Traverse City, Michigan sits quietly on the southern edge of West Grand Traverse Bay. It’s a lakefront city that feels a bit like a suburb of Los Angeles—except it’s frozen solid this time of year. There are craft breweries, wine tastings and gastronomical odds and ends, as well as a plethora of boutique shops and storefronts selling all sorts of semi-useful contrivances. But, it’s all pretty cold in mid-December, and when Red Bull reached out to see if we’d like to cover the 2022 Snow Scramble, the final round of their inaugural ‘Scramble Series,’ hesitancy over the accompanying weather conditions slowed down the decision process ever so much.
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and spent many winters being both wet and cold, but a 14-degree daytime high and 90 percent chance of snowfall is not something I’m accustomed to. But what’s a race if not an adventure? So, I packed an extra pair of socks, some thermal layers, a puffy jacket and a pair of gloves, and set out from the comfort of the Southwest winter, aimed at the frozen tundra of Northern Michigan.
Red Bull’s Scramble Series kicked off in September of 2021 with the Stone Scramble, a one-day race in the wilds of northeast Tennessee. That event was followed by the Sand Scramble in Glamis, CA, where professional and amateur competitors battled it out in the big dunes, and shortly thereafter, proceeded to the Ice Scramble in Okoboji, Iowa. This four-event series was designed to highlight the diversity of terrain available in the contiguous United States, while also allowing amateur racers to test their skills against professionals like Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team members Mitch Guthrie Jr. and Seth Quintero, among others.
The format for the Snow Scramble was simple. Racers arrived Friday for registration and tech inspection, followed by 60 minutes of qualifying for each division (SXS Pro or SXS Sportstman) on Saturday morning. There would be one 90-minute race for each division after that, on a four-mile loop course, starting at the drag strip of the Twisted Trail Off-Road Park, then running clockwise through the snow-covered woods before returning to the start/finish straight. Racers lined up in rows of five, with their starting order determined by their fastest lap during the morning’s qualifying sessions. Sportsman and Pro races were limited to two hours, with a minimum number of laps completed required to be considered a finisher. The top three fastest times to complete the required number of laps in each division would be the first, second, and third place winners. Pretty straightforward.
I left my hotel on Saturday morning around 7 a.m., in hopes of arriving at Twisted Trails in time to get acquainted with the race course and photograph the qualifying sessions. Unfortunately, my mental math did not account for the road conditions or the amount of snow that had fallen over the course of the night. I awoke to find my rental truck buried in snow and the parking lot reflecting back my awe-struck face in its ice-covered concrete. The drive to the track was likely a typical commute for the Northern Michigan native, but for someone living in the Southwest for the last eight years, this might as well have been the apocalypse. Snow flurries drifted across the roadway while the traction control on my Chevy worked overtime. Admittedly, I was tempted to rip a few donuts in the snow-covered field at the OHV park when I arrived, but cooler heads prevailed, and I instead parked my mighty American steed and found shelter in the Red Bull tent next to one of many heaters.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one freezing my ass off. Nearly every racer and their crew had a fire going in front of their trailer, as well as heaters ablaze within. Crew and kin gathered around their chosen warming apparatus, awaiting their racer to return from the short course qualifying session. I too awaited, trying to build the confidence to venture out onto the course with my cameras. Eventually, the sound of purpose-built race rigs rounding corners in the snow sent me out to brave the cold. If you’re like me, you can only contain your curiosity for motorsports for so long!
When you Google the venue, Twisted Trails Off-Road Park, you’ll find lush green trees and golden-brown dirt, hill climbs and sandy corners, grassy fields, and tight trails through the woods. In contrast, the snow and mud that I encountered on the course provided racers with a much different set of obstacles to overcome. The overnight snowfall left a layer of fresh powder over the racecourse, while the rainfall a week earlier had created a sheet of ice underneath all of the snow. A racer would enter what appeared to be a predictable, snowy corner only to find that traction ran out abruptly, and they were sliding across icy terrain in the merciless grip of the laws of physics.
The two qualifying sessions came to an end around noon, giving racers and their teams roughly one hour to reconvene and prep their cars for the main event which would begin at 1 p.m. Red Bull Junior Team and Dakar Rally racer Mitch Guthrie Jr. was on-hand representing Red Bull with his Polaris RZR. After qualifying on the second row, and watching the locals go about studding their tires for the icy terrain, he enlisted a bit of help and took a Dewalt drill to his BF Goodrich tires in hopes of gaining more traction for the Pro class race. When in Rome…
Racers lined up across the frozen drag strip, five wide and five rows deep. Two inflatable pylons marked the start, while a mirrored pair marked the finish on the motocross track a few hundred feet away. In waves separated by 30 seconds, the Sportsman class set off, engines roaring, snow slush flying in their wake. There was an assortment of UTV manufacturers represented in both classes, from Polaris to Yamaha, Can-Am to Honda. Everything from a bone stock RS1 to Guthrie’s purpose-built Pro XP was present, and given the conditions, it was genuinely anyone’s race.
The Sportsman class was an all-out battle when the green flag waved. Jacob Kehoe from Mount Morris, MI took a commanding lead and never let off, securing his victory in the Sportsman class with a total time of 41:39.372. Kyle Mauser and Mike Kasnowicz followed shortly behind, wrapping up the top three. Kasnowicz, who would take the third step of the podium when the checkered flag flew, had a look of disbelief on his face when they handed him the Red Bull snow-globe trophy. “I’m 60-years old! I never thought I’d be standing on the podium of a UTV race at my age!” Stoked is an understatement.
Although starting from the second row due to a slower qualifying time on non-studded tires, Mitch Guthrie Jr. managed to navigate the row of racers in front of him, overtaking the first five through the snow-covered trails that etch the landscape of Copemish, Michigan.
“The race was really tough as I had never raced in snow before and had to get used to it in a quick amount of time,” said Guthrie. “There are a lot of things we can improve with the car for next time, but I learned a lot and had a ton of fun overall. Everyone is welcoming and helpful out here, so I hope to return and win this next year’s Red Bull Snow Scramble.”
From a five-wide starting grid to the tight, twisty powder of the backcountry, the Red Bull Snow Scramble provided racers with a four-mile racetrack that was equally beautiful and challenging. Guthrie Jr. worked his way to the front, overtaking Aj Zirkel and Nick Harman who would finish second and third respectively. In the end, while Guthrie Jr. would stand atop the podium victorious, it was the local pro racers who showed their true grit, competing against the factory Polaris effort and finishing just seconds behind Guthrie Jr.
The Snow Scramble, like the rest of the SXS races in the Red Bull Scramble Series for amateur and professional racers, was a glimpse into the future of UTV racing here in North America. Pitting professionals and amateurs against one another in a multitude of terrains, the Scramble Series is an amazing addition to the UTV motorsport scene, and something that we look forward to covering in the years to come!
SXS PRO CLASS:
- Mitch Guthrie Jr. – 41:24.127
- AJ Zirkel – 41:25.625
- Nick Harman – 42:37.574
SXS SPORTSMAN CLASS:
- Jacob Kehoe – 41:39.372
- Kyler Mauser – 43:36.779
- Mike Kasnowicz – 44:32.559