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Vintage snowmobile racing: Bemidji man races in rain, snow in retro snowmobile event

Randy Cwikla of Bemidji, right, took third in the twelfth heat on Saturday at the third annual Bemidji Vintage Snowmobile Classic on Lake Irving. The snowmobile race in Bemidji was the second race of the Wahl Bros. Vintage Challenge, a series of three races. Pioneer Photo/Anne Williams

Not everything was canceled on Saturday in Bemidji due to treacherous road conditions.

Randy Cwikla of Bemidji welcomed the blowing snow and slushy ice. In fact, he'd take anything but rain on race day.

Cwikla was one of over 50 racers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Alaska and Canada who participated in the Bemidji Classic Vintage Snowmobile Race held all day Saturday on Lake Irvine.

The event was hosted by the SLEDS Vintage Snowmobile Racing Association with the assistance from the Oval Racers Alliance.

Cwikla helped spark the original Bemidji Classic in 2008 and has placed in the top three in several races since he started racing over two decades ago. He, along with his wife, Sandy, spend much of their winters traveling to different vintage snowmobile races across the Midwest.

Rain on Saturday morning turned to light snow in the afternoon. Gusty winds shot across Lake Irving causing poor visibility at times on the race track.

"They are racing fast today," said Jennifer Southwick, one of the coordinators of the event with Oval Racers Alliance. "There is one corner of the track that has been slick. We had one person crash earlier."

The racer was reportedly OK, but did not race the rest of the day.

"The weather is fine," Cwikla said. "It's easier when it's snowing than when it's raining."

Cwikla's interest in racing vintage snowmobiles started when he was in high school.

"I lived on a farm and occasionally snowmobiles would come into town. I liked watching the drivers of the blue Polaris snowmobiles. I always wanted to be like them."

When he was in eleventh grade he bought a 1966 Polaris Colt snowmobile.

Today, Cwikla drives an Arctic Cat snowmobile, which was hand-built last year by Shane Wahl of Greenbush, Minn., a city in Roseau County, and home of the Wahl Bros. Racing Team.

While Cwikla's snowmobile seems like brand new, it was built to the specifications of the1980s, which is what makes it vintage.

"If you look at them, they don't look like that anymore," Cwikla said, when asked what he liked about vintage snowmobiles.

On Saturday, Cwikla raced on a snowmobile owned by Jim Hilmerson of Little Falls, Minn., because the motor in his snowmobile needed maintenance.

"It's fun to spend winter hanging out with machines and fixing engines," Cwikla said. "You get to meet a lot of good people and engineers."

Cwikla's next race will be in Sauk Centre at the I-94 Speedway in February.