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    The Truth About Cross Country Racing: Real Insider Insights

    Posted by Tyler Nelson
    on Friday, December 1, 2017

    AmSnow contributor Todd Myers shares some insight into the Cross Country racing circuit.

    It’s no secret, over the past few seasons cross country racing has been struggling. Not because of rider turnout or machines, but unlike snocross, XC cannot make snow and are at the mercy of Mother Nature. The entire snowmobile industry has been hurting due to multiple low snow years in a row. But for the 2018 season we are already seeing some cold weather that is getting some frost in the ground and ice on the lakes.

    Safety necessitates changes

    In cross country, safety has always been a concern as riders compete over courses that cover many miles and vast condition changes. Two years ago "factory" sleds were voted in as the primary race machine for riders to compete with. These sleds are the same machines that come off the local dealer showroom floor. For years, riders had converted closed course competition (Snocross limited build) snowmobiles to compete for longer distances. Riders would change to a lower lug track, different gearing, bigger windshields, and a significantly larger fuel tank (as snocross sleds have 4-5 gallon fuel cells).

    About eight years ago, Pat Mach (then owner of USCC, which for all intents and purposes would later become USXC) was concerned about the speeds he was seeing the sleds reach in the ditch races, he then instituted a minimum of 1.25" track lug to try and slow speeds down. It did help some. Over the past few seasons there have been numerous discussions in regards to riders' safety. Some circuit speeds are higher than others so it became apparent not one solution would work across the board. After the 2014 season, stock EFI sleds were instituted as the required sled for most classes, some riders and series were not 100% in favor of this, but now two years later, most have made the transition. This change to production sleds has been a huge help in the development of consumer sleds as the belief of "What wins on Sunday sells on Monday" was even truer now.

    Now you see the factories building better big bump performance sleds like the ZR 6000 RR, XCR 600, and XRS models that are available on dealer show floors to the general public. As factories identify an issue in cross country racing you most likely will see that part be redesigned or updated the following season on the new model sled.

    For cross country, there are vast differences between organizations. Some run in woods and lakes on shorter courses, some are utilizing ski hills with the benefit of man-made snow, some run the ditches of northern MN, and lastly there is the most grueling test of rider and machine with the long distance races like the Iron Dog in Alaska and former Cain’s Quest in Labrador.

    Last season circuits started testing 50% throttle 600cc snowmobiles for junior class racers as an alternative as the 85 hp sleds were getting harder to secure. These sleds are very peppy with the throttle block installed and proved to be a great sled for the younger kids. Over this summer, a decision was made by one particular circuit to take it one step further and test this 50% throttle rule in one of the premier classes.

    Sometime around June, USXC announced via a Facebook press release that for the 2018 season that the Pro Women class would be required to run the 50% throttle kit. These sleds on ice still run around low 90s for top speed so 50% throttle does not mean half the speed. This announcement caused a lot of outcry from women that have been competing in this class for the past few seasons. Instead of believing all the posts on social media, we decided to actually do real reporting and reach out to a number of people in the cross country racing world.

    Who is right in making racing changes

    First and foremost, we are always supportive of changes done for safety reasons. It is never who is right, it is about working through decisions with all involved. On that note, we wanted to talk with Brian Nelson, the owner of USXC, more about this change. "Fifty-percent throttle is the best way to control speeds on the 600cc sleds; it is an inexpensive and easy to install kit. A 90 hp machine is fast enough for a certain segment of our racers, 100+ mph speeds in the ditches are extremely dangerous and not needed."

    Tom Rager Jr (Race director Polaris Industries) supports the idea of slowing sleds down but states: "I think this is a great idea for some classes, but I do not believe it is for every class."

    Mike Kleoty (Race director Arctic Cat) is also in favor of the change: "It is not the actual performance that has them all wound up but more so the perception and idea that the women are somehow being treated unfairly."

    The racers that have competed in the Pro Women class for the last few seasons are obviously upset. They have been racing with full throttle sleds and to now run at 50% throttle has not been received well with many of the women racers.

    Dustin Schwandt Cor PowerSports Pro Champion. Photo credit: 447 Photography
    Again, we agree that slowing the speeds down for safety is a huge priority for racing. There was one person we wanted to have insight from on this, and that was Adam Mach, son of the late Pat Mach who we discussed earlier. Pat has been largely credited with the resurgence of the cross country racing scene that happened in the last 15 years. As we mentioned earlier, Pat was concerned for many years about rider safety as he saw speeds getting borderline dangerous. What compounded this back in the '09 & '10 seasons was low snow conditions; the same thing we have seen the past few years. With minimal snow coverage the courses don't get as rough and riders are able to push harder and as they push harder the speeds increase.

    We asked Adam the same questions we asked other industry insiders. We broached the subject of it being difficult to discuss cross country without touching on subjects that have been hot topics on social media as of late. We were interested in what his thoughts were on the 50% throttle restricted 600s that racers will be running this season? Adam responded "I've actually been thinking about this quite a bit recently with all the discussions brought up regarding the women's class. I'm a little different than most guys and I am all for slowing sleds down when needed, especially in USXC races with speeds being so high all the time. That being said, I am fine with every class going to a 50% throttle block, besides the pros. When you look at the serious injuries in the sport, almost all of them happen to guys in the lower classes who don't have the experience or knowledge to know when and where it's smart to push a 600, and with things coming up so fast they don't have time to react. Looking at the Cor PowerSports series in particular, I don't feel a throttle block is necessarily in any class going to create safer racing. With all the terrain and how rough their tracks get the speeds are already extremely slow compared to all USXC races and that's why I've enjoyed those races so much. Racing a 600 in those events is actually super enjoyable! I never have that, ‘oh no if I hit something wrong here I'm going to die’ feeling that I almost always have in USXC. If a throttle restriction was put into place for most USXC classes, I would look at combining pro and semi-pro into one class like it was back in the old days and have no throttle block. There aren't enough people to make racing fun on some of the larger tracks and also enjoyable to watch from a spectator's standpoint with eight to nine guys in the pro class and the same in the semi-pro.”

    Adam also added "I'd agree that it is difficult to slow the speeds in the USXC series and I don't have a good solution for that. Almost all of it is track related... we have had races where the speeds are slower, but you need snow (which we rarely get nowadays and varying terrain that is hard to find). I do believe going to EFI has slowed the speeds down and made for better racing, but I'm not sure on how to take that next step. I also don't believe a blanket 50% throttle block, including the pros, is the answer."

    The insight we received from Adam showed parity and was a different take than one side or the other. We think the industry should always look at and consider options and best practices to grow the sport for everyone as we move forward, while always trying to make racing safer.

    - Todd Myers

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