1977-78 Winter Snowmobiler’s Race & Rally Magazine
With the Nov/Dec 1977 issue of Race & Rally Magazine, new race sleds were taking the stage front and center. We had wicked new iron for oval racing, as this issue showcases the factory race teams and their new hardware along with several of the latest consumer sleds – the Polaris Cobra, the 3rd generation John Deere Liquifire, Kawasaki Intruder and the smokin’ hot Yamaha SRX 440. You also get a glimpse of the Scorpion moped (yep, two-wheels of Scorpion fame) and the Arctic Cat “Wetbike” as an interesting side show.
Dayco Holiday Spectacular – December 1977 – Alexandria, Minnesota
Round 1 of the 1977-78 Sno Pro Series had been held at Kinross, Michigan and the writing was already on the wall – Polaris was going to have their hands full defending their title of near-complete dominance from the winter before with the integration of IFS onto their RXL race sleds.
At Kinross Round 1, it was anticipated there would be 50-60 racers and 120-130 entries, but instead 125 drivers showed up to sign in for over 300 entries! The attempt to bring out more independent racers had succeeded.
Ski-Doo made clear their intention to take center stage with their Rotax-powered sleds, making great power on the big end. Racer Doug Hayes had a good 5-10 mph on the competition which was good for wins in both the 440 Super Mod and 440 feature event with its $1,000 purse.
Round 2 of the 1977-78 Sno Pro Series was at the high-banked big half-mile track at Alexandria. The weather was warm with light rain. It rained all morning on and off, but the track drained well and the racing began at noon.
Racer Kjell Engstrom of Sweden walked into the Polaris factory just days before on a Wednesday and plunked down a fist-full of Kronor and demanded a brand new RXL race sled. Bob Eastman fixed him right up, loaded Kjell and his new sled into a pickup truck and drove down to Alexandria early Friday morning to get some time on both the Swede and his new machine.
Ski-Doo independent Danny Lee #45 checked over the competition. Danny was one of many independent racers tackling the Sno Pro circuit that year, and he seemed to be very satisfied with his new Ski-Doo race sled.
Winner of the 340 Super Stock was T.J. Patrick of South Beloit, Illinois (father of Indy car racer Danica Patrick). The young guy standing to the right of Patrick is none other than Polaris historian & RXL collector Larry Preston.
Todd Elmer of Evansville, Minnesota was only a Junior in High School at the time, but he sure knew how to race snowmobiles. Racing for Jerry Simoson’s Team Frustration, Elmer took second in the 440-X event and 2nd in 340 Super Stock, good for a $1,200+ payout. (It’s a small world – Elmer’s wife Kathy is the sister-in-law of the guy that built my house and several of our metal storage garages. We still see Todd on occasion in the Alexandria area as he owns and operates the local go-kart race track, always smiling and still having fun.)
The Yamaha team of Frans Rosenquist and Ed Schubitzke had the most work to do after Round 1 at Kinross. They were down some on power and seemed to have more handling issues than the others, but at Alexandria they had the handling woes sorted out. Now all they needed was a few more H.P. out of the four-year old piston-ported racing engine. Could it even be done?
Despite Steve Thorsen winning the 440-X International Championship, it was Ski-Doo racer Doug Hayes that obviously had the hottest sleds for the second week in a row. His two wins in the 250 and 340 classes, along with his second place finish in the 440 made him the event’s overall winner and the recipient of the coveted Hetteen Cup. The prize was an $8,000 Silverline boat, motor and trailer.
The 1977 Dayco Holiday Spectacular is also remembered for another event – the death of Kalamazoo Koyote racer Sam Sessions. Sessions was killed in a single machine accident during 440 Sno Pro eliminations on Saturday December 17, 1977. He was leading his heat by half a lap. His sled gradually left the back straight-away and went into a grove of trees off turn 3. Sessions was 42 years old with 19 years of racing experience. A frequent participant at the Indianapolis 500, he finished fourth there in 1974. Sessions was a quiet, kind courteous gentleman who was a friend to most everyone he met, one with a competitive spirit, always racing at the highest level of competition.
Read all about the 1977-78 Sno Pro Series, Round 1 at Kinross and Round 2 at Alexandria (and MORE) in the Winter 1977-78 issue of Race & Rally Magazine – still available in limited quantities!