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Published February 15 2010

Snowmobile race goes off without a hitch

On a day reserved for love, dating couple Connie Maki and Gene Krueger stood with their backs to the bone-chilling wind, enjoying a romantic afternoon of – what else? – watching motorized sleds scream across the frozen tundra at the North Dakota Horse Park.

“It is Valentine’s Day, after all. Wouldn’t we be here?” Maki said, laughing.

The crowd of racers and spectators lured to the track Sunday by their love of snowmobiling had both a horse park official and organizers of Fargo’s first professional cross-country snowmobile races claiming success.

“We had 267 race entries today. We had over 150 racers that showed up,” said Paula Klein, assistant promoter for the U.S. Cross Country Snowmobile Racing Association’s “Fargo Moorhead 100” event.

“It’s the biggest cross-country race on record that we’ve ever had, and we think it’s actually one of the biggest cross-country races that might have ever been held,” Klein added.

The beleaguered horse park “seemed like a natural fit” for the races because of its open land, PA system, area for pits, and availability during the winter, she said.

Jad Breiner, who has taken over as interim general manager of the horse park since Heather Benson stepped down late last year, said officials should know within the next month or two whether the cash-strapped park will host horse racing next summer.

In the meantime, he hopes to expose more people to the track with events such as Sunday’s event and possible concerts or rodeos next summer, he said.

“We’re not just a race track, we’re a whole park of entertainment,” he said.

For competitors, Sunday’s five-mile track in and around the horse park was different from the 12- to 20-mile tracks they normally traverse, said Brian Dick of Thief River Falls, Minn., who won the pro stock class race on Sunday.

Dick said the snow held up well and the track was “pretty safe” and offered a lot of different lines and passing opportunities.

“Fun. Good spot to race,” he said, then added with a chuckle, “Of course, when you do well, you’re always happy with the course conditions.”

Fans like Maki and Krueger – both from the Enderlin, N.D., area – who braved the cold perhaps benefited the most from the venue’s shorter track.

“I think this is better for the fans here because it’s all within sight,” Krueger said. “For somebody sitting and watching, I think it’s pretty good.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528