Park Rapids Heartland 106 features fast, high flying action
A group of family and friends found a prime spot along County Road 4 to set up lawn chairs in the snow and drink coffee while they watched racing action a couple miles north of the start of Sunday's USXC Park Rapids Heartland 106 snowmobile races.
Eric and Brittany Smith, along with Kirk Smith and other family, sat on a hill on their property overlooking an approach, looking for racers to get big air. It was a beautiful winter day and the group wanted to watch the race before going to church.
"It's entertainment and brings our families together for something to watch," Brittany said. "It's cool that they come right by our place."
Just over 100 racers competed in 150 classes over two days and the spectators weren't disappointed as sleds caught air along Sunday's race route.
The Park Rapids 106 is popular on the USXC circuit as it features racing along ditches, across lakes and through the woods.
"This was a really good race, everybody enjoyed the woods," said USXC owner Brian Nelson. "It's fun to come to town because there is so much support for snowmobiling in Park Rapids. Nelson said the Park Rapids Heartland 106 is unique because about 100 miles of trail are shut down to run the event through the woods, adding it's about the only place in the state they could be able to do that.
There was plenty of snow up until a few days last week before the race when warm weather set in, dropping snow depth and creating wet, slushy trail conditions. Enough snow remained, however, and the racers were able to finish the event ahead of additional melting.
"People enjoy the heck out of that event," Nelson said. "I would say it was very good. The only thing that wasn't perfect was the weather but we can't control that. It was great dealing with the Chamber (Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce), a pleasant experience."
Zach Herfindahl of Eagle River, Wisconsin won Sunday's 105-mile race that went through parts of Paul Bunyan State Forest, and enjoyed how unique the Park Rapids race is with its route variety. He finished first in 1 hour, 50 minutes - about a minute and a half ahead of the second place racer.
"Everything went really good, the course was challenging with a lot of tight woods," Herfindahl said. "You just had to ride really smart. You couldn't overdrive it, otherwise you would end up in the trees."
Herfindahl agrees with Nelson in just how different the Park Rapids race is, particularly the opportunity to race the woods.
"We don't usually get to race on a trail like this," he said of his fourth year racing in Park Rapids. "It's really challenging. I grew up riding in the woods in Wisconsin so this was a lot of fun. This community is into snowmobiling so much compared to anywhere else. It's pretty cool to race here."
Making the win especially sweet is the hardware he takes home. The last few years, local race organizer Jon Koch, gets a custom neon Heartland 106 sign made for the winner, and the snowmobile racers are after the unique trophy.
"I finally got one of those nice signs," Herfindahl said. "It's worth the money, I finally got it. I've missed out on this by a little bit the last two years. This is something cool and we don't get stuff like that very often. A lot of guys come here just to try and win that sign. It's something to come here to fight for."
Butch De La Hunt, Chair Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said the weekend event was well received by everyone involved, and the warm weather added a little extra challenge. Saturday's race ran south of Highway 34 into the Hubbard Prairie and crossing parts of Long Lake.
"The weather sure had the racers changing things up over the weekend. The mechanics had their hands full being creative to keep machines running; both cooling and trail roughness," he said. "Both courses were very challenging and conditions had an impact. Racers had to deal with fog, drizzle, water on lakes and rough ditches."
De La Hunt added, the racers enjoy when they can get into the woods and spectators were equally treated to speed, jumps and great action everywhere along the race routes. Racers saw bonfires, group gatherings, and even a bikini sighting on Long Lake as they traveled the race course.
"Again, Park Rapids came together as sponsors, volunteers and community supporters to make the Park Rapids 2017 USXC a great success! The positive economic impact is huge for our community," De La Hunt said. "The Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce looks forward to assisting Brian Nelson of USXC and the Park Rapids USXC Team again next year."