Fall snowmobile fest draws vintage enthusiasts
Dan Bishop got into vintage snowmobiles 15 years ago when he was driving down West Tischer Road and saw one in a yard, a 1970 Polaris TX Playmate. "I drove one as a kid," he said. So he stopped to talk to the owner, who showed him another sled, s...
Dan Bishop got into vintage snowmobiles 15 years ago when he was driving down West Tischer Road and saw one in a yard, a 1970 Polaris TX Playmate.
"I drove one as a kid," he said. So he stopped to talk to the owner, who showed him another sled, same model, buried in the tall grass and being salvaged for parts. Bishop recognized the stickers on the hood. "It WAS the one I had as a kid."
It took Bishop three years to talk the owner into selling him the salvage sled, but eventually he bought and restored it. Vintage sleds are pretty much all he rides. "I have newer models that have been sitting in the pole barn for three years now," he said.
The encounter inspired Bishop, who owned a trucking company and raced monster trucks, to start buying, remodeling and selling vintage sleds.
He also launched the Twin Ports Vintage Fest. Now in its 11th year, the show, swap meet and grass drag races take place Sept. 26-27 at Dusty Flats Speedway, 14 miles north of Duluth.
For snowmobilers who can't wait to for snow, grass drag races - which are simply what the name implies, snowmobile races across an open grassy field - started becoming popular in the 1990s around the country, especially Minnesota. Duluth is part of a triple crown series that includes Brainerd and Saxon, Wis.
The local event is one of relatively few devoted solely to vintage sleds. Early versions of snowmobiles date back to the early 1900s, but they only started being manufactured commercially in the 1950s. The Antique Snowmobile Club of America defines "antique" as models made in 1968 and before. The state of Minnesota issues collector permits on models at least 25 years old. The Twin Ports show is for sleds made in 1980 and older.
In its first year the Duluth show drew only four snowmobiles. For races they rode along the wide road ditch to Pequaywan Inn from the fire hall. But after some riders got into accidents by running into driveways, the event was transferred to its current location on Rice Lake Road.
Now around 2,000 people attend annually, according to Bishop. The racers are "very serious and competitive, looking to best each other," he said. Last year there were 63 racers, but despite heavy rain, not one dropped out of the competition. "That blew my mind," he said.
Many such events feature aerial stunts but not this one, since older snowmobiles are not built to withstand acrobatics. Still in the early years, Bishop's sons and friends modified some vintage models with modern suspension and performed jumps.
While the event has commercial sponsors, Bishop says he mostly finances it out of his pocket and manages to break even - usually. "It's not a big moneymaker," he said. Gas prices, the economy and weather affect attendance from year to year. He said the event would not have been possible without the help of friends and family: Pam McKeever, Jeff Lofgren, Brett Anderson, Jim Martindale, his sons Scott and Branden Bishop and "So many more that help every year."
Dan readily acknowledges it's all about nostalgia, being far from the only one who relates to the snowmobile he had as a kid. There's also the camaraderie of meeting up with other vintage enthusiasts. "It's all about people with common interests," he said.
If you go
What: Twin Ports Vintage Fest
When: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26-27
Where: Dusty Flat Speedway, 6348 Rice Lake Rd.
Admission: $10, kids 10 and under free
For information go www.twinportsvintagefest.com or call (218) 235-3608.