It didn’t take Blake Higgins long to reach the top in the world of watercross.

Higgins, a 2018 graduate of Park Rapids Area High School, was crowned the Modified 800 Drag champion and the Semi Pro Stock Ovals champion at the 43rd annual Snowmobile Watercross World Championship on Memory Lake at Grantsburg, Wisconsin, on July 21.

During the 800 drag qualifying rounds on July 19, Higgins took first in all three of his heats. Higgins followed by winning all three of his heats in the semi pro stock ovals qualifying rounds on July 20. Higgins completed a perfect weekend by winning all three of his drag races in the finals and all three of his oval races, including topping a six-racer field in the finals, on July 21 to capture the World Championship in both events.

“The stakes were high all weekend. There was no room for error. You had to play it safe and you had to play it smart so you didn’t sink your sled. Getting 12 firsts, I couldn’t do any better than that. Just winning 800 drags for the second year in a row was so awesome and topping off the weekend with my first victory in semi pro stock ovals was really more than I could have hoped for,” said Higgins. “I’ve been going to Grantsburg since I was 9 years old and I watched people do their victory lap. I dreamed of taking a victory lap on Memory Lake as a World Champion. That was one of the things on my bucket list and to be able to cross that off is something I’ll never forget. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life.”

Finds niche

Higgins grew up loving snowmobiling.

His father, Joe, began watercross racing in the late 1990s and took Blake to competitions. Higgins knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps at an early age.

“I’ve always loved snowmobiling. I’ve been riding snowmobiles since I was 5 years old and watercross is a great way to be able to ride snowmobiles practically year-round,” said Higgins, who rides a 2005 Ski Doo Summit 800.

Even though he was a high school letterwinner in football and golf, Higgins found his niche competing in watercross.

“Watercross is a lot of fun. It’s a great hobby and I love the competition. The entire watercross community makes it such a fun sport to be a part of,” said Higgins. “It’s so cool to have success at this. I found that watercross is something I can compete at and be successful.”

Rough debut

Higgins is in his third season of competing in the International Watercross Association’s World Series of Watercross, which is comprised of six races during the summer. The summer’s series began at Brainerd on June 1-2 and went to Menomonie, Wisconsin, on June 22-23 in preparation for the World Championship at Grantsburg. The series will continue with races at Rock Valley, Iowa, on Aug. 2-3 before ending with events at Ely on Aug. 10-11 and the finale at Brainerd on Sept. 21-22.

Each event features drag racing and oval racing. Drag consists of head-to-head racing in heats on the water on a straight 400-foot course. Ovals consists of heats of three racers on a course with three laps around two buoys and one equalizer lap around four buoys.

Higgins had a rough start in his watercross racing debut in 2017.

“I didn’t get off to a good start,” said Higgins. “I had been watching watercross for years and I finally had a chance to race and my engine blew up on my first run.”

Higgins competed in only three drag races during his first season. “I eased into it,” said Higgins, who placed third in 600 drags at Grantsburg in 2017.

In his second season, Higgins developed into one of the top drag racers. Higgins finished first three times (including in 800 drags at Grantsburg), took second three times and was third once to finish second in the 800 drags point standings and fifth in ovals point standings.

“I learned a lot from those experiences,” said Higgins. “I watched a lot of races and that helped me see what I needed to do to get better.”

That preparation paid off as Higgins topped the 24-racer drag field and 34-racer ovals field to become a World Champion.

“That was the most competition I had ever raced against. It was kind of intimidating, but I just took it one race at a time. A lot of the other racers have more years of experience than me, so I knew that competing would be difficult,” said Higgins, who reached 64 mph during the drag races. “(In the ovals finals), it came down to seeing who can ride the smartest and who can stay out of the rough water. I just had to control my emotions. The waves were rough, but I felt that I ran pretty clean. I’m the second youngest to win a World Championship. At first I was in shock when I won it. Then I was just so pumped to pull it off.”

Park Rapids’ Matt Czeczok also competes in the IWA’s World Series of Watercross. Czeczok finished fourth in semi pro stock ovals at Grantsburg after placing third in ovals and fourth in 800 drag at the season opener at Brainerd and second in ovals at Menomonie.

After fulfilling one of his goals of becoming a world champion in both drag and ovals, Higgins has one more goal to accomplish this season. After the first three series, Higgins is undefeated in drags and tops the points standings while contending in ovals by adding a runner-up finish and third-place showing in addition to his World Championship.

“After winning the World Championship, I want to take the points championship,” said Higgins. “I’m sitting in a pretty good spot right now.”

Next challenge

Higgins reached the pinnacle of his sport in only his second season competing in the whole World Series of Watercross circuit.

“Just making it into both finals was an accomplishment for me. The other racers were fast, but I knew that my sled was fast and that if I ran a clean race that I could do well,” said the 19-year-old Higgins. “Every win is special and this win in ovals has been my most significant so far. I push myself every weekend to race to my potential and I’ve got no complains about how the weekend went. It will definitely be one memory that will stick with me for a long time. This will be a weekend to remember for the rest of my life.”

After winning the semi pro stock championship, Higgins will automatically be moved up a class next season.

That’s a challenge Higgins welcomes.

“Since I won, I have to bump up so I’m going to run semi pro open and pro stock ovals next year. I was thinking about moving up anyway because I want to progress as rapidly as I can in this sport,” said Higgins. “It’s going to be a really big challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m excited for and ready for as a racer. My goal as a racer is to be the best. I love to win and I hope to be the pro open World Champion one day.”