PLYMOUTH - Braving low temperatures and high risk, snowmobile racing provides an adrenaline rush for competitors.
"A lot of it's heart," said Kaukauna's Luke Wollenberg, a snowmobile racer. "You have to believe in yourself."
The Plymouth Snow Rangers hosted their 35th annual Classic Race of Champions on Saturday. The event featured young drivers like Wollenberg, but racers, organizers and spectators alike were aware of a cloud over their sporting community.
"A lot of us try to avoid it, just to try to...it's a tough subject for a lot of us," said Wollenberg.
25-year-old snowmobiler Caleb Moore suffered a crash about two weeks ago during a freestyle snowmobiling event at the X-Games, an international extreme sport competition. He was doing a flip off a big ramp, crashed, and his snowmobile landed on top of him. Moore walked away from the wreck, but died this past week from heart and brain complications.
"It's hard, as a racer, to see another athlete go down," said Wollenberg. "We all know he's looking down on us from up in the sky now."
The organizers of the race say safety is a top priority, thrown into the spotlight after tragedy on the big stage.
"We all know about it," said Tim McMullen with the Plymouth Snow Rangers. "It's a risk that's inherent. We can't get away from it. It's something that can happen, and it can happen here, unfortunately."
The races in Plymouth were snocross races, where drivers navigate a track with plenty of turns and hills to jump over. Still, there is risk.
"Every single driver that comes through the staging area with their snowmobile, we do a safety test," said Scott Biese, owner of the Green Northern Snocross Series, the group that put on the race. "We make sure tail lights are working so if there's snow dust they can be seen from behind. We make sure they have working tethers. Ski loops have to be completed, stunts can only be a certain length. There's a lot of safety issues we address in a short period of time through tech."
Wollenberg has had plenty of injuries of his own, including broken bones and concussions. He says they haven't stopped him from racing, and won't in the future; nor will tragedy on a national stage.
"You just got to realize injuries are a factor in our sport," said Wollenberg. "It's a passion. It's hard to get out of the sport once you're in."
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