SANDY CREEK — Enthusiasts of all ages from across the Northeast came to race and came to watch amateur and professional snowmobile racers this weekend as the Eastern Snocross Tour came to the Oswego County Fairgrounds.
It marked the first of what could be many more winters of snowmobile racing in partnership with the Fairgrounds Association.
It’s loud, fast, exciting, and seemed to be as much fun for the racers as for the fans. Volunteers trucked in 450 10-wheeler dump truck loads of snow Saturday morning from Pulaski, Mexico, Scriba, and even the county barn. By race time, the track was set to go.
Racers ranged from the very young to full-grown adults. Arranged in 25 classes of, on average, six drivers to a class, according to gender, age, size of motor, whether the snowmobile is stock or custom, and whether the driver is an amateur or pro, at least 50 individual racers lined up awaiting their class’s turn for around a 1:30 p.m. start. Roaring their engines, bellowing smoke warming up, they took off in an explosion of snow thrown out from behind them as they sped toward the first, and highest, of numerous moguls sending the sleds, as they’re called, well up into the air.
For some, this was their first race. Others had been down this road a number of times before. For Josh Boprey, this was a first. He raced in the “Trail and Pro Trail” class on a 600 cc snowmobile. For Ryan Smith of Central Square, this was his second year racing in the “Sport” class. Few racers seemed to know exactly what differentiated one class from another, but Smith did say the “Sport” class required all snowmobiles to be completely stock with no modifications.
Eddie Trottier, 16, came all the way from Billerica, Mass., about 40 minutes outside of Boston. This is his third year racing snowmobiles. He was entered in the “Sport Lite” class driving a 600 cc snowmobile. He expected his race to be four laps of the track. Most races seemed to average that.
Ryan Van Brunt has been snowmobiling since he was two or three years old. He’s from Canaan, near the Massachusetts border, 30 minutes south of Albany. He’s racing in the “Trail and Pro Trail” class, “kind of a beginner class,” as he described it, and was racing for his second time.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, “going as hard as you can. It (his snowmobile) doesn’t go superfast. It probably only goes 80, maybe 90 mph, but it gets there really quick. A lot of the regular snowmobiles, they’ll do 110, but they’re geared a little differently. This one’ll be quicker off the starting line.”
He’s in two different races with three runs in each: two heats and one final. The heats decide your starting position, much like car racing. The best position as far as he’s concerned? “For me,” Van Brunt said, “I think it’s outside. I think starting on the outside you got all the room in the world to work with on that first bend. Whereas, if you’re inside, you got all the sleds to work with.”
In other words, when you hit that first turn, you’ve got to keep it real tight or you could spin out into another sled, especially if you’re on the inside lane of this counter-clockwise track.
“It happens,” Van Brunt said.
If things go south for you on the outside track, it’s pretty much just flat ground there.
“If you go off, you might roll,” said Van Brunt, “but there’s nothing to really hit. It’s a good track.”
Though everyone’s competing hard, there’s still an etiquette the amateurs tend to follow.
“The pros, they get more competitive,” said Van Brunt. “So, I’m sure they’re bumping and hitting each other, but I’m just doing it for fun. I did East Coast Snocross last year, which is completely different. East Coast Snocross closed, and then these guys started up, so I followed them on Facebook, and I got this sled from Southside Sales over in (Massachusetts), and that’s who puts this on. I didn’t know this was happening, and I went there to get service done on this (snowmobile) and they told me the races were on. I got pretty excited.” He said he brought his snowmobile to Sandy Creek on “probably the smallest trailer you’ll see here.”
By later that evening, Van Brunt had collected one third place trophy and was about to compete for another. “I’ll get one more (trophy),” he said. “The track is good. When they groom it, it’s real nice, but when the pros go out, they tear it up, they destroy it. It makes it a lot harder.” He intends to race in at least two more events on the tour, one in New Hampshire and the other in Salamanca, south of Buffalo.
Seven professional snowmobile racers and six semi-pros were scheduled to race later Saturday night.
Carol Sweeney, president of the Oswego County Fair Association, spoke a bit about the event’s history in Sandy Creek and its current status with the Fairgrounds.
“Snocross was here last year,” she said, “but we didn’t really have anything to do with it. They just rented the fairgrounds. That Snocross is defunct. Shawn Longbook then took over and developed Eastern Snocross along with a backer. So, they called us and said ‘would you like to host, but we want to work 60/40.’ And we said, ‘OK, fine, we’ll do that.’ So, we’re working now for this. Last year we just smiled at everybody. This is the first year of the new Snocross. It’s brand new for us because we’re actually hosting it with them. We’re not just renting out the grounds. We are participating in the activity. We’re very excited that he’s letting us do that.”
Longbook’s partner in Eastern Snocross is Bruce Gaspardi Sr., who has been racing snocross since 1992-93. After learning that there was not going to be a snocross series in 2020, Gaspardi reached out to Longbook to help him start the Eastern Snocross Tour. The tour will include five more events this winter, one in New Hampshire, one in Salamanca, two in Maine, and one yet to be determined.
Longbook was very happy with the day’s event.
“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s absolutely a slam-dunk when you look at what’s happened in this region with the lack of snow and yet what we have here on site. The community, and the whole Fair board, I couldn’t be more proud of them. This is the first year of the Eastern Snocross under new management. A lot of the same athletes from the previous owners are here, and fortunately we were able to bring in a lot of the ex-athletes that left the industry. With the new management, they’re all coming back. It’s a way to measure are we doing it right, is there still the interest? And it seems there is. Our numbers are real strong this year, and with each event that we go through it’s gonna get even better.”
Longbook said they’ll “absolutely” be coming back next year. Gaspardi is the investor in the business. Longbook was brought in as the general manager for business development and creating new relationships.
Gaspardi, Sr. said he was also very satisfied with the tour’s day in Sandy Creek.
“Everybody here was very helpful,” he said. “Plenty of snow, track’s good. They did a great job. There was definitely a lot of help. That’s what you need.”
Carol Sweeney put the final touch on the evening.
“Winter has a lot of different activities,” she said, putting this area’s winter fun in perspective, “and it’s wonderful because we offer something that nobody else does, and that’s snowmobilers. And that’s great.”
The tour continues Sunday. Spectator gates open at 9 a.m. Grandstands open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 8 to 12. Children ages 7 and under are free. Pit passes for those who want a close-up look at the teams as they work on their machines are available for an extra $5.