15th Amsoil Duluth Snocross Brings Back Snocross Legend Toni Haikonen
By Scott A. Sumner
The Duluth Snocross has come from humble beginning to become the predominant snocross race on the planet. It had its initial planning in 1991 when organizers Terry, Greg Hansen, Kirk Hibbert went to Europe to see snocross and then took the idea to Spirit Mountain. The winner that year in 1991 was Toni Haikonen who also helped tremendously to get the races going. Haikonen single handedly revolutionized the sport and was the first man to "fly a snowmobile across the US, Canada and Europe."
"I am happy to back in Duluth" said Toni Haikonen who retired from the sport in 2002 and hasnt been on a snowmobile since then. Great kudos go out to the organizers of the Duluth Snocross as it was about as early a Thanksgiving on the calendar possible and 16,000 tons of water were made to make the race happen. As organizers stated "We wouldnt be here with out a focused effort. There is no way we should be doing what we are doing with the weather we had had recently."
What does Toni Haikonen do in 2007?
My family, wife and 4 kids, live in Tampa Bay, FL where I have a company that does pool enclosures, working all day from early to late. It is a long way from snocross to pool enclosures but I was always up to a challenge and to go to a completely different environment and do something I havent down before is an achievement.
How did Toni get into snocross racing?
I am 35 years old now and started snowmobiling at 6 or 7 years old with my first race at age 11 in Finland. We had big cross country races there and the manufacturers came over in early 90s. We also did some riding on snocross tracks as we had snocross since 1950. In North America they had lake tracks with a couple jumps and the rest was ice lemans, not really snocross. 1993/1994 was my first season in snocross. We were all motivated but it wasnt easy. To make a long story short I got my first sled from Tom Rager the night around midnite before my first race in Duluth, a Ski Doo. It had only 4 miles on it so I had to break it in at 3 am on the roads of Duluth. We raced without studs or carbides and didnt do very good. There wasnt many Ski doos racing then. Tom was here with his demo sled. It was hard to get a sled from anyone as they didnt know me.That year I didnt make the finals. We kinda hooked up with the FAST guys from Eveleth for the next race in Quadra and I think I won one race and finished in the top 3 in the Pro classes. The Ski Doo wasnt really competitive then. Of the 600 or 700 entries only a handful were Ski Doos. That same year I came back for the I- 500 cross country race and finished 2nd but got disqualified. Jack Struthers won that year in 1993. In cross country I was the top Ski Doo rider.
You progressed from that first season over here?
I came with a full ride for the next season with FAST and won the first open class. I knew I had the ability and was fast enough to beat these guys as I knew these guys werent that fast in snocross. In 1995 I broke my back as I got landed on in West Yellowstone and had many injuries. My best years were 1996, 1997 and 1998. I raced Arctic cat for two years. The last season I raced nothing worked out.
What do you think of snocross in 2006?
Snocross has a great future. I try to follow Blair Morgan as I had good races with him in my career. Overall I had a good career. I rode the snowmobile more like a dirt bike and over here they rode more like cross country. It is always a challenge but I was a little ahead of the game with my riding style. By 2002 I had 20 years of racing snocross and raced motocross for 14 years too. I raced and was very lucky with my health. No steel plates in my body, nothing major.
Who do think is the rider to beat this season?
The results show you what the situation is. Ross Martin looked like he was comfortable, in control. Even out of control he was on top of it. He was comfortable on this really rough track but others might do better on a different track. Others might develop during the year as well.
How does Toni feel today?
Two weeks before I came here I was in the best shape of my life. Even with working long hours on the job I felt like working out more than when I raced. I want to be healthy. I dont like the crappy feeling of not be able to do things. I eat healthier now, better than I ever used to and feel better than when I raced. Down south you are more relaxed and feel better about yourself. We did a race school up here for awhile but couldn't get snow. You cant race on wood chips. We struggled for a while when we went down to Tampa Bay but now it is good.