Reggie Sovereign knew Jesse Kirchmeyer had a motocross background, so Sovereign asked the snowmobile racer at the end of the 2017-18 season if he wanted to try something new.
“Reggie was like, ‘Yeah, man, if you want to try riding a snowbike, go ahead,’ so I went out there and rode it,” Kirchmeyer recalled.
And boy did he ride it, beating most of the snowmobiles right off the bat.
Bruce Gaspardi Sr., owner of Massachusetts-based Team Southside, liked what he saw and said, “We’ve got to figure out whatever we’ve got to do to get you on one of these snowbikes.”
The rest is snowbike history.
Kirchmeyer took home the International Series of Champions snowbike championship last year in his first season in the budding class. Kirchmeyer, 20, is looking to defend his title starting with this weekend’s 28th annual Amsoil Duluth National Snocross at Spirit Mountain.
“ISOC is the premier racing circuit in the world, and Duluth is the big one,” Kirchmeyer said. “It’s the opener, and that’s where everyone is at. Throughout the season, some people get hurt, this or that, but coming into Duluth, everyone is great. You get the best riders and the best racing. Everyone is laying it all on the line, with new sponsors, and everyone is trying to prove themselves.”
And some teams find they have a lot of catching up to do.
“Exactly,” Kirchmeyer said.
Kirchmeyer, of Arcade, N.Y., was reached by phone Tuesday while testing at the Klim Compound in Aurora, Minn. He planned on heading to Duluth on Thanksgiving. He has also been riding at ERX Motor Park in Elk River, Minn., and he has been in the Gopher State for just over a week.
Kirchmeyer lives back home on a farm/ranch, and he’s developed the persona of the cowboy. He tried out the hat and it stuck.
“That’s just me,” he said. “Where I’m from, we’ve got more cows than people, and that’s kind of my thing. I like it.”
Arcade is only about 30 minutes south of Buffalo, N.Y., so the area gets plenty of lake effect snow, but it comes and goes. Minnesota, where it comes and stays forever, it’s not.
“Where I’m at, the snow is kind of scattered,” Kirchmeyer said. “There’s never a constant amount, so if we want to do a test on the bike, a lot of times there’s no snow, where these guys (in Minnesota), if they want to go out and ride during the week, they just head out to one of these tracks.
He laughed, "I’m 15 hours away from the nearest one. Last year, the only time I got to ride was at the track itself.”
That makes his series championship all the more impressive.
“The first half of the season was playing catch-up, for sure,” he said.
Kirchmeyer has been racing since he was 2 years old, starting out on an Arctic Cat 120 snowmobile and the Yamaha PW50 motorcycle.
Last year, he raced with a Yeti snowbike kit but this winter he’s full-fledged Polaris, whether he is on his snowbike or snowmobile, but the snowbike is his priority, at least through Winter X Games.
“That’s the one everyone is gunning for,” Kirchmeyer said of the Winter X Games.
A snowbike, with a front ski, motorcycle-like handlebars and a snowmobile-like track, is kind of a cross between a motorcycle and a snowmobile.
ISOC has further integrated the class into this year’s main events, giving them more of the spotlight.
“The sport has been growing by leaps and bounds,” Kirchmeyer said.
Carl Schubitzke, president of ISOC, agreed. This will be the third year ISOC has sanctioned snowbikes.
“I looked three days ago, and it was the highest class for entries,” Schubitzke said from Spirit Mountain on Wednesday. “I’m sure that’ll change as we get closer to the weekend, but again, it’s about getting more people outside, getting more people into motorsports. The racing is fantastic. We want to embrace anything and everything. We like racing, we like motorsports, and we think this is a cool addition. Something a little bit different that’s growing. The top guys, just like snocross guys, they make it look easy. They’re just flying.”
Schubitzke, himself a former racer, joked he had to give up the motorcycle after getting married, but he thought he might be able to talk his wife into letting him ride a snowbike.
Kirchmeyer admitted riding a snowbike is a different animal.
Kirchmeyer said, on average, snowmobiles are faster, but on a well-groomed track, a sled will have a hard time keeping up with a top snowbiker.
“They both have their strong suits,” he said. “The bikes can outcorner a sled 10-to-1, but you get a sled in a minefield of a straightaway, the sled will be able to get through there a little bit better than the bike. A snowbike is its own thing. Everyone always asks me, ‘What’s it like riding a snowbike? Is it like riding a motorcycle?’ And I say, ‘It’s everything like riding a motorcycle, and it’s nothing like riding a motorcycle.’ It takes a little bit of getting used to.”
Based on the results, it certainly didn’t take Kirchmeyer too long to master it. He finished third at Duluth last season and was runner-up at the Winter X Games. He continues to prove his performance was no fluke, and he has also done well in races that pitted both snowbikes and sleds.
“I was going against a lot of seasoned vets, and here I was, kind of coming out of the woodwork,” he said. “It was kind of funny at X Games I got the holeshot (lead at the start), and it took the announcers a couple turns to dig my name out of the files before they realized who I was.”
Not bad for a rookie. Kirchmeyer said he will cherish his debut in Duluth last year, and this year, he hopes to add more memories.
“That was my first time experiencing Duluth, and it was awesome. The venue is top notch,” Kirchmeyer said. “Being an East Coast kid, you always heard about the opener at Duluth, and how great it is, and when I went out there, it definitely didn’t disappoint. To be there for the opener, under the lights and this huge crowd and everyone cheering, it was unreal.”
Cat scales back
According to reports, Arctic Cat, one of the big three snowmobile manufacturers along with behemoths Polaris and Ski-doo, has cut back on the amount of support it is offering race teams this year.
The manufacturer is based in Thief River Falls, Minn. Overall, numbers should be similar to where they have been, but down slighly in the higher classes, according to ArcticInsider.com.
Schubitzke was asked what this means for the sport.
“Time will tell,” he said. “It’s no secret, but at the same time, they are just doing their due diligence and realigning and making sure they’re in the black, and you’ve got to respect that. Everyone is a little bit nervous now, but it might be better in the long run; it’ll change things obviously a little bit now, but for the future.”
Schubitzke joked that he raced “forever” with “every manufacturer known to man,” and that included Arctic Cat. With the retirement of superstar Tucker Hibbert after the 2017-18 season, fans clad in Arctic Cat’s signature bright green and black are looking for a new up-and-comer to take over the throne. They are a fiercely loyal bunch and take on a bit of an underdog role when compared to Polaris and Ski-doo, and that is especially the case now.
Schubitzke knows how important Arctic Cat is to snocross. They’re basically synonymous.
“At the end of the day, we need them, we need them in the sport,” Schubitzke said. “They help the sport and are a great company. I know everything will work out in the end.”
28TH ANNUAL AMSOIL DULUTH NATIONAL SNOCROSS
What: dubbed “North America’s most significant snocross race,” three-day event features world’s top riders and is the kickoff to the snowmobile season
Where: Spirit Mountain
Friday’s featured event: $10,000-to-win Amsoil Dominator
Forecast: Highs in the low 30s, with snow Saturday into Sunday and strong winds
Tickets: Adults, $40-$43 per day or $75 for the three-day package; students 13-17, $35 and $55; youth ages 6-12, $30 and $50; 5 and under free
Shuttle service: From Proctor fairgrounds for $10 per car; from Powerhouse Bar for $10 per person, $25 for weekend (includes daily drink special)