In every life a little rain must fall and in every columnist’s life a few great story ideas have to bite the dust. This is an idea that hit the skids in a big way, pretty much right away, but I decided to write about it anyways. So, there!
My first shot at racing snowmobiles was the equivalent of some of the early, grainy black and white footage of people trying to make airplanes fly. Rather comedic or some would say futile. I was lured in by the illusion that if I could bang down a ditch at 65+ mph, I could coast around a snocross track no problem. Reality check: by the time I decided to try snocross I didn’t have the stomach to do the jumps anymore and I put an exclamation point on how bad a shape I was really in. Youth sometimes equals success, especially in “extreme sports.” The result: two races into my first snocross season I realized it wasn’t as easy as it looked and I proceeded to turn my 2003 Polaris Pro X 440 fan into one of the best set-up, most fun trail sleds I’ve ever owned. As a result, I guess it wasn’t all bad.
One of the many decisions that needed to be made when I decided to go racing was what number would grace my sled, bib, windshield, whatever. I cleverly (?) chose 171. Why? Well, I was born in the month of January (1) and, you guessed it, in the year 1971 (71). Unique, right? Well, I thought so, anyway. This number was used through my illustrious two-race snocross career and when I decided to go racing again, about 10 years later, this time in cross country, I figured I would just keep the number.
I had heard a few motocross racers wax poetic about how they chose their main race numbers, even though a lot of times in motocross your number is chosen for you based on where you finished in points, etc. I had even read a few stories about race car drivers whose race number bore some great significance to them, like some ancestral hand-me-down or perhaps the birth weight of their first child. As a result, I sort of assumed that most racers handpicked their racing numbers through a process of great thought and consideration.
After hearing some of these stories, I had always wondered in the back of my mind where sled racers came up with their numbers. Why was Todd Wolff No. 17? Did No. 19 have some story behind it for Tim Bender? Was 30 the number of horsepower Brian Sturgeon had to tame on his first race sled? You get the idea.
I decided I wanted to find out the story behind all of these famous snowmobile racer’s numbers. I was at the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary last summer and I figured who better to start my story with than ‘ol #41, “Captain” Kirk Hibbert.
“So, Kirk, tell me about your number 41. What’s the history behind that?” Crickets. “Well, I guess I don’t remember, exactly. I think it was just a number that was given to me at a race and I just kind of kept it”, Kirk said.
Really? Seriously? I had visions of sugar plumbs dancing in my head up until that point… Perhaps 41 was his dad’s age when he bought Kirk his first sled or 4 and 1 were the ages of his kids when he started racing? But, alas, 41 was probably the next line on a registration sheet at some long forgotten cross-country race in some long forgotten locale.
I decided to go back to the well … “What about Tucker’s No. 68, anything significant there?”
Kirk’s response went something like: “I honestly can’t remember, you’d have to ask him.”
Crash and burn! So, the next time you get an autograph from your favorite racer and stare longingly at his number, imagine nothing. Save yourself the hassle. The number on the hood could be a mile marker sign along the road on the way to the race, or last night’s lottery pick, or worse yet, some random number from the annals of Bill Gate’s Microsoft Excel brain trust.
Further proof that the truth is stranger than fiction.
Tom Clement was born and raised in Grand Forks, N.D., and has been involved in snowmobiling for more than 30 years as an enthusiast, dealer, would-be collector and observer. Besides being a college business instructor and writer, he enjoys spending time with his family, that is, when he's not finding innovative excuses to go riding.