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PREVIEW: Championship of Snowmobile Watercross Is July 20-22

By John Prusak

There's always something interesting going on in Grantsburg, most involving snowmobiles and zany people.

It’s time, ladies and gentlemen, to get pumped up for the first monstrous snowmobile race of the new 2012-13 season!! Oh sure, it’s July and most sane people are thinking about boats, bikes or hovering indoors in air-conditioned comfort.

But we aren’t normal people – we’re snowmobilers, dangit. And some of the most un-normal snowmobilers we know are snowmobile watercross racers, and their world championship is less than a week away.

We’re talking about the 36th Annual World Championship Snowmobile Watercross, July 20-22 in downtown Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

For the uninitiated, watercross racing features riders on snowmobiles with varying forms of modifications racing across or on top of the water in drag race classes and in multi-lap oval races.

The drags are cool – there are three classes, one each for 600- and 800-class, basically stock snowmobiles and another for the big mods. Racers line up on land in four lanes about 10 feet from the water. When the line turns green, they pin their throttles and take to the open water, usually riding a wheelie for most of the course (if the skis touch the water, racers lose momentum and usually lose). Not only are the racers defying physics (in case you haven’t experienced it, sleds don’t float), they also have to be ready to react to anything, as the uneven water surface makes them have to make constant corrections as they blaze across the water and try to be the first one past the finish line and then to the bank on the other side of the pond.

Yep, the drags are cool, but the oval racing is outstanding! In this facet of the sport, racers run multiple laps around a course marked by floating buoys. Each lap gets more interesting, as the snowmobiles kick up waves that are increasingly difficult to navigate. The athleticism of the competitors really comes into play – like the drag racers, their skis rarely touch the water’s surface. All steering is done through weight distribution, and drivers have to hang FAR off the sled in corner while maintaining momentum to stay afloat.

When racers do lose momentum for a turn or in chop or when getting hosed by water by another competitor, their snowmobiles sometimes stop defying physics and sink to the bottom of Memory Lake. Before the machine completely sinks, the driver usually pulls the tether to kill the engine, and then releases his seat cushion, with it attached to the sled by a rope. The cushion floats on the surface above the sunken sled and, when the race is done, a specially modified pontoon comes out and winches up their snowmobile using that rope. After draining the engine and various components in the pits, the well-prepared racers are usually able to return for the next round of heats – no gas or oil leaks into the lake, and the sleds run just fine later.

Yes, the racing is outstanding to watch, but that’s only about 70 percent of the reason to go to the Grantsburg event. The 36th Annual World Championship Snowmobile Watercross is at the center of a big small-town celebration in Grantsburg. There are food and product vendors, wacky competitions during the day and street dances Friday and Saturday night feature local bands plus a big fireworks shows. It’s a very festive atmosphere.

So, will we see you in Grantsburg? Well, if not, remember that there are watercross events throughout the summer both in the Upper Midwest on the International Watercross Association circuit and also in the Northeast on the Eastern Watercross Association. There are also races in the mountain west.

Finally, make sure to check out our Friday’s Fast Five featuring the five racers to watch for the Pro Open Championship at Grantsburg.

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