There are two kinds of people in this world. Some people are “All show and no go” and others are “All go and no show.” From a very young age I was brought up with the ideals that aligned with the mentality of “Function over form.” For example, I do not care if my work boots have scuffs on the toes, because they only needed to cover my feet when I’m working. However, if you’re one of those people that have to wax/polish your car, truck, motorcycle…etc, every three minutes– Great. That’s your prerogative. Don’t get me wrong, I like nice things as much as the next guy. However, I do not think the aesthetics of what I own are of consequence to this world, or a reflection of myself as a human being. To put it bluntly–I don’t give a shit what people think. I believe I inherited this mentality from my father, and more specifically, from our days as professional snowmobile drag-racers. If you followed my other posts, you’d know my love of winter, and all things cold. Now, you wouldn’t think flying down a dragstrip on a recreational machine with more horsepower than your typical car could teach you anything about life, but I assure you–It did. This one might be long and bumpy, so grab a seat, and let’s talk some shit.
I can’t exactly pinpoint my earliest memory racing. I have many images in my head, but I can’t place where, or what year for that matter. Suffice it to say, I have a plethora of memories from every state in New England, and all the way up to Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada. It wasn’t until I reached the age of about six, before I understood what we were doing every weekend. Why we traveled up and down the eastern seaborne? Why did we stay in hotels so often? Eventually, it began to click in my head. We were “racers,” and this is what we did. I met countless people, from all walks of life, but there was always one common denominator, they all had the need for speed. It’s an odd concept when you think about it. We’re really the only creature on earth that willfully engages in life threatening activities, simply because we enjoy the feeling of almost dying. (Yes, I’m/we are a little warped.)
I will briefly explain the logistics of the type of racing we did, and I will try to not to bore anyone that isn’t of the “motorhead” persuasion. Snowmobile drag racing had two forms in the circuits we raced in back in the day; Ice Drags and Grass Drags. You might think, “Grass Drags?” I know it sounds silly, but yes we raced year round. During the summer months, we participated in Grass Drags all across the Northeastern part of the US. The track configuration was similar to that of an airplane runway. Traditionally it was a very long section of perfectly flat field. To put it simply, your objective was to race down a narrow lane, that was five hundred feet long, and do so faster than your competitors. (Hopefully you don’t wreck.) Ice Drags were similar, only the track was on a frozen lake, pond, and sometimes parking lot. The Ice Drag lanes were six hundred and sixty feet long. (A true 1/8th mile.) Each race or “Heat” itself potentially pitted four drivers/sleds against each other. The drivers and their sleds pull up to the starting line, and a “Flagman” presides over the begining of the race. Now depending how high tech the race promoters are, the starting line has a light system, known as a “Tree” with “Staging Lights” or the tried and true method of the Flagman raising his/her hands, and dropping them to signify “GO.” (Think– old school Fast and The Furios, except it’s not some scantily dressed Asian women.) Now that you have a basic understanding of what we did. We need to dive deeper of how we got there.
My father was always a person that was interested with anything that had a motor. He was raised on a farm, and was driving a tractor by himself at the age of three. (I’m not joking.) Snowmobiles and dirt bikes were a dime a dozen back in the sixties. At one point back then, there was over one hundred manufacturer of snowmobiles. Today, there’s like…Four. Throughout my father’s life, in one way or another, there was some “Motorsport” outlet for him to retreat to. I’d have to double check with him and my mother, but I’d say it was around his late twenties when legitimate snowmobile racing started to take priority in his leisure time. You see, where we come from, it is almost tradition for people to line their new snowmobiles up with each other, and blast them through a field to see who had the fastest one. Back in the day, it didn’t matter what you drove. You “Run what cha’ brung.” At some point in my father’s life, it became less of an informal pissing contest, and it became a passion. Bragging rights, and having the fastest sled in Clinton County, NY, simply wasn’t enough. My father had aspirations beyond our little town, and he was going to race against the “BIG BOYS.”
“Big Boys?” Let me elaborate. Typically in the setting of any racing sport, you have “Classes.” On top of classes there is the distinction of Amatuer VS Professional. Amateurs typically race for trophies, and bragging rights. Professionals race for legitimate money. The clincher is racing professional requires you to put more money into your machine to be competitive. Many people who make the jump from amatuer to professional seldom see the podium. Then you have the Big Boys, or “Factory Racers.” These racing teams are sponsored by the actual manufacturer of a particular brand of snowmobile. (Think of it like having Bill Gates on speed dial when you’re installing Windows.) These factory teams historically ruled the roost. They typically win every race they enter, and the “Little Guys” always struggle to keep up. The factory racers have access to the latest and greatest technology that is seldom offered to the common folk. However, every once in awhile…The little guy wins.
About twenty something years ago my father got hooked up with a master engine builder from Vermont. (Out of respect for all parties considered, I will leave names out.) The man my father met was a chaotic mix of “Doc” from Back to the Future, and “Grizzly Adams.” The engine builder came from a long line of master hunter/trappers, who also engineered racing motors in their spare time. We’re going to call my father’s engine builder “Yoda” to make referencing easier. Yoda, was an odd bird that lived to race against the Factory Racers. He had an ingenious knack for building ridiculously powerful engines, in his very quaint garage. Yoda was a constant thorn in the sides of big racing teams with unlimited assets. Little did my father and Yoda know, but they were about to embark on an amazing journey, while they terrorized the Big Boys.
To put things into perspective, in terms of the differences from the Big Guys and Little Guys, we’ll discuss the actual “Racing Teams.” My father would roll up to a race track with his wife and kids, in his old beat up Chevy pickup. He would tow his fifteen foot trailer, with his sled and racing equipment inside. The Big Guys though? Holy shit, I’ll never forget the first time I saw a real professional teams racing caravan. They had an actual semi-truck/ Eighteen-Wheeler, towing a double decker (Matching logos/colors) fifty foot trailer. We’re talking half a million dollars in a truck/trailer combo. Inside of their trailer was a fully functional performance shop, equipped with power tools, lifts, and a living quarters. Our trailer was furnished with a single propane heater, and a spot for a microwave sometimes. The Big Boys had a dozen or so members in their pit crew. All of which wore matching collared shirts, with their team name and logo on the lavishly embroidered. My father had his wife, and three young boys. We would sometimes wear my father’s construction business t shirts. (We thought we were a big deal.)
When it was possible for me to help during the races I would enthusiastically answer my father’s call. My duties sometimes included, but were not limited to, cooling the sled’s clutch with a leaf blower, changing spark plugs (on rare occasions) and when I was older, prepping the starting line with a rake, or power broom. My crowning moment as my father’s personal pit crew guy, was when I started his sled for him before a race. (BIG DEAL RIGHT THERE) I was always so proud to be apart of the experience, no matter how trivial my contribution was, I was going to help the best I could. In contrast, the Big Boys had specific members of their crew specifically assigned to cleaning dirt/grass off the tracks of their racing sleds, and of course–waxing/buffing the hoods so they look fancy.
Over time, my father climbed the rungs of the ladder. Race after race. Weekend after weekend. State after state. He would stay out late with his buddies in the garage after work, and tune/wrench on his sleds like an obsessed mad man. Little did my father know, his blood and sweat was about to pay off. Eventually, my father started to carve a name for himself in the local circuits. Then one day, we were headed to one amazing Ice-Race up north; Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. We had heard stories from fellow racers about the opulence and prestige of this coveted race. It was rumored that the ice was so smooth, that they prepped the track with an actual zamboni. There was even a hotel almost on the actual track. It was pretty much the Pebble Beach Car Show for snowmobile drag racers, or the Superbowl for you football folk, or the World Cup for you Futbol/Soccer blokes.
Upon our arrival to Rivière, it was clear that the rumors did no justice as to how beautiful the racing venue was. There was a magnificent hotel, a beautiful track, and the best of the best were their to claim gold. By this time, I think we upgraded our trailer. It might have been twenty foot at the time. I can remember my father going to (Dick’s maybe?) to get us ice cleats for our boots. We were told the track was so well maintained, that you’d fall on your ass without some sort of grip. (They were right; slick as goose shit.) Our hotel room was amazing, and the lobby reminded me of that scene from Home Alone 2, when little Kevin walks into that hotel in New York City. For some reason I can’t help but remember eating Escargot Pizza from the restaurant adjacent to the lobby the night we got there. I recall eating it, and thinking “I’m so fucking French right now.”
Then…It was race day. I can close my eyes and smell the high octane fuel in the air. The tension. The anticipation. My father, with Yoda’s newest engine, were going to test their mettle against the fastest sleds on the planet. I mentioned earlier (briefly) about “Classes” in racing. Let me just clarify that, in terms of this race. I don’t want to get too specific with “Garage Talk” and bore anyone. The classes in drag racing are similar to weight classes in the UFC or Boxing. Basically, the size of the motor, and modifications to your sled dictate what class you will race in. My father raced in “Pro-Stock 1000,” and “Factory Mod-2.” That basically means his sled’s engine measured no more than 1000 cc’s and the suspension/body of the sled had to “Appear Stock.” His sled basically looked original, but under the hood was demon with close to three hundred horsepower. A “Sleeper” of sorts. To top it all off, my father was never one for polishing or waxing sleds on the weekends. When his sled came out of the trailer, the dirt, blood, and grime from the weekend before, came with it. I’m sure he got some weird looks when the other racers saw him and his ragtag family help him pull his dirty old sled out of the trailer. My father was always one to let his sled and hard work do the talking. It didn’t need chrome trim, or fancy paint to be fast.
The intercom beeped, and an announcer with a wonderful French accent exclaimed, “Qualifying round for Pro-Stock 1000; all drivers approach the starting line.” The time was upon us. We were going to put our sled through it’s paces, and see what she was made of. I remember sitting by my father’s sled, and noticed a sled from a rival team in my peripheral. I casually glanced over (I didn’t want them to think I was a spy or something) and noticed one of their technicians had a laptop hooked up to his snowmobile. I thought in my twelve year old brain, “Holy shit. A laptop. Wait…What the hell is that dude doing?” I don’t recall who explained, it might of been my older brother, but I heard someone say, “The sled electronically remembers the test passes, and sends back a report so you can adjust it digitally.” This was almost a foreign language to our low tech team. Mind you, it was the early 2000’s. At that time I’d never really seen a laptop before, save for the mall or something. Our tech equipment at the time was probably Walmart brand walkie talkies. So we had our dirty, old, and unassuming sled, that was built in a podunk garage, in a rural town no one ever heard of, at the tippy top of New York, that has to race this goddamn thing? We still had dial-up internet for fuck’s sake! I’ll never know what went through my father’s head at that moment. Was he as nervous as me? Were we about to make a fool of ourselves, and get trounced by the fastest sleds on the planet?
I recall hearing some results from the announcer, as he presided over my father’s competition. The other sleds were fast…Really fast. I think I heard a few “John (French Last Name) ran a time of 5.4 at 114 mph. (I might be off a bit on the times, and MPH, so bear with me. This was almost twenty years ago.) After a few competitors sleds made their runs, it was our turn. “Anthony LaPier, to lane one!” The announcer sounded. I can’t express how well that French man accentuated my father’s name. (An’toni LAW’PEE’AIR!) Being that his last name was ironically French in derivative, the crowd loved it! They quite possibly thought he was a local guy, but little did they know, he was just a redneck from New York. I’ll never forget seeing my father clutched to his sled, ready for the light to turn. The tension was viscous. (The moments before a light turns during a drag race are the most intense that a human can partake in. The noise of your sled vanishes, the world pauses. All you can hear is your breath pressing against your helmet. Eternity awaits you at the other end of the track, and that light is the only barricade. You sit there nervously on your sled, as the suspense rises from your toes, and begins to fill your cheeks. You stare into the dead bulb coaxing it to glow….) Then……..The light turned, and my ole man was off. Like one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, my dad and his fire breathing machine were raging down that track. The ice sprayed off of his sled like a diamond encrusted grenade explosion. He flies past the finish line, and he makes it down the track safely, and there’s a pause- – – – – – – – – – – – – “5.3 at 125mph!” The announcer screamed. The crowd was electric, and we rejoiced. Remember, THIS WAS JUST QUALIFYING! We still had two classes to compete in. Only, the stage had been set. The redneck nobody, from nowhere New York, just blew the doors off of the Big Boys, and was suddenly the man to beat.
The race was for two days, but I have to be honest. I don’t remember a whole lot after my father’s qualifying run. I regret it until this day, but what I missed in personal experience of the race, I gained in life experience from another aspect of a growing young boy’s life…Girls. When we first arrived at the hotel, my older brother and I were strolling through the lobby and noticed two girls about our age hanging out near the lounge. I was absolutely smitten. I was only about twelve at the time, so I wasn’t that versed in the world of pickup lines, and had no experience even talking to girls in a romantic nature. My older brother was quick to take me under his wing, and give me one of the greatest bits of advice I’ve ever received in my entire life. He told me, “Pete, (My name is Nic, but that’s my nickname from my older brother; we’ll touch on that some day) What are you scared of? Girls aren’t that complicated buddy. In fact they’ simple. All girls want, is someone to listen to them. Someone to talk to them, and be there. Just say hi.” At the time, he might as well of said, “Sniff purple oranges on a beach made of wooden baking soda” because I had no idea what he was talking about.
Then it happened. The tutelage my brother bestowed upon me, was put to the test on the afternoon of the qualifying runs. I had to run back to our hotel for something race related, and when I knocked on the door of our hotel room, an unfamiliar face answered the door. A fellow racer friend of ours had a daugher and son about the ages of my siblings and myself. The daughter was hanging out in our hotel room with my little brother and her younger siblings. So she answers the door, and it blows me away. Now, I’m not sure how it started, or what even possessed it, but I never went back to the track that day, and I would proceed to chase this girl around this hotel all weekend, and every other weekend to follow. All because I did what my big brother told me, and I “listened.” (Thanks Dan. )
Back to the races….No thanks to me, my father had pulled a cinderella story, and not only won his two classes, but he set a World Record that still stands today in Factory-Mod 2. The award ceremony was held in one of the many banquet halls of the hotel. The winning sleds were brought into the banquet, and set on top of their own podiums. This was the kind of shit you see in magazines, or movies for that matter, but we were living it. I can remember my father’s racing friends joking to one another that my father’s sled will never be fast again, because the hotel staff cleaned my father’s sled before they presented it. (My gosh, did his sled shine as it basked in it’s hard earned triumph.) We were a bunch of hicks from nowhere, but on that night, my father rose to something more. After Rivière-du-Loup, Yoda and my father would go on to terrorize the “Big Guys” for many years following that fateful weekend. I would later go on to race my own sled, and taste similar glory as my father, but that one weekend in Rivière holds a very special place in my childhood and heart. My father taught me that weekend, that no matter how shiny your paint is, or how much chrome you slap on something, it doesn’t mean shit until you put it on the track.
That weekend, my father was ALL GO.
(The main image was lifted from google for a reference. I don’t have any photos of our old racing days, but I will update this as media/information becomes available to me.)