Snowmobiles on grass
Drag races revived at Poppy’s Flying Acres
By Scott Bellile
Snowmobiles zipped across the airfield at Poppy’s Flying Acres airport last weekend at grass drag racing made its triumphant return after a seven-year hiatus.
The Weyauwega-based Wolf River Rangers Snowmobile Club chose to revive the races, according to Dave Sarna, a club member who also serves as the race director for the Manawa Snodeo held the third week of February each year.
Grass drag racing took place at the airport for about five years from 2005 to 2009 or so and was previously organized by the Northport Snowriders Snowmobile Club, Sarna said. The Northport Snowriders’ event was well attended before it was discontinued, he said.
“They’re just trying to re-grow the event here,” Sarna said of the Wolf River Rangers.
The Northport Snowriders Snowmobile Club remains active today but did not organize the return of the grass drag races.
The Saturday, July 22 event was part of a five-race circuit within the Tri-County Grass Drag Series. Wisconsin’s Tri-County Grass Drag Association has four more snowmobile grass drag races planned between now and October in Marinette, Little Sturgeon and Kewaunee.
Whereas Sarna said in the past the Northport Snowriders Snowmobile Club basically managed everything on race day, this time the Wolf River Rangers hired Tri-County Grass Drag Association to handle business. Tri-County ran the event including the setup, scoring, starting line and finish line.
All the Wolf River Rangers had to supply was the venue, which Sarna said airfield owner Wayne Poppy donated for the day.
“I welcome different things here,” said Poppy, who likes to see different groups use the airport. He added that the grass drag racers have fun and they doesn’t tear up the lawn much.
Sarna said the event could have been publicized more, but the Wolf River Rangers still attracted about 110 race entries among 30 to 40 racers. He anticipates that number should grow next year if the Rangers continue the event.
Roger Besaw of Waupaca and his brother Glen Besaw of New London came to take part in the races. They have raced for about 20 years, Roger said.
Roger participated in seven races that day. A fan of good competition, Roger said he enjoyed going head to head with others while spending time around people with a similar interest.
All the racing gets the snowmobile engines hot quickly, so he, Glen and Sarna demonstrated how they cool the engines down: An external cooler with an ice block floating inside. Good for more than just chilling bottles of brew, the cooler hooks up to the snowmobile engine via coolant lines and, with a flip of a switch, pumps coolant to the engine.
Racers also rely on gas-powered leaf blowers to force the heat out of the clutch.
For those who have not snowmobiled, Sarna offered insight on racing.
Strategic racers literally steer by the seat of their pants, Sarna said. The snowmobile’s built-in steering system is not as resourceful as the person’s ability to shift their body weight side to side on the seat. Shifting hooks their vehicle left or right.
Women, who are typically lighter and smaller drivers, lug less weight down track and in turn save on horsepower, which sets them up for success, Sarna said.
All racers must wear a safety vest and a tether switch on their wrist, Sarna said. Like a waistband safety clip built on a treadmill, the tether switch immediately cuts the power if the driver is ejected from their seat.
“Safety is a big part” of racing, Sarna said.
Kids, adults, men and women all competed in the races, Sarna said. Racers primarily represented Wisconsin but came from all around the state.
Josh Hanson traveled more than 150 miles from his hometown of Viroqua to compete in nine races. He is taking part in the Tri-County Grass Drag Series circuit, so he racks up more points at the end of the season if he gets to all five events.
As far as what keeps him competing, Hanson said, “We’ve always liked snowmobiles, going fast and the competition part of it.”