Finish line flurry

Scott Judnick's eyes welled with tears as he ran to meet Ross Martin near the finish line of the 15th annual Duluth National Snocross on an unseasonably warm Saturday at Spirit Mountain.

Scott Judnick's eyes welled with tears as he ran to meet Ross Martin near the finish line of the 15th annual Duluth National Snocross on an unseasonably warm Saturday at Spirit Mountain.

Judnick, who is the owner of Judnick Motorsports and lives in Lake Nebagamon, Wis., but calls Duluth home, couldn't be happier for his rider. All of Martin's sponsors were there, as well as Polaris factory representatives, family and friends.

Martin, a 22-year-old budding star from Pleasant Prairie, Wis., didn't disappoint, winning both the Pro Open and Pro Stock titles after dominating qualifying in both classes. It was the first sweep of those two classes at the Duluth National since Toni Haikonen in 1995 and it capped a big day for Polaris.

"To win in these conditions, where there are so many talented drivers, it's unbelievable,'' Judnick said. "There are 15 guys who can win, and they are all fast and are all incredible athletes where anything can happen. To win here in Duluth is huge, and to sweep here is unheard of.''

To pull off the feat, Martin needed a lot of skill and a little luck to navigate the oval course littered with jumps and moguls.


After earning the No. 1 qualifying spot with two firsts and a second in his heat races on Friday, Martin avoided a massive multi-sled pileup in Saturday morning's Pro Stock final and then held off hard-charging Mike Schultz to earn his first pro victory at the Duluth National, the annual kickoff to the World PowerSports Association's PowerSports Snowmobile Tour.

"It's just determination,'' said Martin, who finished second in the points standings in both pro classes as a rookie last season. "You've got your mind-set, you've done everything you can in the offseason to get ready for this. So, if everything is working right, you've just got to go out there and win. I couldn't ask for a better team and a better sled. It's the whole combination.''

Martin wouldn't lose a race Saturday as he went on to win all three of his ensuing Pro Open heat races, making him the top qualifier for the day's grand finale, which used an adjusted start on the backstretch.

"They needed to try and slow it down,'' Judnick said. "You put those modified sleds out there with 150-plus horsepower going straight up through those moguls, somebody's going to get killed.''

Martin burst to the lead in the 16-lap Pro Open final and was relatively conservative out front, wary that the conditions were tricky. With temperatures around 50 degrees, the track was slushy and more narrow than in past years, when there was an abundance of snow. And the track literally changed as the race wore on, as riders had to constantly find new lines for racing.

"That was a pretty wild race, especially as warm as it was,'' said Pro Open runner-up Levi LaVallee. "The track was completely different from the time we started until the end, because the snow moves around so much when it's warm like that.''

Martin finally stumbled on the back straightaway and LaVallee pounced on him and appeared ready to surpass him on the inside of Turns 3 and 4. LaVallee's sled made contact with the back of Martin's sled and LaVallee suddenly flipped upside down and onto the handle bars.

Remarkably, the tether that kills the engine during spills never came loose, so LaVallee quickly flipped his sled back over and took off. He went on to hold off Garth Kaufman for a hard-earned second place.


"I got a little antsy and probably should have waited another lap before making a move, but for crashing, it worked out pretty good,'' said a smiling LaVallee, a 24-year-old from Longville, Minn. "I'll take it, especially being at Duluth and it's the season opener. I struggled here the past couple years and actually blew my knee out two years ago. I always felt jinxed here, but, hopefully, this turned it around for me.''

Martin swept the pro classes at the Canterbury and Park X snocross races last year, but it would be hard to be as dominating as he's been this weekend, winning seven of the eight races he entered. He will be one of the stars to watch today when he competes in the Winter X Games qualifying on the third and final day of the Duluth National.

"It was a bullring out there,'' said Judnick, father of snocross rider Matt Judnick. "It was kind of survival of the fittest out there, and not only do you need a lot of talent to pull something off like that, you need a little bit of luck. I don't like to say once in a lifetime, because I think Ross is going to have more of them, but days like today are few and far between. They are special.''

* While this year's Duluth National doesn't seem quite as high-flying as past years, when there was more snow, the conditions were perfect for comfortable viewing as stocking caps were replaced with racing hats.

Terry Mattson, president of Visit Duluth, said this year's snocross has had an attendance of roughly 24,000 spectators, with about 9,000 attending Friday and about 15,000 on Saturday. Those are very strong numbers considering skiers were absent this year. In past years, skiers could attend the races with their season passes, but Spirit Mountain hasn't opened for skiing yet. Even so, Mattson was very pleased with the turnout, saying the final attendance should be close to the three-day record of 36,000 set in 2002.

"It's on pace with the best we've ever done,'' Mattson said. "The track is good and the weather for watching has been awesome. It's perfect.''

JON NOWACKI covers motor sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at .

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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