It may have been one of the latest starts ever to a cross-country racing season, but it was worth the wait as conditions at the legendary Gerald Dyrdahl Memorial race on Pine Lake in northwestern Minnesota were as good as they get. An inadequate amount of ice forced the first round of competition for the USXC to be postponed two weekends. Mother Nature cooperated over the holidays, however, providing a surface that allowed competitors and spectators to park trackside on the lake with just the right amount of snow to provide traction for walking and lubrication for the tracks and hyfax that would be at full song on the course’s mile long full throttle straights.
Pine Lake has run almost without interruption for over 30 years and each rendition just gets better. Chad Dyrdahl, Robert Johnson and their Five Star Motor Sports group who coordinate the race at the local level, take great pride in the event and in recent years the purse for the featured pro race has bordered on five digits. This year’s Pro 600 winner Corey Davidson took home a total of $13,000 when combined with $5,000 in contingency from Ski-Doo.
This season, racers also had the opportunity to take part in the first round of the No Bull Triple Crown, a 100 mile endurance race open to the uber-fast custom-built SOO I-500 race sleds. The race combined the traditional Pine Lake serpentine layout with enduro features that included multi-rider teams and a mandatory fuel stop that allowed drivers to idle their machines into and out of the hot pit.
With 18 entries consisting of a nearly even mix of USXC regulars and ice enduro specialist from Michigan, Saturday morning’s qualifying race would prove to be a battle of attrition. Bobby Menne shredded a track on his Polaris racer, while the Christian Brothers Racing team of Zach Herfindahl and Wes Selby had motor issues. Gabe Bunke would have to sit out the action altogether after separating his shoulder in the morning warm up, but Taylor Bunke stepped in to fill the seat on the number 74 and would ultimately top the speed charts at 119 mph later in the day.
The Triple Crown final left the line in a heads up format with top qualifier Ryan Faust leading the charge. As the pack entered the first right hand hairpin, Chad Dyrdahl and Aaron Petersen came in hot on Faust, with the right front ski of Dyrdahl’s Polaris just clipping the rear tunnel enclosure of Faust’s machine. Dyrdahl would barrel roll over the berm with Petersen and Re Wadena also shooting past the apex. Faust would continue on but only briefly, as the bent enclosure would shred his track causing him to DNF.
As the race settled into a consistent pace it was the Arctic Cat of Zach Herfindahl that made its way to the front. With their issues from the morning qualifier behind them, the CBR team watched the 312 stretch the lead as they prepped for a fuel stop and rider change. A beautiful sun-filled day turned to dark overcast as the fuel stop took place but Wes Selby, who had been anticipating the cloud cover, made a last minute change to his visor and would jump on to finish out the win.
Sunday’s racing consisted entirely of final rounds highlighted by the Pro Open and Pro 600 classes but also included a huge field of Amateur and Semi-Pro racers in their respective five lap main events. Lance Efteland topped a field of 30 riders to win Semi-Pro Stock. He also collected an overall win SP Improved, a second in the I-500 class and lined up for a couple of pro classes.
Zach Herfindahl started the Pro Open final right were he left off on Saturday, racing to a quick lead. A repeat win was not in the cards, however, as Herf would stop two times on the course to make belt and brake repairs and finish nearly six minutes off the pace. Aaron Christensen would pick up the front position and begin to run away on laps three and four but bad luck would lead to his demise as well, when a head bolt came loose draining the motor of its coolant.
With two of the top contenders down, Wes Selby pounced on the opportunity and led the final lap, finishing ahead Re Wadena and Ross Erdman.
The Pro 600 final closed out the day and had all of the makings of the race of the season. The sweet sound of Re Wadena’s 4-stroke Yamaha set the pace early on with Ryan Faust, Zach Herfindahl, Corey Davidson and Bobby Menne all in hot pursuit. Wadena’s misfortunes would continue to haunt him as he dropped out on the third lap leaving Faust, Herfindahl and Davidson battling at the front. Davidson’s Ski-Doo appeared to have top speed on the field as he raced by Herfindahl on one of the long straights and appeared to catch Faust out of nowhere.
Faust was the first to pit for fuel allowing Davidson to break free with a clear track. Davidson then took his turn at fueling with precious seconds ticking by and Faust returning to the picture. Faust would indeed regain the lead as Davidson began making his way out of the fuel lane and the chase was on. For two laps the riders battled bumper to bumper, physically banging bars in several corners throughout the ten mile loop. On the last circuit, Faust would get into the snow berm on the outer edge of a turn and allow Davidson an advantage as they made their way to the final serpentine in front of the start finish.
With the checkers in sight, Faust moved his Polaris PRO S under Davidson’s sled but could not clear him. Coming to the final right/left combo, the two stayed within the same frame but Davidson would not be denied racing to a .614 second win, his first ever at Pine Lake.
While the finish was spectacular to say the least, it was not without controversy. Davidson’s transponder had stopped functioning at some point during the race and there was a lot of speculation about his lap times prior to the fuel stops. Unfortunately Davidson, who is undeniably one of the best distance racers of all time, has a track record for pushing the bounds of course markings and is an instant target for criticism anytime there is the least bit of question about scoring. Be that as it may, USXC officials ruled that they had manually accounted for his lap times during the period his transponder was not functioning and without USXC personnel witnessing any course infractions, the win was made official.