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Published February 13 2012

Moorhead man wins lengthy snowmobile race

Moorhead - The snow was worn down to mud, dirt and rocks from about 10 hours of racing.

Veteran snowmobile racer Gabe Bunke of Moorhead was mentally exhausted and caked with a layer of film when it was over.

However, victory made the grueling Soo I-500 feel like a day at the beach.

“We worked really hard to get to where we are at,” said Bunke, whose team won the 500-mile snowmobile event Feb. 4 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. “It’s a relief to finally put the team where I believe we are supposed to be.”

Bunke, 35, earned the win in one of the closest finishes in the 43-year history of the race. It was the second of his career as a lead driver in the race. Bunke’s last win at the Soo I-500 came in 2005. He also won the race in 2002 as a backup driver.

Bunke’s team finished 17 seconds ahead of the second-place finishers from Canada. But the race wasn’t as close as it seemed.

Bunke and backup driver Aaron Christensen held the lead for much of the race. The duo battled through several cautions to hold off the competition for the final 53 laps to earn the win.

“Our lap times were a good, consistent second or two faster than the second-place sled,” Bunke said. “That put us in a good position in the end.”

Bunke describes the Soo I-500 as snowmobile racing’s Daytona 500. The race is run on a high-banked, one-mile oval track.

The event starts with qualifying. Bunke came in with the fastest time. The race features pit stops for sled adjustments and re-fueling, thousands of spectators and several hours of racing.

To lighten the load, teams are allowed up to three drivers. Bunke and Christensen did much of the work on the track.

Christensen crossed the finish line following 9 hours, 24 minutes of racing.

“It wasn’t as physically demanding as it was mentally demanding,” Bunke said. “You had to be patient. This was probably the best I ever felt after this event.”

Bunke said he hopes the victory at the Soo I-500 can help springboard him to success for the remainder of the regular season. Regular-season snowmobile races are much shorter in length than the Soo I-500 and are run on cross country tracks, Bunke said.

Bunke has yet to win a cross country event this year. He hopes that will soon change.

“I want to be able to move forward and win,” Bunke said. “In racing, anything can happen. You take the good with the bad. However it works out, it works out. You have to be able to weather through not winning all the time.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com