January 20, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Snowmobile race series expected to be a huge draw in northern Maine

When the International Snowmobile Festival, shared between Madawaska, Maine, and Edmundston, New Brunswick, fell apart three years ago, Madawaska was without a winter festival to draw tourists for the first time in a dozen years.

In its heyday the three-day international festival brought in 1,000 people, said Jean Ouellette, a member of the town's snowmobile club.

But the Maine snowmobile race series has filled the gap. And when Madawaska hosts its leg of the three-race series Feb. 16, as many as 600 riders may crowd into the tiny town.

"The last year we had the international festival was 2010. We were battling a lack of snow and lack of volunteers. It was a big event. It drew 800 to 1,000. But the last year it drew just 300 to 400," said Ouellette.

Now in its fourth year, the Maine cross country snowmobile race series has grown as towns and local snowmobile clubs have joined. All of the three professional races are 100 miles and will draw riders from across the Northeast. And this year, for the first time, that race is paired with an amateur race at each venue that will come with a $600 prize. The amateur race is run as a point series.

The pro races are run by USCC East Cross Country snowmobile racing. The first will be held Saturday on Lake Parlin in Parlin Pond, just outside Jackman. The series moves to Madawaska in February and Greenville in March.

Madawaska's race will have a snowmobile freestyle halftime show featuring riders doing flips and jumps.

The Jackman race, which joined the series last year, runs across a roughly 5-mile loop that will offer great viewing for spectators as pro riders race around 20 laps.

It also will feature a day-long schedule of kids races in an effort to turn the event into a more family-friendly festival.

"Last year it drew 600. And we have great conditions this year," said Joe Kruse at Lake Parlin Lodge, where the race begins.

It's the fourth straight year in Greenville and the first that the local club is trying to expand it into a two-day festival. It's drawn as many as 600 to the town in the past, and local riders think it will draw more, said Tom McCormick of the Moosehead Riders.

"This year we're trying to expand the whole race weekend. Saturday we're basically running races all day, all different classes, and offering car ice racing in West Cove. On Sunday we have a radar run," McCormick said.

McCormick thinks the amateur race will be a big draw this year because of the cash prize.

"There aren't many pros in Maine. There are several in Maine but most come up from New York state. We're trying to build the amateur ranks," McCormick said. "It's a rough-and-ready, ungroomed course."

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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