Friday, March 20, 2009

RMR riders Rock in Lake Geneva


When I first read about the regional "Showdown at Sundown" concept that ISOC had planned for tonight, I was pretty excited about having representation from Rock Maple competing in the event. What I did not expect, however, was just how successful the eastern contingent would be.
For starters, defending Pro Vet champion Joe Lemieux, of St. Johnsbury, VT, won the Plus 40 final against some pretty stiff competition. Newport's Rene Desrochers helped RMR riders dominate the podium with a solid third-place run. Congratulations to Joe & Rene for their stellar performances in Lake Geneva.
Former RMR regular Darrin Mees also had a great Friday night. Mees won the Pro Open final, while current RMR Pro Jason Stone (just notched his first Pro win last Sunday) finished sixth. In Semi-Pro action during the Showdown, our own Jake Melville (Pownal, VT) claimed fourth in the Open class, while Lucas Brunelle came home seventh. Brunelle finished fifth in the Semi-Pro Stock final.
I've always felt that Rock Maple has cultivated some talented riders over the years, and tonight's results certainly suggest that is true. Just as it has in short track stock car racing, the mighty Northeast has produced some championship-caliber snocross racers. To somebody like me who has toiled behind the scenes promoting snocross and racing in general, that fact is extremely rewarding. It means that people across the country will recognize just how much talent comes from places outside Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada.
Again I offer a big congratulations to all the Rock Maple regulars who made the long haul out to Lake Geneva, WI, for the first annual "Showdown at Sundown." You've made us all very proud. I'll be back with another post later this weekend after we see how the big boys make out on the track. ISOC has some terrific point battles coming down to the wire in Lake Geneva.
Who will claim the 2009 Pro & Semi-Pro crowns? (I'll say TJ Gulla in Pro Open, Levi LaVallee in Pro Stock, with Quebec sensation Tim Tremblay sweeping Semi-Pro) It's going to be a thriller to see it all shake down.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thoughts on Hayward; All eyes on Barton, VT


March is always an exciting time of year for me. On both the national and regional snocross scenes, it's getting down to the wire. We're about to crown new champions in Rock Maple Racing (RMR) and on the International Series of Champions (ISOC) Amsoil Championship Snocross Series.
While RMR teams enjoyed a much-deserved rest last weekend, ISOC completed Round 7 of its 8-race 2008-09 schedule in Hayward, Wisconsin. Making headlines in Hayward were TJ Gulla (Pro Stock); Brett Bender (Pro Open) and Tim Tremblay (swept Semi-Pro Stock & Open). After watching Bender notch his first career Pro victory in Valcourt last month, I know he has matured and improved remarkably this season. But to win the top class again this quickly is even more impressive. And I believe he chased down and passed early leader Iain Heyden and Iron Man/former champ Robbie Malinoski to prevail. Tell me Hentges Racing team manager/ice oval veteran Tim Bender isn't SOME proud of his son. The boy is a rising star in snocross, no argument.
Back at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, MN, we learned just how fast & smooth Quebec native Tim Tremblay can be in Semi-Pro action when he scored his first national win. He backed that up with an impressive run at Brainerd to win Semi-Pro Open, and now proved those two wins were no fluke with a clean sweep in Hayward. I offer a hearty congratulations to Tim and the entire No. 127/NSK Ski-doo team for that kind of success. Fresh faces atop the podium are what keep this sport attractive to more fans.
And now, let's look ahead at one of my favorite regional events of the season. It's Rock Maple's annual visit to the Orleans County Fairgrounds in scenic Barton, VT, deep in the heart of the beautiful Northeast Kingdom. Having been born and raised up there in "God's Country," the opportunity to return for some GREAT trail riding on the internationally-renowned VAST system and some RMR snocross brings a broad smile to my face. I LOVE the Kingdom in winter; as any true native and snowmobile enthusiast would.
In the Pro division, we'll all watch as Danny Poirier continues his incredible dream season. As mentioned in my previous post, Poirier has won 10 of 12 finals completed this season. Will he sweep again in Barton? Come join us to find out. And who should we watch in Semi-Pro, you ask? Keep one eye on young Lincoln Lemieux, of nearby St. Johnsbury, VT. This third-generation racer may be a rookie in Semi-Pro, but you wouldn't know that from reviewing his results. He's already been on the podium, and if young hotshots like Lucas Brunelle, Aaron Pfeifer, Jake Melville and Shaun St. Onge aren't careful, this kid might steal the spotlight.
I'll be in Barton on Sunday (Mar. 15) to cover all the action and will try to post a review right here early next week. Until then, keep that sled to the right on the trails (ALWAYS play it safe) and don't let a chance to ride escape. Winter will slip away soon, and we need to savor the flavor before it's gone.
One last thought: Vermont offers the world's BEST maple syrup, so keep that in mind this Spring! When those old sugar-makers get to boiling, hey, man! It's time to celebrate!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Valcourt & Ossipee Notes - Looking Ahead


Hey, snocross fans!
I'm sorry this update has been so long in coming. I can't believe that Valcourt and Ossipee are already over, in fact, RMR West teams finished the finals left over from Stamford this past weekend (Feb. 28-Mar. 1) at the Tug Hill Invitational in Osceola, NY. In Ossipee, the BIG news was that Danny Poirier's dream season of domination rolled on - with FOUR wins in four starts.
That's right, you read it right - the guy won both Pro Stock and Open makeup races from Stamford on Saturday, then proceeded to sweep both Pro finals again on Sunday. What a roll he and the entire Hulten Speed Sports (St. Johnsville, NY) Polaris team is on this season. With Ossipee in the books, Danny has now claimed an amazing 10 of the 12 Pro finals completed this season. Can he be stopped? Probably not - but John O'Malley is closer in the points standings than you'd probably think. O'Malley, of Ajax, Ontario, is currently just 21 markers behind in Pro Stock, but trails by a seemingly insurmountable 82 points in Pro Open.
Multi-time Rock Maple Pro champ Jason Boron is third (both classes), yet time is running out for the "Iron Man" from Leverett, Massachusetts. Next stop for the mighty RMR warriors is the Orleans County Fairgrounds in Barton, Vermont. Just like last winter, they've had a ton of snow up there in "The Kingdom" this year, so Chris Wilk should be able to build a nice track. (Keep it soft, Chris).
Now, as for my day at the Grand Prix de Valcourt, wow! After five years away, it was AWESOME to get back up to the biggest snowmobile racing event in North America. I didn't get out to New York to see the ISOC Eastern Nationals, so this was my only chance to see the stars of ISOC do battle. And what excellent racing I witnessed! A big congratulations to Brett Bender on his first career Pro win in Sunday's Pro Open final. I'll be honest - like a lots of fans in attendance, I was hoping that Robbie Malinoski (Boss Racing/Ski-doo) could hold off Bender ands give Ski-doo a big win on their 50th anniversary celebration. Yet it was not meant to be...Malinoski's engine began to go away and Bender sailed on by with five laps remaining. The Semi-Pro Stock final was exciting, as well, as Dan Ebert, Cory Davis and Sweden's Christian Salemark made it 1-2-3 for Arctic Cat. Without argument, the biggest heartbreak of the day came during the 15-lap Champ 440 final, when legendary ice oval veteran Jacques Villeneuve came up short. On the second restart (third start overall) eventual winner Dustin Wahl got the jump. Villeneuve had led into Turn 1 on both the original and first restart, but the 60-year old (injured, too) athlete couldn't quite pull it off a third time. The ageless veteran ran second for 14 and three-quarter laps, then suffered engine failure coming through turns 3 & 4 on the final circuit. The loud "oh no" from thousands of his loyal french fans was moving, to say the least. They really love that man up there and I must say, I do, too. Villeneuve is a living legend in snowmobile racing and will be on my "top 10" list of great talents forever. Between the high-speed action on the famous ice oval, the always-exciting motorcycles on ice and the high-flying antics of ISOC national snocross, it was a day I won't soon forget. A big thanks to bus trip coordinator Paul Bellefeuille and veteran driver Ron Young of Premier Bus Lines (safe trip in near-whiteout conditions) for a great day in Valcourt. I've been to that world class event four times now, and I'm impressed with fan attendance and the quality of competition every time.
And now, a look ahead. ISOC gets back in business this weekend, Mar. 6-8, at the Hayward (Wisconsin) Power Sports/Johnson Bank Hayward 300, Presented by the LCO Casino, Lodge and Convention Center; while RMR is off until March 14-15. Only two more points races remain on the Amsoil Championship Snocross Series (ACSS), and the points standings are tight. Launchin' Levi LaVallee (Polaris) leads Garth Kaufman in Pro Stock by 17 points, while Vermont native TJ Gulla leads teammate LaVallee by just 10 points in Pro Open. Yes, it appears as though Hentges Racing is gonna have a title one way or the other! They've done a fantastic job of preparing their sleds all season, and their riders are running fast and smooth. It's going to be an interesting conclusion to the season - on both the ISOC national and RMR regional fronts. If you have a prediction on how these championship fights will turn out, drop me a line at: philw61@yahoo.com. I'd be interested to know your opinion.