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Summertime sledding: North Dakota man tastes success racing snowmobiles on the grass

Jamie Edwards' shiny, black 40-foot-long trailer, trimmed with chrome, catches people's eyes when he stops to fill up for gas - especially during the summer.

Jamie Edwards' shiny, black 40-foot-long trailer, trimmed with chrome, catches people's eyes when he stops to fill up for gas - especially during the summer.

"What's in the trailer?" many have asked.

"My snowmobile," Edwards answers.

"Where do you go to find the snow this time of year?" is the usual second question.

He doesn't.


Edwards races his Arctic Cat Firecat F7 snowmobile on grass. Edwards and his crew - his dad and mom of rural Nortonville, N.D. - competed in eight grass drag races this summer.

While many consider snowmobiling a winter sport, more than 50,000 spectators from across the country watched the 39th annual Hay Days World Championship Grass Drags last month in Lino Lakes, Minn.

That's where the 25-year-old Edwards, who has raced snowmobiles since he was 14, won his first big event on grass by placing first in the Stock 700 class - reaching speeds of 90 mph in less than six seconds.

Call it family tradition.

Edwards' dad, Lyle, raced snowmobiles in the 1970s during the winter on frozen land near Valley City, N.D. and Jamestown, N.D.. Jamie, racing on ice for the last 10 years, claimed four International Snowmobile Racing Association ice titles last February in Ontario.

"I wanted to do what dad did," said Jamie, who in his first race on snow near Oakes, N.D., placed second. "That's all it took. I was hooked."

The last six summers, Jamie and Lyle have spent countless hours performing test runs on the 500-foot drag strip they built on their farm located 4½ miles east of Nortonville.

"These guys get this into their blood," said Edwards' mother, Sharon. "I think it's great."


A soybean field sits to the east. A plowed-up wheat field sits to the west. In between sits the 500-foot long test track.

The starting line begins with a 120-foot long stretch of clay the Edwardses hauled in from a nearby slough. "We spent most of one summer building it," Lyle said.

The finish line ends just before a hill climbs to the south edge of the family farmstead. It's an area where Jamie and Lyle have spent 10 hours some days testing the snowmobile.

"We're working to get every ounce of performance out of this sled that we possibly can," Lyle said. "That's why we go through all these rituals."

The rituals start with their Yamaha 4-wheeler that is used to transport the sled back to the starting line after each run. It keeps the motor from overheating.

Then there is the cool-down cart Jamie designed on his computer. After each run, when the sled's motor has heated up to 160 degrees, the Edwardses hook the cool-down cart's hoses to the sled - the water then cools the motor's temperature to the desired 61 degrees.

"Snowmobiles are designed to keep cool from the snow," Lyle said. "That's why everyone who races on grass has some sort of cool-down cart. Without it, it becomes too hot and there could be severe engine damage."

Once the sled is cooled, Jamie and Lyle line it up at the starting line, hoisting the rear end onto a warm-up stand. Another homemade device, the small, metal wall catches any flying debris from the sled's tracks during warmups.


"We want to warm the motor up to 100 degrees," Lyle said. "We know from experience it takes three or four bumps of the throttle, then we're ready to go."

These rituals kept Jamie, Lyle, Sharon and brother-in-law Michael Betz as busy as a NASCAR pit crew during last month's Hay Days World Championship.

Between runs, they were limited to three minutes to get everything done.

Sharon used a leaf blower to cool down the sled's clutch system. Betz used an electric broom to sweep off the first few yards of the clay track, filled with holes created by studs attached to the sleds' track. Betz also used a stomper to pack down the clay.

"You want it nice and firm," Jamie said.

In the meantime, Jamie and Lyle were busy cooling down the motor. Jamie grabbed a steel brush to clean off the clutch belt.

"You want that glaze build-up on the belt rubbed off," Jamie said. "Or else it won't grab as well as it should."

It was time for Jamie to race in the finals, after winning his first three heats. Lined up in the second of four lanes, Jamie focused on the starting lights to flash down from three amber colors to green.


The reaction time, from the time the light turns green until the time the sled breaks a laser beam to activate the timer, is crucial. A perfect reaction time, according to Jamie, is .400 of a second.

His reaction time on this day was .530 of a second. "We had a good light," he said. "Then we got a fantastic hole shot."

The hole shot is that brief moment of acceleration on the watered-down, clay starting area.

"You move forward like a sling shot," Jamie said. "The key is to get the skis to lift up so there is no friction with the ground."

With the 210 titanium studs in the sled's track clawing into the clay, Jamie built a quick lead during the first 100 feet of the 500-foot long race.

"I didn't see anybody to my left and I could just see one tip of a ski to my right," said Jamie, who was quickly approaching his maximum speed of 90 miles per hour. "I knew I was ahead. Then I started thinking about maintaining my position, so I crouched down as low as I could."

Covering 500 feet in 5.44 seconds, Jamie beat his closest competitor by 8/100ths of a second - about the length of one snowmobile.

"I think everybody back at the starting line could hear me holler," Jamie said.


Jamie is a manufacturing engineer at Goodrich, Corp., in Jamestown - located 25 miles north of the family farmstead. The job helps pay the snowmobile-racing bills.

The snowmobile itself cost $7,200. The trailer and the pickup to haul it cost $50,000. If a cyclinder needs to be replaced, it is $800. Jamie replaces belts every 10 to 12 runs at a cost of $40 each.

"There is easily $10,000 invested in components alone," Lyle said. "But I'm not paying the bills."

Jamie admitted that he's not into racing to make money. His prize money at Hay Days was $1,500, enough to pay for the trip.

"If you can break even, you consider it a successful weekend," he said.

Sponsorships are hard to attract during the summer, a time when most businesses gear their money to stock-car racing. Jamie receives some discount prices from Wishek dealer Jeff Meidinger. In return, Jamie painted Meidinger's "Dakota Performance" logo on the hood of his sled.

"I don't know where we would be without Jeff's help," Jamie said.

And thanks to another area parts dealer, the Edwards came up with their team name "Double Trouble Racing." After Jamie and Lyle made numerous trips one day to purchase parts, the dealer finally commented, "Here comes double trouble."


The name stuck and so has Jamie's passion for snowmobile racing - enough that he's thinking about moving up to a higher class in which speeds reach 100 miles per hour.

"It goes very quick," Jamie said of the races. "It takes half the track for your mind to catch up with everything. You get a big adrenalin rush out of it, that's for sure."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

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