Some years Scott Judnick’s wife, Colleen, would make turkey at home and run it up to Spirit Mountain to feed the Judnick Motorsports team busily cranking on snowmobiles for the Duluth National Snocross, or she’d run down to Super One and grab some pumpkin pies.
As the team got bigger they decided to move it over to Black Woods Grill in Proctor, just down the road, to celebrate there.
Yes, around these parts, the Duluth National Snocross is a Thanksgiving tradition unlike any other, but this year, it’s not happening.
The International Series of Champions, the sanctioning body for the Amsoil Championship Snocross series, is expected to announce its schedule Thursday, and Duluth won’t be part of it. What would have been the 29th annual event got nixed due to the coronavirus pandemic and management upheaval at Spirit Mountain, which faces financial challenges exacerbated by COVID-19.
“It’s such a bummer,” said Judnick, who is going into his 24th season as a snocross team owner. “It’s such a huge race for us. It’s in my hometown, and we’ve been doing this race the whole time. It’s devastating not to have a Duluth snocross.”
The Duluth National is to snocross what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR, the most prestigious event to kick off the year.
Judnick, 61, sits on ISOC’s advisory board, so he knew this was coming, but other people will be shocked.
“There’s going to be an uproar,” he said. “It’s history having that. The Duluth race is basically what got snocross started, and what got it to be as big as it is. It’s the reason we travel the whole country now to race, and to have that all start on Thanksgiving weekend in Duluth. It’s going to be different this year, that’s for sure.”
This Thanksgiving will be the first time Judnick will be home for turkey dinner in 24 years and he’s not looking forward to it.
It won’t take people around Duluth long to start understanding the financial impacts, either.
Terry Mattson, former president and CEO of Visit Duluth and one of the Duluth National’s founders, always insisted the three-day event be held Thanksgiving weekend until “palm trees start sprouting along Lake Superior.”
That’s because Mattson knows tourism, high times vs. low times, and Thanksgiving is traditionally a low time in the Twin Ports, with leaves already fallen, the snow season still calling.
Dick Kari, who owns Powerhouse Bar in Proctor, was well aware of the impact of the event on his business.
“Thanksgiving eve would be slow, but Friday is busy and Saturday is nuts here,” Kari said of a typical snocross year. “Saturday is our busiest day here. We’re talking thousands of dollars of food and everything else. It was a nice stimulus for us.”
The Duluth National was known to attract weekend crowds of 10,000-plus snocross fans who afterward would fill the local motels and bars, decked out and easy to spot in their distinct and colorful Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski-doo jackets.
Kari noticed a friend running a shuttle bus and then he started doing it himself.
“We had two buses from the bar, and it was … good,” Kari said with emphasis.
Kari guesses he has been running a Duluth National shuttle service from his bar for 17 of the 20 years the Karis have owned it.
“It was just the thought I had, I saw Black Woods (down Highway 2), and they had the snowmobiles, and they advertised,” Dick Kari said. “It was one of those things, location, and you do the right thing and people come in. Snocross made that weekend just unbelievable. It was just the best thing I ever did, and we’re going to miss it this year.
“It’s got to be a Thanksgiving deal, because if it gets delayed, two weeks later, it just ain’t the same.”
Judnick agreed, even though a Thanksgiving weekend start is a challenge for race teams and organizers alike. The race teams didn’t mind “wrecking” their holiday weekend by having to work it because snocross, that’s what they do, that’s what they enjoy.
With all of the event’s potential headaches and questions every year, will there be snow, will there not be snow, too much snow, like with last year’s blizzard, Judnick said the risk was worth the reward. Turkey never tasted so good.
“That’s what a lot of people do on Thanksgiving weekend — every year they come to the Duluth National,” Judnick said. “All those years, we had so much fun.
“There are outdoor events going on, and they’ve pulled them off without any problems. It’s really unfortunate for all of us and I feel for the city of Duluth not to have that race here. Hopefully a vaccine comes out and the first of the year comes around and we get through all of this and next year the Duluth National will be back on the schedule, just like normal.”