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Ice race shakes the lake

The Heartland 200 draws a record number of riders and spectators Feb. 27-28 on Fish Hook Lake.

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Andrew Michels takes the last corner of a lap on his Skidoo XRS 600 on Sunday at the Heartland 200. He raced in the Trail and Semi Pro Factory classes. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Fish Hook Lake echoed with the roar of engines Saturday and Sunday. Snowmobile racers tore up the ice, kicking clouds of ice dust into the air.

It was the first big weekend event in the Park Rapids area for quite a while, after approximately a year of cancellations due to unkind weather, last winter’s sketchy ice conditions and statewide restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19.

In spite of being called off and, later, back on, this year’s Heartland 200 went over big-time.

“We had a lot of racers out there, the most racers I think we’ve ever had – 105,” said race committee chairman Butch De La Hunt. “We’ve got a lot of sponsors in the community. There’s been huge support, and it went really, really well. This was our record amount of gate since we’ve been hosting the event.”

All this was in spite of this year’s event being an ice race, which radio broadcaster David De La Hunt described as “the next-best option” after riding trails through the woods.

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“With the weather being the way it was this year, not having enough snow to be in the woods, this was a pretty good fallback position, coming to Fish Hook Lake,” Butch agreed. “We had a great race Saturday and Sunday.”

David credited the condensed, ice course layout – 12.7 miles of LeMans-style twists and turns – with bringing fans together to see more of the race.

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Emily Kreuziger of Juneau, Wis., points out some damage her sled took while racing in the Sport Women's class at the Heartland 200 Saturday on Fish Hook Lake. Looking on are Justin, Bryce and Lynsi Knutson of Eau Claire, Wis. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“I really love the course,” said Emily Kreuziger of Juneau, Wis., who raced in the Sport Women’s class. “A little over 12 miles long, a real nice back stretch. Getting about 107 on the straightaways. Really technical corners. Nice long, sweeping corners. I really like the variety of corners that we have out on the track.”

She called the lake a great location, not only for being 10 minutes from her hotel, but also because it had room to put a big pit area and everybody’s trailer on the ice.

“You get to be really close to staging,” she said, “or if you need to, quick, get something out of your trailer.”

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Racer Ryley Schmit drives his Polaris Sc in the Classic class Saturday at the Heartland 200 on Fish Hook Lake. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“We’re close to the track, close to the starting line,” added racer Justin Knutson of Eau Claire, Wis.

Admitting that it was his first ice race, Knutson said, “This is a whole new experience for me. Doing the parade lap and practicing outside there, I’m a little out of my element, but it’s fun.”

“We’ve got a ton of lake to work with, which is wonderful,” said Dean Norrell, who does commentary for the Cor PowerSports series. “Huge ice conditions! 26 inches!”

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Three racers kick up a cloud of ice dust as they blast down the straightaway during Saturday's races in low-wind, overcast conditions. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Faith-based ministry

Butch De La Hunt said it was fantastic to work with Todd and Andrea Myers and the crew of Cor PowerSports, which bought up the former USXC racing circuit after last year’s Heartland 200.

Norrell said the Somerset, Wis.-based company takes its name from the biblical letters to the Corinthians. Since it acquired the USXC racing circuit, he said, Cor has begun moving away from where it started, with hill climb, hillcross and hill drag snowmobile racing.

The circuit’s principals are on-track race director Todd Myers and his wife Andrea Myers, who runs the scoring. Their daughter, Haley, was with them last weekend, helping with scoring and well as the company’s social media and merchandising.

“We have eight races scheduled for this year,” said Norrell. “We will get all of them in. It's not been easy, because of the COVID concerns. We’ve had to go to Iowa … wherever we could go to compete. We’ll be finishing our tour in Hurley, Wis., up in the Ironwood area.”

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Todd Myers, who owns Cor PowerSports with his wife Andrea, enjoyed last weekend's ice race on Fish Hook Lake but said he looks forward to running a woods race in the area. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Todd Myers confirmed that Cor PowerSports started as a ministry outreach of the non-denominational church his family attends.

“The idea my wife and I had – I’ve raced for 20-some years – we were going out to race, and we wanted to do morning prayer at the races. So, we talked to our church … and now it’s developed into this.”

After nine years in the business, he said, they were running races in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, but staying clear of USXC territory in North Dakota and Minnesota. “But I’ve raced the I-500, so I’m very familiar with the area and racing through here. The woods race here is what I love. In Wisconsin, that’s what we do.”

This weekend’s event was the company’s first Minnesota race of the season.

“Everybody’s been working together to make it happen,” said Myers. “We’ve had to get really creative on a lot of it.”

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Norah Kemnitz and Ryan Kemnitz of Thief River Falls, Tiffani Broden of Crookston, Don Boone on the four-wheeler and Joey Potucek of Warren, Minn. were among the spectators Saturday at the Park Rapids Heartland 200. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

After acquiring USXC, rolling with the COVID-19 cancellations and moving some Minnesota events to Iowa or Wisconsin, and weathering some extreme winter weather, he said, mother nature just didn’t provide enough snow this year for the Heartland 200 to ride the trails.

“Everyone was super receptive,” said Myers. “It worked really well. We just look at it as a good dry-run of setting up for next year.”

Saturday’s race schedule was delayed due to an electrical glitch: interference caused by a faulty extension cord disrupted the scoring system for a couple hours. “We just had to adjust,” said Myers.

Next week, he said, they’ll be heading to Naytahwaush, Minn., for the 52nd Snodeo 200.

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Steve Olson of Thief River Falls has a high vantage point on Saturday to watch his two children, Abe and Annie, racing in the Heartland 200. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Gorgeous weekend

Winter weather in the Park Rapids area is a rich mine of things to complain about, especially for on-ice events like this year’s Heartland 200. It could be too cold, like it was a couple weeks earlier. It could be too warm, making the ice slushy and perhaps unsafe.

With allowances for people being able to complain about anything anytime, last weekend’s weather cooperated fully. Saturday was mild and overcast with hardly a breeze. Sunday was mostly clear and sunny, albeit colder, with an icy bite to the wind.

“Overall, it’s been a really perfect day,” Kreuziger said on Saturday, noting that her polarized goggles helped her see variations in the prevailing whiteness of the course. “It’s really nice that it’s not too cold, not too warm. The ice is getting a little bit chewed up, but that’s normal for this kind of race. It’s not slushy at all. Not a lot of snow dust as well.”

On Sunday, however, Joe Van Lyssel of Fremont, Wis. found the brighter sunlight better for seeing oncoming obstacles, as opposed to Saturday’s cloudy, flat light. “There’s a lot better visibility,” he said of Sunday’s conditions.

His son Luke, racing in Sport Stock and Sport Improved, agreed. “You can see what was coming up, and the wind kind of kept the snow dust away, so you can see when you’re behind somebody.”

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Robin Olson, from left, Sabrina Olson, Waylon Olson and Nathan Olson came from the Pequot Lakes-Nisswa area on Saturday to cheer on Robin's son, Jacob Olson, racing in the Heartland 200 snowmobile event on Fish Hook Lake. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Father and son agreed that the changing conditions throughout the weekend called for changes in clutching, handling and how to gear up.

“With COVID and everything, and with so many things being canceled, it’s just nice to have an event happening back in Park Rapids,” said David De La Hunt. “The motels are full. Some even had to go a little bit further away to get a room. … That’s what we need to help the local economy.”

Next year’s race will take place during the last weekend of January, Butch De La Hunt said.

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The racers take off at the start of the final race of this year's Heartland 200, the eight-lap Pro Factory 600 final, with one required fuel stop. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Race Results

In Saturday’s five-lap, Semi-Pro 600 Improved Stock final, 15 out of 16 qualifiers finished the race, with Abe Olson placing first with a time of 1:05:43.854, Marshall Busse second in 1:05:44.193, and Dustin Schwandt third in 1:06:09.910. Finishing in seventh place, Paul Brown had the fastest lap with 13:06.270 in lap 2 and a top speed of 58.148 mph.

In the eight-lap, Pro Open final on Saturday, 11 of 17 qualifiers finished, with Zach Herfindahl placing first in 1:41:56.581, Wesley Selby second in 1:42:48.427 and Benjamin Langaas third in 1:44:13.875. Selby had the best lap, clocking 12:37.267 in lap 6, and the best top speed at 60.375 mph.

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Winners of the second-last race on Sunday, the five-lap Semi Pro 600 Factory 600 final, were (from left) Abe Olson, third place; Evan Peppel, first; and Marshall Busse, second. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

In Sunday’s five-lap, Semi Pro 600 Factory 600 final, 15 of 21 qualifiers finished the race, with Evan Peppel placing first in 1:05:26.654, Marshall Busse second in 1:05:34.518 and Abe Olson third in 1:05:48.918. Peppel also had the best lap, clocking 13:09.646 in lap 2 and reaching a top speed of 57.899 mph.

In the eight-lap, Pro Factory 600 final on Sunday, 10 of 17 qualifiers finished, with Justin Tate taking first in 1:45:36.464, Charles Revering second in 1:45:54.513 and Dylan Stevens third in 1:46:06.465. Leader for much of the race was Dan Revering, whose sled broke down in the last lap and did not finish. The best lap went to fifth-place finisher Langaas, clocking 13:01.696 in lap 7 and reaching a best speed of 58.488 mph.

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In the winners circle of Sunday's final race at the Heartland 200 are Justin Tate, at left, placing first in the Pro Factory 600 final; Charles Revering, second; and Dylan Stevens, third. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

In overall results, Craig Ritszinger placed first overall in the Pro Factory Vet 40+, Trail and Classic categories, with a total time of 1:07:42.921 in two races. Adam Longtin placed second in 1:09:25.445 and Todd Severson placed third in 1:09:30.606.

Longtin also placed first overall in Pro Factory Women, Sport 600 Improved and Masters 40+, totaling 1:21:23.626 in two races. Luke Van Lyssel placed second in 1:21:49.437 and Cole Boyd placed third in 1:22:27.180.

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Justin Tate gets the checkered flag on his Polaris XCR 600, winning the Pro Factory 600 final Sunday at the Heartland 200. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Van Lyssel also placed first overall in Sport Stock 600, Masters 50+ and Expert 600 Limited, with a total time of 1:07:47.054 in two races. Boyd placed second in 1:08:45.751 and Aiden Johnson placed third in 1:09:15.933.

In Vintage, Sport Women’s and all Juniors classes, Johnson placed first overall with a total time of 1:08:51.597 in two races, while Derek Kloety placed second in 1:10:21.677 and Cooper Kangas placed third in 1:11:29.774.

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Leah Bauer of Eau Claire, Wis. collected her trophies Sunday for placing third overall in the Sports Stock class and second overall in the Pro Women's class at the Heartland 200. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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