The cross-country I-500 snowmobile race has been operated under many different names and run in many different ways since its original founding in 1966.
Originally an ultimate test of man and machine that connected winter events in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and St. Paul, Minnesota (through about 1980), it transitioned from that route to the “Thunder Bay route” for a while (1987 to 1994), then mainly bounced around Northern Minnesota, with incursions into North Dakota and a couple of steps across the Canadian border.
It ran as a stand-alone for many years, but then after being revived by the original ISOC circuit for 1995, it’s been operated by the FANS, USCC, USXC and now Cor PowerSports circuits, among others.
In grabbing some old print copies of Snow Week magazine to load onto our SnowGoerStore.com website, we couldn’t help but to be drawn in by then-Associate Editor Tim Erickson’s account of the 2000 Warroad 500.
Bryan Dyrdahl grabbed the surprise victory on the third (and last) day after he chased down two-time defending champion and race leader Todd Wolff about 10 miles from what each competitor thought was going to be the last fuel stop. They were originally scheduled to make an additional 60-mile loop on Lake of the Woods to complete the race. Little did they know that, while they were busy pounding the ditches and firelanes in the area, race officials decided to move the finish line to that last fuel stop due to unsafe limited visibility on the lake.
Ah, just another twist in I-500 history! (Hit the link to see a listing of all past winnners.)
It was Dyrdahl first I-5 victory, but he’d go on to win four more over the next decade to become one of the biggest stars in cross-country racing history
It’s About The Stories
But there were 186 other racers who entered the Warroad 500 that year, and each one of them had their own unique experiences during the event. And those experiences – especially it seems “back in the good old days,” are what has made this such a wonderful race.
Covering the race for Snow Week, we often couldn’t see much of what was happening with our own eyes, as the racers were spread out over a broad terrain. In fact, you’d be lucky if you could see the same racers pass you more than three or four times in the same day if you drove around like a lunatic and tried to short-cut some of their routes. You’d better have your camera ready, because whoever it was who was kicking up the cloud of snowdust on the horizon could be the eventual winner of the event, and you needed a cover shot for the magazine!
So, instead of recording every sled that went by, a Snow Week reporter needed to be inquisitive at the end of each day, talking to as many racers as possible either during the work sessions or the evening driver’s meeting to find out what really happened deep in the woods or otherwise far out of sight each day. The stories that were shared were often rather epic.
Such was the case in 2000. In the middle of his huge, five page story on the race, Erickson shared anecdotes from Jesse Strege (a top Pro at the time) and Troy Taggert (an up-and-comer who actually won the race Warroad 500 the next year). From here down, the rest of this post is ripped straight out of Volume 27, No. 13 issue of Snow Week, which had a February 14, 2000, cover date. We’ve got three copies of that issue for sale on the store site.
SNOW WEEK 2000: Hard Luck Cases
Hard luck stories are always amusing to anyone other than the victim. We sure get a charge out of them here at Snow Week as well.
Hard luck struck Jesse Strege on Saturday early into the race. He crashed hard into a stump, rolled his sled and came to a stop stuck in some saplings. When he went into the bush, he wiped out the windshield. Heading out onto the course again, his hands – unprotected from the windshield – took a beating from the elements. The thin gloves he was wearing, combined with no windshield, took the heat out of his digits in no time.
Strege stopped in front of some spectators and swapped gloves with one of the onlookers. He then took off again.
Let’s suppose he was wearing Pete’s gloves. Strege froze his fingers another time. Wanting another pair of warm gloves, Strege again stopped in front of spectators and convinced one to trade gloves. Let’s suppose the next gentleman is Larry. Pete has Strege’s gloves, Larry now has Pete’s and Strege has Larry’s.
“I must have stopped 10 times,” Strege recounted. “It got to the point of being comical. Even my crew, following in a plane, saw what was going on. They stopped on the ice a few times and handed off a new pair of gloves.
“Some of those gloves I got from people were bad, too. There were some gloves I took from people that I thought, ‘Why would you even give me these?’ Five miles later, here I am stopping again.”
Strege was still trying to warm his fingers hours after his second-day finish when some of the spectators – whose gloves Stege raced with – came looking for them.
“Only about three people came back to my trailer and tried to get their gloves back,” he said. “I didn’t have their gloves to give to them because I gave them to someone else out there. So, I gave them all a new pair. Everyone else must have ended up with better gloves than what they had – I guess that’s why they didn’t come back.”
The incident that caused it all, the stump, did as much damage to the machine as the cold air did to his hands. Strege’s hour [to do sled maintenance] was not nearly enough time to repair the damage. His crew found a broken and battered bulkhead on his Polaris 440 XC EDGE.
“The stump was such a sharp, hard hit that the sled never tracked well the rest of the day,” Strege said. “I’m sure that’s what did it in. The shock mount on the bulkhead broke later, and pushed the shock right into the engine cavity.” Strege called it quits, and started parting out the machine before his trek to the Winter X Games.
Meanwhile, Arctic Cat racer Troy Taggert went through several belts, and not all of them were his own.
“Right away I had a hell of a run going,” Taggert said. “I made up 2 minutes, then I was with the guys that left four flights in front of me. That’s about the time I blew my first belt.”
On Saturday, Taggert left on the 120-mile loop and blew a belt about 20 miles into the course. It was wrapped around the drive clutch, and Taggert had to spend time cutting it away. He put on his spare, and broke that a short time later.
He tried to flag down another racer, but that failed, so he started walking. About a half-mile away from his machine, he was able to talk a pleasure rider on an Arctic Cat Jag into surrendering his spare belt.
Taggert got under way again, and raced the last few miles across the lake to the fuel stop. He came in a little too hot [fast], and didn’t dismount his machine in the walk lane in the fuel stop. Taggert incurred a 1-minute penalty for the infraction. He took a spare belt with him from the fuel stop, and took off one more time.
“That [Jag] belt only lasted about 15 minutes,” Taggert said. “It much have had a softer compound or something.” That was belt number three.
The fourth belt, from his crew [during the pitstop], was installed next. When Taggert was under way again, he stopped next to an Arctic Cat ZL rider and pleaded for the rider’s spare belt.
“I practically had to wrestle the ZL guy for his belt,” Taggert said. “I said, ‘Look, I’ll give you anything for it. This is my name, this is where my trailer is.’ Finally he let me have it. I think I was ready to just open his hood and take it.
“I guess it’s legal to steal a belt, but I know it’s illegal to have someone give one to you,” Taggert said. “At least that’s what people told me.”
Finally, with one belt on the machine and the ZL belt around the handlebars on standby, his luck turned around – briefly. “It ran like a champ. Really fast, until about the last mile when I lost the electrical.” He limped it to the finish.
“To do well tomorrow, God would have to head down and build me a new machine tonight,” Taggert joked. “I don’t think that will happen.”
Taggert’s fear turned true. The belts he broke were a sign of a more serious problem. Not only did he suspect he had broken motor mounts, but he was concerned about the health of the engine.
“We think the crank is shot,” Taggert said. “It started after about 150 pulls, but there was some backlash like the timing was way off. I really wanted to finish this race for the points, but there’s always next year. Why do we always say that?”