stunts. Adding to the intrigue is a close season points race between Ross Martin, Tim Tremblay and Robbie Malonoski, with snocross legend Tucker Hibbert right behind them.
“We were very pleased. Attendance exceeded our expectations,” said Todd Plaisted, ERX co-owner along with Chris Carlson. “We learned a lot and we are already looking forward to next year. The ISOC people were were saying ‘next year,’ a lot, like, we’ll put some more bleachers there next year.”
It was the 13th of 14 dates on ISOC’s 2011-12 AMSOIL Championship Snocross Series with sponsorship from Heinen Motorsports.
Plaisted said Monday night that ERX’s estimation of the crowd was three to four thousand on Friday and eight to 10 thousand on Saturday but they were still working on the count. Sunday’s events for vintage machines and kids activities have smaller crowds.
The weather Saturday was freakishly warm for early March, in the 60’s, which seemed to boost attendance while doing nothing to slow the sleds zooming around the track.
ERX thus joined, as an ISOC host, such venues as Spirit Mountain in Duluth, a huge facility that’s a favorite for snocross racers; the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, former home of the Detroit Lions; Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Hayward National in Wisconsin; a horse racing track in New York State and an auto racing track in Fargo; and next week’s venue, Lake Geneva, WI, renowned skiing and golfing resort that’s always the concluding event on the circuit capped by the ISOC banquet.
John Daniels, head of ISOC, operates Long Haul Trucking of Albertville, and was well aware of what ERX has to offer. It was Daniels who offered Carlson and Plaisted a shot at hosting an event.
“One plus is that we already make our own snow,” said Plaisted, “unlike at, say, Canterbury, where ISOC has to go in a week or two in advance and make the snow and set up the track.”
Plaisted said it was “very exciting” to have the opportunity, and the staff worked hard to get everything ready, in conjunction with ISOC, which is in charge of setting up the track. ERX, a 24-acre facility, rented an extra 10 to 15 acres of adjacent land for parking. They brought in five portable grandstands in addition to their permanent stands.
The top local driver is Andrew Carlson, 19, of Elk River, Chris’s son, who placed 10th in the Pro Light race on Saturday. Carlson, on a Polaris, ranks No. 9 in season points. Other local racers were Alec Plaisted, Todd’s son, in the Sport class, and Amanda and Matt Duitsman in the Juniors.
The fans turned out mainly to see a cast of pro luminaries, headed by Hibbert, 27, of Pelican Rapids, who came to Elk River fresh from taking time off from ISOC to win his second FIM world title on Feb. 25 at Semigorje, Russia, before 12,000 fans, beating 33 racers from six countries. Before that, he captured his fifth straight Winter X Snocross crown on Dec. 5 in Aspen, CO. Hibbert has won multiple ISOC titles but will give way to a new winner this year.
Malinoski, 30, is “kind of a hometown favorite for us,” said Plaisted, because the Saskatchewan native trained here four summers ago, the first year ERX was open, with Boss Racing, his team at the time. Malinowski earned a rare double title, Pro Open and Pro Stock, in 2006.
Martin, 27, of Burlington, WI, has 22 pro national wins and three pro open titles. He’s won silver and bronze at the X games.
Tim Tremblay, 26, of Ste. Jean-D’arc, Canada, is a relatively new force on the circuit and he’s leading the pack with one event left, even though Hibbert beat him Saturday night. Tremblay (Ski-Doo) has 504 points, Martin (Polaris) 477, and Malinoski (Ski-Doo) 464, and Hibbert (Artic Cat) 410.
Hibbert won the main event Saturday night, a thrilling, race-long duel with Martin, who was leading when he crashed trying to avoid some lapped riders. The rest of the pack was so far behind, including Tremblay, that Martin was able to restart his sled and re-enter the race in second place. The carnage sent Martin’s teammate Brett Bender off the track, while Tremblay nearly tipped over. Hibbert was followed across the finish by Martin, Tremblay, Kyle Pallin (Arctic Cat) of Michigan and
Cody Thomsen (Arctic Cat) of Minnesota.
Said Hibbert: “That was a heck of a race, man. Lot of fun racing with Ross/. He was on it.”
Added Martin: “Just a bummer. I had such a good race going on. I think I might have been a little faster, but that’s how it goes.”
In the Pro Lite final on Saturday, points leader Kody Kamm came back with a vengeance after a couple wipeouts on Friday night relegated him outside the top five. The 17-year-old Kenosha, WI, driver won by nearly five seconds over Colby Crapo (Polaris), with Ski-Doo’s Derek Ellis third.
(This article includes material from ISOC’s web site.)