Junker Track Stars

Posted February 14, 2017

By Jeff Bruss

Photos by Jake Russell: Real & Reckless Photography

Think 24 Hours of LeMons on snow and you've got Junker Sled Weekend. John Kendall, an RCN sales rep, and Dean Larson, RCN's digital editor, have been wrecking their 20-something-year-old bodies in the event since its inception three years ago. The brainchild of their buddy, Chris Dobbins, a snowmobile enthusiast turned guy who had to get a real job, the rules are simple: buy a sled for less than five hundred bucks and race it until your arms or the skis fall off ­– whichever comes first.

Okay, it's slightly more complex than that, but not much. The $500 junker snowmobile had to be manufactured prior to 1990 and have a displacement of less than 600cc if fan cooled, or 500cc if liquid cooled. Your all-in investment, including any upgrades, must be less than $500. So picture hundred dollar sleds with four hundred dollars in engine and suspension upgrades. Aesthetic upgrades don't debit your $500 budget, so PBR stickers, spray paint and duct tape adorn the hoods. The $500 investment is primarily regulated by the honor system, but shame and humiliation is cast upon those who blatantly violate.

You might assume that investing a few hundred dollars in a vintage trail bomber wouldn't lead to any challenging racing, but you'd be wrong: These boys are serious. The skidsteer-carved snocross course is grueling – dotted with berms, doubles, and banked turns, with speeds hovering around 60 miles per hour. You get air on the jumps, lots of it, and when you land, stuff breaks. Racers just hope it's bogies, not bones. Nobody has ever been seriously hurt, outside of pride and ego, but racers are required to wear safety vests and helmets. No alcohol is permitted in any way during racing, but appears to be strongly encouraged afterwards to numb the pain of virtually suspension-less landings.

This year's event drew 21 moderately insane participants. Three, five-lap heat races are conducted with the top three finishers in each moving on to the final. The tail-draggers get kicked down to a last-chance-qualifier race where the top three again advance to the 12-sled final.

The championship race takes place over eight grueling laps. The course is pretty beat at this point, and so are the racers. Some have already run ten laps on machines designed thirty-some years ago for smooth trails and passive riding. But these aren't ordinary men, no way, if you're gonna be dumb, you've got to be tough, seems to be the unspoken motto. The final unfortunately proves to be not much of battle for first place. Chris Nylund, a seasoned racer on a quick fan-cooled Polaris, runs away with it in pretty easy fashion. The amateur weekend warriors, who aren't in as race-ready condition, aren't deterred though. When helmets come off, most sentences begin with "Next year...", suggesting that wisdom coming with age arrives at a later stage of life.

You might be wondering how the RCN boys did? Well, Dean made the podium with a very respectable third place finish on a 488cc fan-cooled Polaris. His buddy John wasn't far behind in sixth place on a liquid-cooled Polaris 400. I didn't race – I blame it on being too old, fat and wise. But next year they're talking about creating an over 40-year-old class, and man, I can't wait to feel young and foolish again. If anyone's got a sub $500 snow machine lying around, I'm looking.

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