Levi LaVallee ... Unplugged

Getting personal with snowmobiling's fan favorite

RELATED TOPICS: POLARIS | RACING | SNOWMOBILES
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A WORLD RECORD for the longest jump on a snowmobile, put LaVallee in the record books on New Year’s Eve 2011 in San Diego, Calif.
"The Red Bull certainly helps!”… Levi said after I asked him how he manages to stay so positive and energetic all the time.

Last year Levi was voted ISOC’s Fan Favorite rider on the pro snocross circuit. Fitting for a guy who literally lives to have fun and entertain and connect with fans.
 
“That’s my thing from day one. If this is going to be my time doing something I am going to have fun,” Levi said.

There are few people we’ve met that are as personable and as honestly nice as Levi LaVallee. Case in point, through his major sponsor, Mystik Oil, I was granted a 15-30 minute interview … that lasted an hour and a half. And in Levi’s own words he was “just extremely happy to spend time talking” with me. He even remembered; by name one of our test rider’s small independent race teams (Tinus Racing) even though they haven’t raced in several years. That’s just the way he is.
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lavallee is big time classy. He’s quick to credit family, friends, sponsors and others, but Levi is a one-of-a-kind blend of raw talent and showman.
The Best Stories
Levi has plenty of stories.

Nitro Circus? Done that, several times, and yes, Travis Pastrana is that cool, or so Levi tells us. Levi landed his first backflip at Pastrana’s training compound on a 450cc motorcycle. Above his bed Levi has a Pastrana-signed poster that says next time the two are together Pastrana expects to see a double backflip!

Was that the motivation for Levi to try a double backflip on his snowmobile at the X Games a couple years back? Well, Pastrana’s encouragement didn’t hurt, and we’re sure Pastrana was loving every minute as he watched Levi let it all hang out on national TV.
Let’s go back to the beginning for Levi though.
 
His racing career started when he was 12 and his parents took him to his first local cross-country race on his little 1994 XCR Special 440. He was by far the youngest competitor, and the smallest too.

The race coordinator was not going to let him race, but Levi’s dad, Larry, told the guy something like this, “Listen, if you can lose my son in 2 laps around this course, then I will agree that he shouldn’t race, but if you can’t shake him, my son races.”

Outcome? Levi raced and ended up taking 2nd!

After the race the same guy came over and shook Levi’s hand and said he could race at the track anytime. (Seriously, we couldn’t make it up any better than this!)

Skip ahead a few years, after Levi raced cross-country a bit and moved into snocross full time. He quickly earned his nickname “Launchin’ Levi.” (We had a discussion of whether it was “Launchin” or “Leapin”... look at the profile box to the right.)

By 2007 the X Games called him up to discuss its new Speed And Style event, asking him to enter. At that point, Levi didn’t have much professional freestyle experience. He called Red Bull to provide a ramp and started practicing (for about a month) and learned basic tricks at his place before going to Justin Hoyer’s foam pit for a few days where he learned to backflip a sled. (Who learns how to backflip a sled in just “a day or two”?)

Anyway, Levi says before he went to the X Games he learned all of Chris Burandt’s moves from Burandt’s medal run a year earlier.
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Levi performs a Double Back Flip at the 2009 Winter X-Games.
Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool
End result? Levi qualified for the event, and went on to win the gold medal. We figure that at most he had 45 days of true training. Wow! Oh yeah, and he also has won male athlete of the X Games too.

Levi talks freely on all topics, including his recovery after his big crash as he was practicing to set a world long-distance jump record in 2010.

Something few people know is that in addition to keeping his muscles in top shape doing weights, cardio, and other training, Levi has done some “head-training.” After all the crashes (including the big one) and noggin’ knocks he was worried about successive concussions.

“I was riding my dirt bike for a few days in a row trying to get back into riding shape and every time I was on the bike I felt like I was ‘a little spacey.’ I hit the same hole in the same spot in the track like 3 times in a row and kept telling myself not to hit it, but then I would come around and hit it again!
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after recovering from a 2010 crash practicing for a new long distance record. LaVallee came back in 2011 to set the record at 412.6 feet.
“Red Bull got me on these neurotropic brain exercises. Basically it is a portable unit that I would hook up to myself and then I would Skype with an instructor logged into a computer miles away. I would put sensors on my head and for three months did these brain exercises. From start to finish there was a significant improvement in focus and stability. I felt like I was re-wired and we worked on performing for ‘game-time’, like flipping a switch to get into competition mode. It took lots of training to get that to work.”

Another story?

In 2007 Levi crashed on a race start, cartwheeling with the sled. He thought the only damage was a bad Charley horse, but at the hospital the X-ray showed the end of the thumb throttle had gone through his pants and broke off deep into his leg muscle. On the X-ray you could see the 2-inch long warmer and heating element in his leg.

What people don’t know
There’s plenty of new stuff to learn and Levi does not like being bored.
 
He loves wakeboarding and motocross, but one thing most people don’t know about him is that he’s more than a little anal retentive about keeping his stuff dialed in, in tip-top shape, and CLEAN. From his sleds, to his bikes, to his car he’s a fanatic about clean.
Also Mystik Oil, a main sponsor, is a company that Levi feels not enough people have heard about, even though Mystik has been around since 1920, so it’s not a newcomer.
Mystik does the oil, grease, whatever he needs to race or jump, and it’s all synthetic. He swears he can eat off his exhaust valves. Without sponsors like Mystik and FOX shocks Levi says, “You can try as hard as you want, but without that next level of support you will hit a wall when it comes to progressing in your racing.”

He also quickly mentions his dad as his inspiration.

“At 62 years old, I go over to his shop and he is power-braking and doing a burnout in the driveway. I pray that I have as much fun as he does at 62,” Levi says.

Other big influences were Pastrana, motocross/supercross racer Jeremy McGrath and snowmobile champs Kirk Hibbert, and Blair Morgan. And Levi says he pretty much sponged off teammate T.J. Gulla to gain a lot of valuable knowledge about snocross.

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Levi (right) with Daniel Bodin (left) in Chicago during Red Bull Fuel & Fury. Bodin is a member of Team LaVallee.
What’s next?
Levi’s goal this season?

Make it through without getting hurt. He has missed a lot of racing the last couple years and wants to have fun, put on a show, and be near the front to get on the podium regularly. Levi says he is surrounded by positive people on the circuit, including racers Robbie Malinoski and Tim Tremblay. They are really motivated and he likes seeing other racers enjoying themselves.

Levi also says kids and “working on the family program” may be in the future, as he and his wife (Kristen) built a new house last year and have settled into that. He has a few “feelers out there” to possibly get into truck or car racing too. Why not?!

If he could go pro in any other sport, what would it be? Golf, he says, way less injuries.
He hasn’t told too many people this, but once he’s not willing to put in the effort that he is now, Levi says he’ll graciously bow out of snocross and long-distance jumps.

“If I can’t do it with all the effort that I am now, it’s not worth it … but I’ve got at least a few more really good years. My plan is to keep on with the race team, enjoy helping the younger riders at the compound I have built (in Longville, Minn.).”

“It’s got all the things needed to be successful in freestyle, snocross, and more. There are snow guns there for building a track in the winter and in the summer we use a chip track, foam pit, etc. I am just laying blocks for my own future as ultimately the goal is to stay involved with snowmobiling,” something Levi said he has dreamed of since a child.

“In 4th grade I wrote a report about what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I wanted to be a pro snowmobile rider, so I am pretty happy to be literally living my dream,” Levi says.
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The Big Crash
WHILE TRAINING FOR his New Year’s Eve long-distance jump in 2010, prior to setting the record, Levi suffered a horrific crash. Most of us heard about it, or saw the video leading up to the crash. This was the first year that Levi started trying super long-distance jumps and the margin for error, even a slight wind, can have a devastating effect. “If the wind goes over a certain mph they pull the plug. There are lots of other factors that go into even practicing, but I try not to think about them, if you know all the issues it messes with your head,” Levi said. “Distance jumping like this is the scariest thing ever.”

What happened on the crash?

Levi, in his always upbeat tone, but this time with a little quiver to his voice said, “I basically did a 360-foot jump into an endo (nose-first landing) at 105 mph.”
Think about that for a minute.

Levi continued, “My original sled was carbed and one of the carbs cut out in the air, which totally changed my trajectory. I had a cracked pelvis, broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, punctured lung, and more and I don’t remember the 3 days after the crash, or even hitting the jump. It might be better that way. I knew that get-off was forever going to haunt me if I walked away from jumping, so when Red Bull asked if I wanted to try it again I did not hesitate to say, ‘Yes.’ Both Red Bull and Polaris stepped up to the plate and Polaris built me my own fuel-injected engine. Polaris did an excellent job on the fuel-injected mod motor and lots of sponsors came together.”
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NAME: Levi LaVallee
NICKNAME: Launchin’ or Leapin’ (first it was Launchin,’ but then Aaron Christiansen started to call him the “leaper” and that kind of turned into his inside crowd nickname.)
AGE: 29
HEIGHT: 5-foot-6
WEIGHT: 155 lbs.
HOMETOWN: Longville, Minn.
SIBLINGS AND FAMILY: Wife (Kristen), Dad (Larry), Mom (Debbie), Sister (Lori)
EDUCATION: Northland H.S., Reamer, Minn.
OTHER INTERESTS: Wakeboarding and part-time Nitro Circus nut.
SECRET TO STAYING POSITIVE: A lot of Red Bull.
FIRST SLED: Scorpion Whip that his dad dug out of woods and got running, but really the first sled he put significant miles on was a 1990 Indy 400 that he got at age 8.
FAVORITE SLED: Says the new Polaris race sleds are awesome, but he has a special place in his heart for his 1994 XCR Special 440 race sled. Levi says it was so fast (with its slightly larger carb design than the next one) that he would line up next to just about anyone on the lakes and blow them away. He overheard guys saying “I’m gonna get that little kid!”
FAVORITE SAYING: “You can have anything you want if you just want it bad enough.”
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