The first International-500 (I-500) snowmobile race took place in 1966. Beginning just south of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on January 31, it ended at St. Paul, Minn., on February 3.
Although the lack of snow did cause the cancelation of the race a time or two over the years, it never dampened the spirits of racing enthusiasts and races have continued up to the present.
A change came about in the early 2000 era when the I-500 route was changed. Drivers raced their sleds from the Seven Clans Casino near Thief River Falls, Minn., to designated outlying areas and looping back to the casino each day over a three-day period, traveling 160-170 miles a day.
The race is scheduled to take place again this year but with a different twist. Renamed the International-600 (I-600) the four-day race will once more begin at Winnipeg and end at Willmar, Minn., more or less replacing the I-500.
Local resident, Rhett Haugen, shared memories of his racing days in 1969-1971.
A member of Team Arctic, Haugen successfully completed the 500 plus mile run in 1969. However, sled breakdowns would keep him from crossing the finish line the following years.
The race dates in ‘69 were January 31 thru February 3, and coincided with the St. Paul Winter Carnival. One hundred twenty-six riders left the starting line; fewer than thirty crossed the finish line.
Rhett raced a 1969 cleated-track Arctic Cat with a 399 cc Koehler engine.
“That first race was an unknown for most of racers – no one had any idea of what they were getting into. It was as much about survival as it was racing…extreme cold, no shocks, and seat cushions about two inches thick,” he said. “I flew off my machine more than I was on it! The first day was the worst.”
With this year’s I-600 Cross Country Race nearing, 21-year-old Ben Langaas, a GMR High school graduate and mechanical engineering student at UND, will be in the racing lineup.
A member of Team Arctic, He will be driving an Arctic Cat 2017 ZR6000 with a 600 cc electronically fuel injected engine. The sled is equipped with a one-piece molded track.
“If there’s good running, the average speed is around 90 mph,” Ben said. “If there is a lot of snow and rough terrain, the speeds average 70 or 80. Up-front racers are going thru more snow and that slows them down. And the farther back a racer , there are more bumps from breaking and accelerations.”
To see the complete story, read the February 1 issue of The Tribune in print or online.