If you go

What: Second Annual Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race

Where: Wanoga Sno-park

When: CANCELED

Admission: Free for spectators; race fee ranges from $25 to $35. Pre-register at the La Quinta Inn from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday; day-of registration from 7 to 9:30 a.m. at Wanoga Sno-park.

When the recent snow piled up in some of Central Oregon’s lower elevation sno-parks, Bill Inman fired up his canary-yellow, 1969 Ski-Doo Olympique, a “single-lung” — or single cylinder — snowmobile at Wanoga Sno-park. It may not be the favorite of his six snowmobiles, but it’s the one that sparked his love for the sport nearly 50 years ago.

“This is li’l Oly — it’s just an old poop,” Inman, 77, said with a chuckle. “I’ve put thousands of miles on it. When I first got it, my 4-year-old boy and I rode thousands of miles all over the countryside.”

After taking the snowmobile for a whirl, Inman was reminded how its design — which is minimalist by contemporary standards — is correspondingly touchy.

“I tipped it over twice! It’s so different than new snowmobiles,” Inman said. “I was trying to get back in the way you handle one of these older machines. I was practicing turning, and I just overcompensated.”

It’s the Olympique, Inman’s “old friend,” that he will race in Second Annual Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race, to be held at Wanoga Sno-park on Saturday. Moon Country Snowbusters is hosting the event, which will give snowmobilers the opportunity to race their vintage sleds around an oval about the size of an athletic track. All snowmobiles must have been made no later than 1985. Some are in mint condition; others, called “Frankenstein sleds,” are restored with a hodge-podge of parts.

Inman, who is the vice president of nonprofit Moon Country Snowbusters, will enter his Olympique in the pre-1974 race division. He has a nonchalant approach to racing.

“I”m going to go out there and beat the hell out of myself to say I’m a racer, but that’s about it,” he said.

“I want to do it just for the fun of it. (The Olympique) is a machine that’s qualified to ride in the race. If you’ve never watched (a vintage snowmobile) one, it’s not a real fast race. Mostly, these are not high-powered machines. They’re dealing with lead springs in the front and older suspension systems. Some are riding rough.”

The Moon Country Snowbusters, which consistently grooms about 250 miles of snowmobile trails that connect some Central Oregon sno-parks — such as Wanoga, Kapka Butte, Vista Butte, Edison and Dutchman — with expansive backcountry. Inman has been involved in local snowmobiling since he and his wife, Patricia, moved to Bend in 1985. It’s around then that Inman met Mark Young, who came up with the vintage oval race as a way to get more people into snowmobiling.

“It’s one of those deals, if someone wants to get involved in it, you can find one for $200 out of grandpa’s barn,” Young said. “If it’s all intact, you can spend a little time cleaning it up, getting it running and you can race the thing and be competitive.”

Competitors race in men, women, junior and senior categories. Other categories relegate snowmobile eras. About 90 snowmobilers raced last year.

Young, 60, who is the race organizer, has been riding and racing snowmobiles since 1976. As soon as he got a job after graduating high school, he started saving up for a 1972 Rupp Nitro 295 sled. He began racing in 1977, competing in back-to-back out-of-town races. And Young is still racing.

A couple years ago, Young wanted to help some friends stay active while raising young families. He built up a 1977 Yamaha Exciter 440, which he shared with his friends. When he organized last year’s Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race, Young and his four friends traded the machine between each other. He recommends this sled-swapping method as a low-hassle way for families and friends to start snowmobile riding and racing.

“14- to 17-year-olds can race in the junior class. Dad can race it in a couple classes. Mom can race it in the women’s class. And grandpa can race it in the master’s class — all on the same sled,” Young said. “You can do a lot of racing with very little investment.”

Racers in the Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race trace a closed oval loop three to five times, depending on the classes. The race will feature mass starts of about 10 competitors each heat.

If Moon Country Snowbusters are fast and loose about the varieties of raceable machines, they’re strict about safety: Racers must wear full-face helmets and upper-body protection, Young said. Crashes happen, but they’re usually nothing serious.

“We’ve addressed the safety issue enough that nobody’s gotten hurt. There have been a few tumbles, but usually they’re laughing when they hit the ground and laughing when they get back up,” Young said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

The Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race is part of a loose collection of snowmobile races in the Northwest. Others are organized in Seneca and Sumpter in Oregon and Priest Lake, Idaho. The crowning race will be held in West Yellowstone, Montana, in March. Vintage snowmobile races are slowly catching on in Central Oregon. Young and his wife attended Priest Lake’s race where more than 200 people competed.

“The camaraderie between all the racers is incredible,” Young said. “You may not be friends the rest of the year, but when race season comes, everybody takes care of everybody,” Young said, adding that he met about three-quarters of his friends through snowmobiling. “You’re competitors on the race track, but as soon as you’re done you buy your buddy a beer and have good time.

Inman, who retired 12 years ago, enjoys investing his time and energy in Central Oregon’s snowmobile community. In the Wanoga Sno-park warming shelter, he and a club member replaced a faulty wood stove with one he fashioned out of a large propane tank.

He welded snowmobile parts — a bit of chain for a smile, clutch weights for eyes and brows — to make a face on the stove’s lid. Inman also makes sure there is firewood, and he is responsible for maintaining the signs and markers throughout the sno-park’s trail network.

Inman hopes the Vintage Snowmobile Oval Race inspires some riders to come out of the woodwork.

“I’m hoping that there will be some new folks my age like me who bring some old machines that don’t have a lot of horsepower,” Inman said. “And we can talk old stories.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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