For anyone who enjoys snowmobile sports, there’s nothing quite like the AMSOIL Championship Snocross Series.
And for Pat Schutte, spokesman for AMSOIL, there’s nothing quite like Western New York in winter. A Michigan native, Schutte is full of nothing but praise when it comes to the area and its generous supply of cold and snow — and snowmobile trails.
“The main reason we’re here — it’s just a snowmobile-friendly region,” Schutte said a few days before several hundred snocross racers descend on the Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel parking lot. “There’s already a huge built in fan base here.”
The snocross event in Salamanca, to begin on Friday, Feb. 22 and conclude Sunday, Feb. 23 is one of eight national events on the AMSOIL Series schedule, which takes professional snowmobilers to North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and New York. This is the first time a championship series of this magnitude has been held in the Buffalo area. The event will be televised nationally by CBS Sports.
On Monday, crews were busy forging the track through the giant mound of snow in the casino parking lot. The giant machine, similar to a bobcat, snaked its way up and down the mound, creating a course that will deliver racers into mid-air launches — much the same way motocross racers have thrilled fans for decades.
John Damon, who was walking across the parking lot on Monday after having dinner at the casino, stopped and watched track preparations.
“Should be really cool,” he said. A Collins resident, Damon said he snowmobiles with his cousin when he gets the chance. Racing in this capacity, however, isn’t tempting; he plans on coming to the show, though. “I already have a few friends planning to come with me.”
As many as 15 snowmobiles will be on the track at one time. Approximately 50 practice, qualifying and final races will be held on each of the three days of competition. The event culminates on Sunday with a final race where winners will earn much-needed points as they advance.
Snocross is a relatively new sport, Schutte said. After motocross became popular in the late 60s and early 70s, racers branched out in subsequent years, eventually creating snocross. For years, snow-related competition, like cross country, thrilled only a small percentage of fans because of how alienating the course could be for viewers.
“There’s a disconnect with cross country,” Schutte said. “Racers disappear in the woods and aren’t seen again until the end. With this, viewers get to see it all.”
Those who show up at the event, which begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, will witness snowmobilers reaching as high as 25 feet into the air. The Salamanca event closely precedes the snocross finals, which will be held at Lake Geneva, Wis., on March 15. In Salamanca, there will be multiple class competitions, including children, amateur, women and pro. The pro-open class is the highest a race can aspire to.
Followers of the sport will be thrilled that Tucker Hibbert, current ISOC National Snocross Pro Open Championship points leader, will be at the Salamanca event. It’s his first career appearance in Western New York.
In January, Hibbert won his sixth consecutive X Games gold medal. He has won seven of the past ISOC national final events.
“There are many racers this weekend who are hungry to knock Hibbert off the points,” Schutte said. “They’ll be aggressive. It will be quite a show.”
For more information about the event, including ticket prices, visit www.isocracing.com or www.senecaalleganycasino.com.