Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

Watercross races keep crowd's attention


Lois E. Johnson

Snowmobile watercross races are held at Moosehead Lake last weekend. Drivers rev their engines to high speed to stay on top of the water. Participants had to make several revolutions around an oval course, marked by buoys.

Snowmobiles streaked across the water on Moosehead Lake last weekend during the seventh annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Coldwater Challenge.

"The water was not warm like August but it isn't cold like it would be in December," said Dean Weske, president of the Moose Lake Grand Prix during an interview at the races. "The challenge is two-fold, to beat the competition and not to sink into that cold water."

Unfortunately, a driver would hit a wave wrong or lose control of the snowmobile on occasion and it would sink. The driver would have to float in the water until he or she and their snowmobile were retrieved.

A pontoon was used for retrieval. The driver would be pulled from the water, once the current race was over, by the people manning the pontoon, and a hook would be dropped into the water to retrieve the snowmobile. A marker on the snowmobile would come up when the snowmobile went down to mark the spot where the snowmobile lay on the bottom of the lake.

"After the snowmobiles are brought up and brought back to shore, the racing crew drains the water and gas out of them, services them, dries them out and races them again," Weske explained. "That can be done as fast as two minutes. No gas or oil ever leaks into the lake."

This is the first watercross of the season and competition amongst the 86 racers is fierce, said Weske. The events are conducted by the International Watercross Association.

"They are working the bugs out, being this is the first race of the season," he added. "A lot of snowmobiles went down on Saturday."

Attendance has grown over the seven years the O'Reilly Coldwater Challenge has been held in Moose Lake.

"Last year we had the biggest attendance that we've ever had," said Weske. "I hope that the attendance this year equals or exceeds last year's numbers."

People of all ages come to watch the races. It was a first-time experience for Gary Frehse of Rutledge and two of his grandsons.

"I like this," he said during a break in the racing action on Sunday. "It's good. I thought that this would be fun for the boys to see. There aren't very many family-friendly things to go to.

"It is interesting to see how they recover the snowmobiles. I always wondered how they did it. They are all set up for that."

Grandson Douglas Toms of Willmar, 13, enjoyed watching the snowmobiles race on water.

"I think this is really cool," he said. "This is the first time that I've seen this."

His brother agreed.

"I'm amazed," said Phillip, 11.

Racers brought their snowmobiles from near and far. Weske works with the Fjosne racing team of Willow River out on the racing circuit.

"I've known the Fjorsnes most of my life," said Gary. "It is interesting to see them race."

Weske explained the snowmobile watercross is held in Brainerd the second weekend of June, a world championship, with some racing teams bringing snowmobiles from Sweden, is held in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, in July, they go to Ely in August and to Iowa in late August or September.

"I work on the pontoon to retrieve snowmobiles when we are in Iowa," Weske explained. "That's part of the show. That's the greatest thing about this, we help each other out."

Vendors bring their food trailers to the event at the city park, and the city's municipal liquor store crew serves beer, something that Weske had requested for several years for the event.

The Moose Lake City Council finally approved beer being served in the park a number of years ago, a first in the city's history.

"The beer garden did very well on Saturday," Weske said. "We have never had an issue with any people having had too much alcohol. That was a fear that people had but we haven't seen that.

"People have been well behaved, both with that and using the garbage cans placed around the grounds. The Boy and Girl Scouts come and clean up after the races are over but there is very little to pick up. This is a very family-friendly event."

With the Moose Lake races behind them, the racers are planning for the more racing action in Brainerd next weekend and the remainder of the events in the racing season.


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