MEET STEVE SMITH – 2008 VINTAGE SNOPRO CHAMPION!


By now you know Steve Smith is the 2008 Vintage SnoPro Champ. His name will go on the Snowmobile Hall of Fame cup and be on display at the new museum in St. Germain Wisconsin for all time. [Note: Photos removed at photographers request]

To the causal observer, it would seem Steve just got started a year or so ago, and now finds himself on top of the heap. Well, he is on top of the heap, but there is no way you can say Steve just started.

Normally a commercial fisherman from Wasilla Alaska, Steve also spends some time working with the families cement contracting business. He’s now 51 years old, and is married to wife Evelyn, and has three kids: Sean, Amanda and Jessica. For fun, Steve and his son Sean like to go dredging for Gold. They dive in rivers and pump up the waters in Alaska. “When you see the gold going up the hose, it’s pretty exciting. – It’s a bad addiction!” Steve says. They are also avid hunters & fisherman. In fact, they usually only eat what they kill themselves. They have a diet rich in Moose, Caribou and Halibut.

Steve got started in 1973 racing the juniors class on a Sears Sportster. “It was a great sled, I really liked it!” Steve fondly recalls. By 1976, he and his brother Mike moved on to Arctic Cat’s, racing a Panther and a Z. They flirted with Arctic Cats as the only brand they would ride, and they started winning races on the sleds in Alaska. In 1976, thier uncle Joe opened up an Arctic dealership right next to the Smith’s. The Smith Brothers flirting with Arctic Cat became an all-out love affair.

In 1979, they got accepted to go to the race school at Arctic Cat and could buy a new 1980 Arctic IFS SnoPro. They flew down for the week long training school and stayed a but longer to test the sled at the season opener in Grand Forks North Dakota in December of 1979. They had one 340 Super mod. Steve would run the sled in 340 Super Mod, Mike would run it in 440. First heat Steve found himself lined up next Steve Thorsen, Jim Dimmerman and a host of other top-notch racers. Steve got the hole shot and led the race until turn three, where he blew a belt. They had to get the sled crated up and on an airplane that day, so Mike never got to run the sled in the lower 48. Instead, Mike and Steve raced the sled all season in Alaska.

Steve finished the 1980 season #1 in Alaska, brother Mike finished 2nd.

In 1980 and 81, Steve and Mike came down to race three races in the lower 48. That was all they could afford. So they drove a 1960 Ford 2.5 ton farm truck all the way from Alaska with three sleds on the back. Two 1980 IFS sleds and the 77 440 Z. The first race was in Winnipeg Manitoba on a track complete with 10 foot high concrete walls! Steve made it through the round robin formats into the semi-finals. Mike crashed. They moved on to Aberdeen South Dakota. After the races there they really got to know some of the big name racers of the time – Hulings, Thorsen, Elsner, Elmer, Dimmerman and thier buddy, Rick Krump. Steve came in 12th but still got $600 – the most they had ever won oval racing! Steve ran the 77 Z in Mod 3, making it to the final, led it until the last lap when the spyder on his Comet clutch gave out and flipped his belt. Steve was forced to watch everyone fly by. They didn’t make it to the last of the three races, due to a family emergency back home.

When they got home, they cleaned house in Alaska at the first race. But in January of 1981 in Soldotna Alaska, fate had different plans for Steve. Coming out of turn two, he pegged his 440 Z wide open. Charging hard into corner three after building speed the whole way, the throttle stuck. Steve struck a 2′ high steel guard post at about 90 miles per hour. The force of the hit sent him flying way up in the air and came down 75 feet from the track – on his face! The force was so hard it blew the full face helmet right off his head, causing extensive damage to his face – 17 teeth got knocked out, broke his jaw in three places – and then the Z came down on his right leg. The sled was completely destroyed. Steve spent the next two months in the hospital where they had to drill holes in his skull to bolt in rods that would hold his face in place while it healed.

He was also unable to walk for over a year. The sled had crushed his foot and ankle to nothing more than dust. The therapy started after a year and slowly but surely, he learned to walk all over again.

“I didn’t think I would never get on a sled again” he said. The oval racing was over for them, but in the next few years, brother Mike ran a few cross-countries. In 1988, they started an oval series in Alaska and Mike wanted to race. Steve agreed, reluctantly. “It took a long time to build up my nerve.” Steve would race, but you could see he was backing off in the corners, not the fearless, hard-charging monster he had been in the past.

But his new found nerve would soon be put on indefinite hold. By 1992, racing had all but died in Alaska, so Steve and Mike re-started the USSA Alaska division, but two years later the politics just wore them down, and Mike stepped out. Steve and his Sean kept racing Alaska Enduros all the way up until 2001. Again Politics raised its ugly head, and Steve and Sean quit then as well. It seemed like racing was all over for Steve and the Smith Brothers.

But what’s the old saying? You can take the boy away from the races, but you can’t take the racer away from the boy?

Brother Mike had heard about all the vintage racing going on in the lower 48 from reading this website in 2005. He decided to make a trip down to the Hall of Fame Classic Sled Roundup that year and see what all the fuss was about. Mike looked at Mark Anderson’ sleds and Bill Stull’s, and all the beautifully restored machines – in particular the Z’s and the EXT’s – these were always Steve and Mike’s favorite sleds.

Mike got the bug and infected not only Steve, but Steve’s son Sean. Before they knew it, they were packed and loaded with parts, sleds and tools from Alaska, on the road to Thief River Falls, Minnesota. They had two U-hauls full of sleds, parts and tools. They were Cat guys, so where else would they want to stay in the lower 48? “It was exciting when we came down. A big adventure. Not much to do in Alaska during the winter, so this just seemed like the most fun we could have.” Fortunately for Steve his wife was very understanding and gave her her blessing to the “adventure”.

That first year they lived and worked out of the shop – a tradition that would carry on the next year as well. The first year, they ran only the 250, 340 and 440 77 Z’s they had dug up and got ready.

Steve ran just the 440 – affectionately known as “The Widow Maker” the first year. It was with that motor (and a different chassis) that Steve had crashed with in 1981. “It was always a good, strong motor, from day one.” Steve said. Bad memories aside, the motor showed real promise the first year out. “All we needed to do was stay on top of the jetting, and that motor would just sing.” In Sauk Centre last year, Steve had a nasty flip on the sled that sent him and Jay Sperry into the bales – hard.

The next year the team added a 295 and a 440 EXT. By the start of this past year, they had added one 340, 440 and 650 EXT to the line-up, making the largest line-up out there of any team, and making the Smith Brothers look a lot like Team Arctic racing of years gone by. Building all those sleds really was a team effort, and they did have a lot of help around the lower 48, all of whom they thank on their website. “Sean and I worked mostly on the handling, and we fabricated most of the stuff that needed to be made. Mike made sure we had what we needed, and worked on the jetting and clutching, and Adam kept all the studs and carbides sharp, as well as being the all around helper guy.” Steve said.

This years series started at Rock Rapids, Iowa. Steve won the 440 free-air class on a sled that was hitting the ice for the first time. “The 77 Z 440 was still having some handling problems” he said, “We found out later that 30 years of abuse and my having wrecked it a several times had left the bulkhead a little too flexible, and we had to reinforce it a lot.”

The first guy Steve started to keep an eye out for was Bill Stull and his fleet of Rupps. “He’s always competitive. And those sleds looked really good at Rock Rapids.”

Moving on to Ironwood, Steve remembers the race fondly. “Great track, great people, great race.” He said. Steve was leading a heat with the 440 Z when the radiator cap blew off into his face, then bounced back under the hood, where he found it later. Steve did okay that day with the 440 free-air, and even took a 3rd in the Adema cup race.

Moving on to Eagle River, Steve was just as complimentary about that race as he was Ironwood. “Eagle River speaks for itself. It’s just a great race.” Steve took a 2nd behind Mark Anderson in the 440 class, and placed way back in 6th on his free-air.

In Sauk Centre on a Friday night, Steve found the track so fast, smooth and to his liking. Steve turned up the wick, winning the 440 liquid class, and the 440 free-air, and placed very well in the open class.

Moving on to Mole Lake, Steve again found the track and the people running the race to be absolutely top-notch. “The people there just went the farthest to make the racers feel special for the effort. We really appreciated it.” Steve walked away with a win in 440 liquid super-mod, 2nd in free-air, and a 3rd in the 650 class. Money-wise, it was one of the best weekends ever for the Smith Brothers Racing team.

At the last SnoPro race of the year in Wisconsin, Steve again won 440 liquid, got a 2nd in free-air 440. And here’s where it got interesting for the SnoPro series points. Up until this day, Steve’s son Sean had led in points. But the rule state that if you run all the races in the series, one has to be thrown out, making it possible for every race team to miss one race in the season without getting penalized. No matter how they added it up, throwing out one for Steve, Sean, Mike and Adam put Steve on top. Steve was happy to win, but also very disappointed that his son Sean did not win.

No matter. The Smith Brothers and their Cats dominated the Vintage SnoPro series this year. Steve took the #1 spot, son Sean came in 2nd, Mike took 3rd and Adam locked up 6th place overall.

Make no mistake, moving across a continent for several months out of the year is expensive and logistically difficult no matter how many penny’s you pinch. The past couple of years of building sleds and racing non-stop has had an impact on the team, to say the least. So the question is: Will Steve and the team be back for 2008?

“Truth is, we don’t know. The economy in Alaska (and elsewhere) appears to be tough and getting tougher. We may have to sit home and maybe look at 2010 instead.”

When the passion for racing is in your blood the way the Steve and the team have been infected, my guess is we’ll soon see their Alaskan Cats scratching their way to the top again soon.

I don’t think they can resist.

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