The sleds' engines revved as they flew off the top of a jump. The drivers kept control of their snowmobiles as they landed, a cloud of powder kicking up in their wake as they rounded a bend in the track at the top of Spirit Mountain.
As a few errant sleds crashed upon landing on Saturday afternoon, sounds of surprise came from spectators sitting in the stands, dressed head to toe in warm clothing to endure a day in temperatures hovering around freezing.
Carl Schubitzke, a wire going to an earpiece in his ear, sat at a bay of windows inside the chalet that gave him a panoramic view of the racing scene unfolding at the 26th annual Amsoil Duluth National Snocross. The 1999 Proctor High School graduate was once a pro driver racing a sled at Spirit Mountain, but he can now be found surrounded by a crew behind the scenes as president of the International Series of Champions. He's starting his seventh year with Twin Cities-based ISOC, overseeing the staffers organizing eight national snocross racing events held around the country every winter.
Racing with his family was a part of his childhood in the Twin Ports and he raced snowmobiles for about a dozen years before transitioning to ISOC management.
"My father used to race. I have memories, literally when I was 6 years old, of my dad and my brother putting me on a motorcycle," he said. "In Minnesota, you race, you ride motorcycle in the summer and then during winter, you ride snowmobile so that kinda spearheaded it. I got addicted and fell in love with it."
Although he's working at the race this weekend, it gives him a chance to visit his family. His wife and siblings watched the races at Spirit Mountain on Friday, and his father works on his staff.
During his racing days, the competition and adrenaline rush drew him in, he said. Although drivers have teams to rely on, there's also an individual focus to snocross similar to running a race.
"I like the team aspect of it, but then at the same time in motor sports, it's you," he said.
After he gave up racing professionally, he worked as race director at ISOC for a year and then took the helm as president. He explained, "Kind of a quick transition, but a good one. I got to (stay) in the sport I love. I'm lucky," he said.
ISOC's eight annual events begin with this weekend's races in Duluth, and then Schubitzke will head to Jackson Hole, Wy., to begin preparing for the next snocross event. They try to hold races in the same locations each year because it builds a following, he said. He said he appreciates the efforts of Duluth and Spirit Mountain in hosting the annual event because they "always go above and beyond."
On race weekends, ISOC has about 90 to 100 staff, and having the right people in the right places means that the events are able to run smoothly overall, he said.
"I feel like we've been doing a good job the last few years, and we see it because we have higher entries and a lot of people want to take part, a lot of people have a good time. At the end of the day, we're in customer service - one, for the fans, for entertainment when they come here and, two, for the racers. They come here with their families from, say, New York, and I want to make sure that they remember this and it's a good time," he said.
Snocross racing is "like a big family" where everyone knows each other. With the Duluth event falling on Thanksgiving weekend, many of the drivers and their families spend the holiday visiting the Twin Ports every year. A team owner told him that he enjoys his family's time at the Duluth event because his son races, his daughter comes along to watch, and he gets to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with both of them.
"These families, they will have memories of the last five years of spending Thanksgiving in Duluth, Minnesota, probably in a camper in this parking lot. You can't replicate that, you can't change that, but at the same time, that's what builds you. It's very easy to get addicted to it," he said.