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    A Season of Change: 2018 Snocross Update

    Posted by Tyler Nelson
    on Monday, November 27, 2017

    With the latest Snocross season kicking off just last weekend in Duluth, AmSnow contributor Todd Myers joined us to share some of the new changes to the rules for the upcoming season. He'll be contributing a lot this season and we always like sharing his work! Check his article out here:

    Rider Corin Todd on his new Pro sled. Photo courtesy of Dan Baker.
    Some called last year the most exciting season of ISOC National Snocross with the Pro Championship coming down to the last race & final checkered flag. Everyone was wondering how 2018 could top the 2017 season!  Little did all the racers and fans know that the face of snocross would forever change after that last checkered flag flew at Lake Geneva.

    Storm of changes

    Weeks prior to the ISOC series final event at Lake Geneva for the 2017 season, the announcement of Leighton Motorsports shuttering their snocross operations started some industry people raising concerns of the state of the sport. Then at Lake Geneva, two more big bombshells were dropped when Ross Martin announced his retirement from racing and Carlson Motorsports released that they were no longer going to field a snocross team. All of this definitely made people step up and take notice. Why were they all leaving?

    Trevor Leighton suffered a severe injury mid-season and decided to take his racing a different direction, as Leighton Motorsports was a family team it was not a surprise that the team decided to focus on family. Carlson Motorsports is owned by Chris Carlson, who is also the owner of Sportech, co-owner of ERX Motorpark, and a very successful TORC off-road truck program, where his son Andrew is the driver. After MANY years of snocross they felt it was time to take on that next challenge, again huge props to make a move as a family.

    This left ISOC and other snocross series to take a deep look at the sport and figure out a solution to help increase their numbers; not just in the premier Pro class, but across the board. Every spring the circuits come together to work on rules for the upcoming season, discuss what has worked and what needs to be looked at. The Pro class was a HUGE discussion and rightfully so. After hours of debate the direction everyone decided to go now turned into a big summer social media outcry: no more mod sleds in national snocross.

    Shortly after the meeting, the word was already out on Facebook via different snocross media sites and that was just the beginning. Fans were airing their outrage via social media court (Facebook) on how the Open sleds were what they came to see and hear at the events. Many folks said they had no interest in watching Tucker Hibbert, Kody Kamm, or Tim Tremblay battle on stock sleds with an aftermarket exhaust.

    What fans didn't know was the crunch put on the three manufacturers actively involved in snocross: Arctic Cat, Ski-Doo and Polaris. These manufacturers now have to build the best stock sled possible for their racers as they wouldn't have an Open class to use for research and development. For the past few years (motor-wise) the "Open" sleds were actually more of an improved stock class sled with limited cylinder heads, pipes and can for engine modifications. The chassis is where the factories could try new products or test something redesigned to make it better. Now with these new rules a lot of the R&D aspect that Pro class offered is no longer an option at the race track. You can test and tune all day on a private test track but you'll never be able to 100% duplicate the heat of the race.

    AmSnow had reached out to a number of industry people for input on this decision and it is surprising that many of them still to this day have varying opinions regarding the new direction of the Pro Class. Here is some of what we heard from industry folks…

    AmSnow: There have been some big changes this summer for snocross as an industry, what changes excite you the most?

    Mike Kloety (Arctic Cat) – "I am not going to use the word excited just yet. I am curious how many of these changes come out and are perceived after the first event. What I get excited about is to see the new sleds on the snow and the fans cheering on all the racers and getting the season kicked off in a big way.  That first green flag of the season is exciting. "

    Tom Rager Jr (Polaris) –" I'm excited for the new Pro class in SnoX. I think we will see even better racing and hopefully this is the start of getting the Pro entries back to a number we are all satisfied with."

    Steve Schuering (Schuering Speedsports) – "What excites me the most is that we have a strong circuit with ISOC. They pull off a great show at each event and the crowds continue to get larger"

     AmSnow:  With changes, there is always something that people are not in favor of, so what would you have wanted to see go in a different direction?

    Mike Kloety (Arctic Cat) – "Change always seems to bring controversy and I am going to assume you are probing at the Pro Open class going in the way of stock sleds? I was not in favor of the Pros only racing open sleds when they made that change many years ago. I am also not in favor of them racing only stock sleds now. I like the idea we are looking at the added costs to go racing and I think there were things we could have done different that may not have changed the sport so dramatically."

    Tom Rager Jr (Polaris) – "There was an idea brought to the table to allow development parts to be raced after March 1st by any racer that was not in the top 10 in points. This idea was voted down and I believe this needs to get reviewed again. This can help with development and could create some excitement in the sport as manufacturers could be showing what next years’ sleds could be."

    Steve Schuering (Schuering Speedsports) – "It is disheartening that people from feeder circuits set our sport back 20 years. We have an obligation to our fans to provide entertainment and great racing. The battle cry is always, ‘We need more pros.’ Unlike Supercross, who has six manufacturers to support their sport, Snocross has three. Simple math, if each of the manufacturers support five pros we have fifteen pros. Other drivers will enter random races to bring the field up but this is the realistic number. Last year in the Pro class we had seven different winners. The Championship came down to the last race with three different drivers from three different manufacturers all vying for the title. How do you top that? This year the Pro numbers have not increased with the elimination of the mod sled and the addition of Sunoco contingency money. How many times do we need to make the same mistake? Five years ago it was decided if we went to stock motors the number of Pros would rise. The numbers show that didn't work then and it appears it is not working now."

     AmSnow:  Of these changes how do you feel they will help or hinder racing at the lower affiliate levels of racing?

    Mike Kloety (Arctic Cat) – "The Open class rules won't really affect regional-type events as many didn't have enough Open sleds or even offer a class for them anymore and the ones that did all voted for this new rule so they feel it will be good for them. I expect some changes to the class structure and most likely more racers will bump up to Pro if that class is offered."     

    Tom Rager Jr (Polaris) – "I think this helps the racers at the lower affiliates. These racers will now be racing the same sleds as the top Pro racers. Anything learned by the top teams and riders can now be passed along to all racers."

    Steve Schuering (Schuering Speedsports) – "I think the resurgence of the Michigan regional circuit and additional regional races in Minnesota will give the biggest boost. The tricky part is that racing costs money so hopefully the regional circuits have great success this winter. "

     Blasts from the past

    For many folks that don't remember, back just a few years ago when the Pro class was stock and open, riders had to compete on both sleds. They ran 440 stock sleds and 800 mods. That was a huge difference in machines as you could easily clear jumps and holes on the big horsepower mod sleds and some of them were to the point of being truly exotic! Rumor was, one year a big-funded team showed up with a carbon fiber chassis sled that ultimately did not work out as planned, but that put a scare in the industry of how much cost is too much? Quickly the promoters came together to ban exotics to help keep costs down for racing. A few years later snocross dropped stock sleds from the Pro division to help save money, now instead of investing in two sleds, teams could focus on making one sled better.

    At the end of the day we will just have to wait and see how this all shakes out. The racing will be great, but what will the long-term effects of the changes we don't know yet… and we won’t know unless we try.

    This year, Tucker Hibbert (Monster Energy Drink/ Arctic Cat) enters his 18th season racing. Last year, Hibbert won the most main events of any Pro class rider, but his results in qualifying did not meet his expectations, which ultimately cost him the championship. "My main goal is to win the championship. To do that, I have to win a lot of heat races and main events. Last year, I won the most main events, but didn't win enough heat races. I need to focus on doing both this year to win the championship," said Hibbert.

    On the flip side, 2017 ISOC Pro Champion Kody Kamm (Hentges Racing / Polaris) won the least amount of mains last year but did fantastic in qualifying, which helped him earn his first Pro class championship. Kamm says, "I never give up, I don't think I could give up."

    What we do know is the snocross world is ever-changing, and this year things will be drastically different without Open class sleds, without Ross Martin, and two of the premier race teams. But once the first green flag drops, we will once again be treated to some great battles.

    One thing for sure, some people have not lost their sense of humor about this: "We are just waiting for the mod kits - a.k.a. duct tape - to arrive. Once these arrive we will be testing different taping designs of the headlight to determine which tape layout gives us our best hole shot and still have backshift." Said one racer we talked to.

    The first checkered flag has already flown at Duluth and racing will be exciting just as it has been the last 27 years, but maybe just a bit quieter.

    Stay tuned to AmSnow.com as soon we will discuss "Season of Change" in the Cross-Country world!

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