For the Love of it All
November 1, 2011
As I watched Thief River Falls disappear in my rearview mirror I had a lot of, what we academics call, “takeaways” to ponder. Attending events such as Arctic Cat’s 50th Anniversary is always a melancholy mix of emotions. I’ve already recounted my thoughts on the event itself in a previous column, so I won’t be redundant here. But, watching all the old videos and movies, seeing certain displays, and overhearing conversations and recollections sparked other thoughts that I think are important to consider.
Photo by Mark Boncher
Arctic Cat's Roger Skime
Photo by Christie Green
Photo by Christie Green
A few years ago, I chronicled an interview I did with Arctic Cat VP Roger Skime. Roger is full of information and candor. He may not reveal Cat’s latest secrets, but he’s never short on opinion and telling things the way he sees it. One side conversation we had was about the escalation of money being spent and specifically salaries paid to professional snocross racers. Roger and I had this conversation after I had ended the interview and shut off the tape recorder, but I remember Roger saying something like “professional racing should pay the bills and provide some dinner money and that’s about it.” In other words, it should be about the fun of going out on the track and competing. Many analogies were drawn to other professional athletes and the exorbitant pay that many receive.
I certainly do not claim to know what any of the snocross racers get paid. Although I’ve been friends with a few and acquaintances with others, I never felt it was any of my business to ask. From listening to people talk at events like the Duluth National Snocross event every year, some average snowmobilers have an unrealistic view of the kind of money flowing through this sport. Ask any dealer, anytime, very few people are getting rich in the sled biz.
Let’s Rewind (shameless plug) 30 or 40 years and look at the “professional” snowmobile racers of the late ’60s, ’70s, and early ’80s. Most of these guys fell into three distinct camps: people that worked for the factories, dealers or employees of dealers, and just average enthusiasts out to compete. Most of the time these guys lost money doing what they were doing, but they didn’t care. The biggest justification the factories had was that the racing helped to promote and develop the sleds. The dealers played by the old adage of “what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday” and the enthusiast? … Well, the reasons Joe Sixpack went out and raced every weekend were broad and varied, but rarely had to do with financial gain.
And these dudes paid more of a price than money could measure. I think of the modern professional snocrossers living in a rented house, with a test track out back, a full gym and weight room at the ready, personal trainers, and a semi the size of a three bedroom rambler hauling them around. I compare that to the guy who worked at Polaris full-time who also owned a farm going out on Sunday and beating his brains, knees, and hands out in a cross country race, driving home 400 miles that night in an old F-250 flat bed with his mechanic trading driving duties only to arrive home to a sick calf and a 6 a.m. alarm to get up for work. And five days later, after late nights in the shop fixing what was broken the weekend before, he goes out and does it all over again.
I think about higher prices too. Arctic Cat racer Dave Thompson losing his eye when his clutch picks up a bolt and chucks it at him in a one-in-a- million case of really bad luck. I think about the shot knees and busted up appendages of racers gone by. And worse, I think about guys like Jerry Bunke and Sammy Sessions who paid the ultimate price.
Similarly, I have read many stories about professional football and baseball players from the ’60s and ’70s who had to sell insurance or work a 9-5 job in the off season just to financially survive. Guys that didn’t benefit from technology, safe gear, or referee calls meant to protect athletes. Often we hear of these athletes committing suicide and their unfortunate plight is attributed to severe brain trauma or the reality of dealing with a busted up body that simply doesn’t work anymore. How sad that these guys had to compete for peanuts and left with wounds that we couldn’t possibly understand.
So, my takeaway was this… As we cruise around with our electronic shocks, fuel injection, power steering, heated grips, heated seats, and navigation systems we owe a hell of a lot to a group of warriors who went out every weekend and tried in some small way to improve the sport we love.
For what? A big gaudy trophy, a kiss from the trophy girl, but most of all, pride!
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