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Sherri Richards, Published February 18 2008

Racing club ‘like summer camp,’ only much colder

CASSELTON, N.D. – The racers take their places at the starting line and wait for the flag to be waved. They roar two laps around the track.

Once off their snowmobiles, they tackle each other in the snow, as kids are prone to do.

Building friendships is as much a part of the Kids Championship Power Racing Organization West as the trophies given out at the evening banquet, say the parents of the 4- to 12-year-old racers.

“It’s almost like summer camp,” said Cari Dostal of Badger, Minn.

Almost, except for the 10-below wind chill.

But the cold doesn’t keep the families away from the weekly races, held January through the first weekend in March.

On average, about 70 kids race their Kitty Cat or 120 snowmobiles in towns such as Langdon and Manvel, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Ada and Karlstad, Minn.

“It’s like a family event,” said Melissa Olson of Ada, whose 10-year-old son, Dustin, races. Her 17-year-old daughter also raced until she graduated from the circuit. “You can take your other kids. Other family members come to watch. That’s what brings a lot of us together.”

Trailers line up around the track, where the families go to stay warm. Most are equipped with heaters, radios, TVs, even toilets. A crock pot keeps lunch warm.

Sunday’s race in Casselton had been scheduled for Feb. 9, but was postponed due to the bitter cold that weekend. More than 40 kids turned out for the rescheduled race.

Saturday’s temperatures were too warm to keep the Kitty Cat track frozen. So the 120s raced around the other oval track, built on a snow-covered corn field just north of the Governor’s Inn.

Depending on the class – stock, improved stock, champs – the sleds race at 15 to 30 mph.

“A lot of times the parents are more into it than the kids,” said Deb Reynolds of Horace, N.D.

Dads help sons and daughters with their sleds, she said.

“Moms have a tougher time watching than the dads,” she added.

While on the track, the kids are competitors, she said. But at the evening banquet, Reynolds just sees kids, playing.

Teaching sportsmanship and snowmobile safety are two main goals of the nonprofit volunteer group, said Chad Helgeland of Roseau, Minn., the current president.

The circuit was founded in 1989, he said, and has continued to grow.

“There’s a lot of excitement among the youngsters. They look forward to seeing their friends on the weekend,” Helgeland said.

And they don’t mind the trophies. Every kid gets at least one, regardless of how they did on the track.

“It makes the winter go so fast,” said Jana Helgeland, Chad’s wife.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525