Way-back machines rule during vintage snowmobile races

Vintage snowmobiles like this circa-late 1960s Arctic Cat Panther are a draw at shows and races across the northern tier of the country. (Brian Peterson photo)

LANCASTER, N.H. — Snowmobilers were firing up the way-back machines during vintage snowmobile racing over the weekend, with nostalgic owners clawing through snow on classic machines.

Hundreds of riders and spectators gathered Saturday for the first of two days of vintage snowmobile racing during the Lancaster Grand Prix in the White Mountains.

The machines are underpowered and clumsy compared to today’s sleek, high-powered machines. Many date to the dawn of recreational snowmobiling, which became popular in the 1950s and ’60s.

“It’s 10 years older than me,” joked Craig Pothier, of New Boston, N.H., who entered a 23-horsepower, 1973 Arctic Cat Lynx in the competition.

About two dozen vintage snowmobile races are held across the nation’s northern tier each year, with most of the machines built before 1985, said Ed Stabb, from Northern New York Vintage Snowmobile Racing, which administered the weekend race in Lancaster.

There are also hundreds of smaller “backyard” events each year, said Todd Achterberg, president of International Snowmobile Racing in Eagle River, Wis. — long a major snowmobile racing destination.

The events represent a mix of noisy engines and nostalgia, exhaust and excitement, bringing operators and spectators back to the old days.

“To see these old sleds go out there and race brings back a good time in their life, brings back a good memory,” Stabb said.

The oldest machines are in the “bomber class.” They were built in 1974 or earlier. “You found it in the barn, you brought it out and raced it,” said Shane Beattie, an official with the Lancaster Snow Drifters, the snowmobile club that puts on the event.

Achterberg says vintage racing is relatively inexpensive, and that’s part of the appeal.

Pothier, for example, said he has about $1,800 invested in the machine and picked the bomber class because it is a relatively cheap way to have fun with the family. Four generations of Pothiers were racing.

The youngest was his 10-year-old son.

“It’s really fun,” said Pothier’s son, Carter. “You get to enjoy the nice day outside.”

The bomber class machines putter along compared to modern machines that can scream along at speeds topping 100 mph.

The handling on those older machines is also clumsy because of primitive suspension systems and skis that are close together, making them less stable and harder to turn, said Paul Crane, the owner of Crane’s Snowmobile Museum in Lancaster.

Such machines can test the mettle of their operators. “It’s more of a challenge than the new ones,” he said. “There is no comparison.”

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