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Minnesota Hill Challenge

By Rob Crowe

    Minnesota Hill is a Jackpine Ridge elevated some 20-30 feet above the plane of the Roseau River Flats, located just a couple miles east of Pinecreek, MN. Pinecreek is situated on the US-Canada border about 17 miles northeast of Roseau. Every year on the first weekend in March, vintage snowmobile enthusiasts gather to race their sno-cats, snowmobiles for the rest of you who don't reside in the Southwest Angle.

 everest   As a part of my campaign to become a sno-cat racer, I decided to take in the event. I pulled the old Everest out of the old garage and pushed it into the shop to prep it for the race, i.e. start it up. The operation went rather smoothly, for once. I managed to coax the little Rotax 340 twin to life and and drove it around the forty on Trapper's firebreak trail a few times. It ran pretty well for a 32 year old machine that has had a fairly rough life. I figured my career as a sno-cat racer would soon be reality since Janet Hetteen had assured me that it was a "run what ya brung" event. 

   Saturday morning, after I sent Management and the Little Girls off to Thief River Falls for a basketball tournament, I took the seats out of the Aerostar. I backed it up to a snowbank and drove the Everest into the back. By cranking the skis just right, I could get the door shut. Abby the dog and I headed out to find the event. We picked up some extra two stroke oil in Roseau on the way and headed up to Minnesota Hill. It wasn't readily apparent

three old sleds

where the event was at, so we drove around the area a bit and took some scenery pictures. At some point, I saw a Ford Ranger pickup pulling a trailer with three dilapidated Sno-cats aboard; a Wheel Horse with one headlight missing, an Arctic Cat Cheetah with a Puma hood and a very old Polaris Colt. They were in about as good a shape as the Everest with its cracked hood (repaired with 5/16" carriage bolts) and a pair of running lights bolted on top for headlights so I figured I must be headed right. I was; the driver was race organizer LeRoy Norstebon. Incidentally, the sleds on the trailer garnered a perfect record by day’s end, last place in each race.

    It really hurt when LeRoy told me that my twin cylinder Everest wasn’t eligible. It had one cylinder too many. Undeterred, I unloaded it and toured the course several times to at least feel a little bit like a racer. About 4 laps in, the sno-cat started bogging, then quit a lap later. After a bit of sleuthing, I found that several of the fuel lines were deteriorated. No one there had any vinyl lines. Since it expired close to the road, I loaded it up and watched the rest of the day. Race career on hold, I guess I’ll have to get a single cylinder ready for next year…

    Leroy unloaded his sleds off the trailer at about the same time I unloaded the Everest. The Puma hooded Cheetah started right up and as did the Wheel Horse. The '70 Colt was a different story as he had to remove the hood and wrap a rope around the starter hub to crank it over, no rewind. Weight savings, he explained. After several tries, the 280 Sachs fired up but fuel shot out around the plastic fuel inlet at the bottom of the HR carb. Muttering, "It worked last night!", he shut it down and expertly removed the carb, tightened it up properly and re-installed it  with some help from his brother. After a couple of pulls, the Colt puttered to life and idled smoothly for the brothers. A bit later, the driver for the Wheel Horse, LeRoy's nephew David, showed  up. Another Blue Star welder, he weighs closer to 300 lbs than 200. He donned a helmet and toured the course a  couple of times. LeRoy spent some time tuning the Puma hooded Cheetah, Cheeter scrawled on the side with indelible black marker. From the way it later placed, perhaps he didn't do enough of it. 

All systems go, LeRoy spent the next several hours checking in the sno-cats as they streamed in. Most of the machines looked well used and a hood decoration for some algaewas Roseau County algae, like the sno-cats had been sitting under the evergreens for a couple of decades or so. A bevy of Ski-Doos was hauled in, JANOSEK written on the front in big, red letters and numbers painted on the hoods. Hmm, they must race these somewhere... They were unloaded and made some fast practice laps, the quickest appeared to be a rare free air equipped with slide rails and an un-muffled expansion chamber. A couple of fast Polarises did some laps, one was a TX-500 Colt with a fan cooled 340 or 372 Hirth sticking out the hood for all to see. The other was a multi-colored later Colt model (seen at the top of the web page), engine well enclosed but one could hear the echo of an expansion chamber and it was fast. Over to one side, a fellow from Duluth was trying to crank up his 297 JLO powered Panther and having  bit of a time. The recoil was pretty well worn out and he'd flooded it. He could get it to fire...occasionally. 

pit meeting

     After LeRoy registered all the machines, the driver's meeting commenced. To split the two classes with numerous entries into heats, Leroy had the drivers number off and came up with two heats for the 12-19.9 HP class and  three heats in the Hi HP class. Soon after this, LeRoy collared a fellow to handle flagman duties and the racing fun began. The first race was for the real antiques, in most cases rear


engined machines built well before 1970. One exception was an experimental machine someone had procured from Polaris, it had a late Mustang track system with a 370 some cc two-stroke mounted on the tunnel and a cab out front. The driver appeared to make sure he didn't drive too fast and therefore win.  The rest of the machines were older 4-strokes, in most cases less than 10 horsepower. Ronnie Nelson had a large old Arctic Cat there but it didn't appear to steer too well. He and his grand-kids used it as a portable grandstand for the day. 

old iron

    Mike Hetteen (below) had his shiny Sno-Traveler fine-tuned for the event. The Kohler 4-stroke was revving at least 500 rpm above the standard 3600 rpm red-line, time would tell whether it would be enough.


 After the old clankers toured the short course and the heat winner declared, the four low HP sleds, three Polris Colts (varying from old to ancient) and Ski-Daddler hit the start line. These racers, to use the term loosely, had a rather tight bunch throughout the short course race. The Ski-Daddler was declared the winner.
slow start

  The ladies ran next, mostly on sleds that would be run later by the guys. The racing was intense, a pre-courser of the main event.     
allan lee

    Each heat for the mid-HP race had eight entries and racing was spirited. Allan Lee had his pristine12.3 there, but didn't advance. The Sno-Jets were strong in these races as were the previously mentioned Ski-Doo racers.  The the driver of LeRoy's Colt had  bit of a problem, driving off corner four, down the snowbank, across the road and into a pickup.  LeRoy told the crestfallen fellow he was going to have to get a different driver... The Arctic Cat that had starting problems earlier ran very well, making it to the finals. 

    The three Hi-Horse heats had six entries apiece. LeRoy's Wheel Horse with nephew David aboard crept away from the starting line and finished well in arrears of the rest of the field in his heat. 

slow wheel horse

    Polaris TX-500 and the multi-colored Colt as well as the Ski-Doos were strong. The free-air Ski-Doo driver seemed to have a problem with the race length, ran off the course towards the pits for a bit, then roared back through the pack to make the final. Dave Lee contended with his SS-295 Sno-Jet in his heat to advance to the final. When asked why he didn't attempt a pass of abomber Ski-Doo to win, he said, "I knew the top three advanced and didn't want to take a chance!" LeRoy took time out from his timer's task to mount the Cheeter and tour at the back of the pack. After the heats were complete, a Bombardier towing a long plank smoothed the course.

    photo finish

    For the finals, the running of the rear-engined class and the under 12 HP class were  longer re-runs of the heat races, except this time the slower sleds in the rear engined class made a few excursions through the trees and had the black underwear waved at them. Justin Howell, running a K-95, won in the photo finish seen to the left. Littleski daddler Roger Fuller, driving LeRoy's Ski-Daddler, won the 12 HP and under class. 


is the sled ok   

    The Powder Puff race was a barn burner. Sami Fuller won on the Polaris Playmate TX 500 after a wipeout on corner one with another Polaris. The gals were thankfully OK, but the TX sustained some damage that would cause some problems a little later in the Hi Horsepower race. In the picture to the left taken in the pits after the race, Sami was seen trying to explain to Dad what happened to the little TX. 




    In the 12-19 HP class, A pair of Sno-Jets, one Colt, two Panthers, a Yamaha and one of the racing Ski-Doos started the race. Shawn Walsh won the race on a 1970 Ski-Doo 335. 


final start

    For the big race, the fireworks started before the race. The free air Ski-Doo attempted to make it to the starting line but stalled at the exit of corner four. The driver eventually changed the spark plug but the Rotax still remained silent. He was pulled off the course by a modern Polaris in attendance. David Lee also didn't make it to the starting line, the coil on his Yamaha powered Sno-Jet had expired. Two Ski-Doos, a hoodless Mustang, two Colts, the little TX, and a Sno-Jet ended up starting the race. 

    On the start, The multi-colored Colt had a hole shot and looked strong, leading the first two laps. It inexplicably slowed and one of the racing Ski-Doos took over the lead. The Fuller TX appeared to be able to catch the Ski-Doo on the straights, but had very obvious handling problems in the corners, probably due to the earlier damage. Chad Fuller won the race on the 1970 335 Ski-Doo.

    Plans by organizer LeRoy Norstebon for the next Minnesota Hill Challenge, by tradition, are made the night before the event...held the first Saturday in March each year. 

    Now to find a single cylinder Sno-Cat so I can participate...

Event Results courtesy of LeRoy Norstebon:flags

Race participants

Hi Horse power sleds
1. Adam T. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt 250
2. Leroy N. on a 1972 Arctic Cat, Chetah 292
3. David N. on a 1970 Wheel Horse, Safari 335
4. Eric L. on a 1968 Polaris, TX500
5. Jason F. on a 1970 Polaris, PlayMate TX300
6. Dan M.
7. David O.
8. David L. on a 1972 Sno Jet, 292
9. Matt M. on a 1970 Arctic Cat, Puma 292
10. Chris L. on a 1972 Sno Jet, 292
11. Jed V. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt 250

race scene

12. Tony W. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt
13. Roland W. on a 1972 Polaris, Colt 250
14. Chad F. on a 1970 Ski Doo 335
15. Jerome B.
16. D J Janosek on a 1971 Ski Doo 340
17. BillS.
18. Brian F. on a 1973 Polaris Colt 250 

The winner was Chad Fuller

12 HP to 19.9 HP
1. AlanG.
2. Merlin W. on a 1969 Sno Jet, 300
3. Glaydon R. on a 1969 Sno Jet, 300
4. Dave D. on a 1968 Polaris, Colt 280
5. Arlyn N. on a 1972 Ski Doo, 299
6. Mike M on a 1969 Arctic Cat, Panther
7. Smitty on a 1971 Yamaha, SL292
8. Sheldon R. on a 1971 Ski Doo, 299
9. Matt M. on a 1968 Rupp, 300
10. Justin    on a 1970 Arctic Cat. Panther
11. Alien L. on a 1970 Ski Doo, 299

heat 3

12. Shan W. on a 1970 Ski Doo 335
13. Mitch M. on a 1973 Polaris, TX
14. Aron M. on a 1970 Fox Trac, 340
15. Richard M. on a 1968 Sno Jet, 300
16. Craig H. on a 1966 Polaris Colt 

The winner was Shawn Walsh

Rear Engine Class
1. Rachel W. on a 1962 Fox Trac, 6HP 
2. Mitch M. on a 1964 Fox Trac, 8HP 
3. Chris L. on a 1965 Polaris, Snotraveler 
4. Wade D. on a 1963 Polaris, K70 
5. Mike H. on a 1965 Polaris, Snotraveler 
6. Justin H. on a 1963 Polaris, K95
The winner was Justin Howell
12 HP and under
heat 4
1. Roger F. on a 1967 Ski Daddler
2. Scout Craig H. on a 1966 Polaris
3. Colt Alan G. on a 1973 Polaris, 
4. Colt 175 Mike H. on a 1973 Polaris
5. Colt 175 Joe M. on a 1970 Sno Cub
The winner was Roger Fuller

Powder Puff

1. Sami F. on a 1970 Polaris, PlayMate TX300
2. Steff
3. Kim N. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt
4. Becky N on a 1968 Polaris, Colt
5. Rachel W. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt
6. Rachel L. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt
7. Tammy G. on a 1972 Polaris, Colt
8. Tori P. on a 1973 Polaris, Colt

The winner was Sami Fuller

powder puff

heat 1

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