Once the snowmobile became airborne, launching 40 feet above the slushed-up snow and the hundreds of onlookers, Jason White knew the stories were true: like motorcycles, snowmobiles can fly.
“Didn’t think they could,” the Jamestown resident said from the bleachers. “You’d think the weight they carry in the back wouldn’t allow it.”
It was Friday night, Feb. 22, the first night of competition in the AMSOIL Championship Snocross at Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca. Being the first time AMSOIL brought its show to the Western New York region, White, like many others, just had to be there.
At stake were points riders have been collecting race after race as they approach the finals in Lake Geneva, Wis., on March 15-17. Tucker Hibbert, a familiar face among snocross enthusiasts, would eventually win his ninth pro open, while Jake Scott won the Pro Lite class.
While White is new to following snocross, many of his friends have been following for a number of years. Before the Friday event, they taught him the basics and the many bits of snocross terminology that explain the sport, which is relatively new compared to other sports of its kind.
“I used to follow motocross when I was a kid,” White said. “Got out of that, but this is cool. I might start following it on a regular basis.”
Unlike cross-country events, be it snowmobiling or skiing, races like AMSOIL put the crowd close. At the Salamanca event, viewers were 25 yards away from the main launching ramp. One snowmobile after another, their engines wining, sped up the ramp and became airborne for a minimum of five seconds before landing and entering a hairpin turn.
There were few accidents, though during a women’s race, one of the snowmobiles tipped over out of the gate. Great curtains of snow concealed the rider as she struggled up and righted her machine. By then, the competition was three-fourths around the track and the yellow flag was out.
Most surprising to both the audience and announcers alike was the fact that Hibbert, by far the most favored to win the overall points, fell behind in qualifying heats and competition. But he bounced back, adding to a sense of drama that sent many of the hundreds who had gathered Friday to the adjoining hill beside the parking lot.
Pat Schutte, spokesperson for ISOC Racing, said before the race that attendance was the highest he had ever seen for a first night of racing.
“Just fantastic,” he said. “I can’t believe there’s this many people who turned out. It’s obviously a great area to have the event.”
Weather conditions were favorable. Cold and damp, it began to snow half way through the competition.
On the south side of the parking lot, a few snowmobilers who had come down the trail stopped to watch the festivities. All were surprised; only a few had any idea that such a race was scheduled at the casino, much less in its parking lot.
“I doubt mine could race like that,” Dan Wrey of Jamestown said of his snowmobile. “I wish I would’ve known about it. I would’ve came in my car instead.”
Photos by Jeff Martin