Larry Preston didn't set out to write a book the day his brother talked him into taking a break from work and attending a vintage snowmobile show.

It just kind of happened.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"I was a huge snowmobiling fan as a kid," said Preston, 49, who owns a software development firm in the Twin Cities. "It was like 30 years of memories -- so many restored, beautiful old sleds."

The machines even smelled like he remembered them smelling, Preston recalls, and when he got the chance to drive a 1972 Polaris 800 Starfire, a passion was rekindled.

"I couldn't wipe the grin off my face for three weeks," he said. "It really was phenomenal."

That encounter in 2000 set the stage for "Starfire Kids Midnight Blue Express," Preston's new book about the racers -- most of them farmers, inventors and mechanics from Roseau, Minn. -- who formed the core of the Polaris-sponsored professional racing team in the 1960s and 1970s.

Roseau is the birthplace of Polaris.

Those were the glory days of snowmobiling, and it wasn't uncommon for races to attract upwards of 20,000 people, Preston said. Just about everyone who owned a snowmobile, especially if it was a Polaris, knew the names of racers such as Bob Eastman, Leroy Lindblad and Larry Rugland -- all members of the Snowmobile Hall of Fame -- to name just a trio of Starfire Kids.

"It was on par with any major sport at the time," Preston said. "It's just not like that now. I don't know if it could be, either."

Preston's book will make its official debut Saturday in Roseau with a series of events at the Polaris Experience Center, 205 Fifth Ave. S.W., including a vintage snowmobile show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and an autograph session from 10 a.m. to noon featuring several of the former Polaris racers.

Preston's grandfather, Herb Borah, was the first CEO of Polaris from 1954 to 1967.

"I figured the smart thing to do would be to let the people of Roseau be the first to see the book," Preston said. "So much of the story is about the people of Roseau."

Research and writing

According to Preston, who grew up in Alexandria, Minn., the idea for "Starfire Kids" occurred to him after he began collecting old snowmobiles and started finding many of the sleds the Polaris racers had driven back in the day.

He also launched vintagesleds.com, a website dedicated to old snowmobiles.

"In trying to get them restored, I started talking to a few of these guys, and they told me stories," Preston said. "And the more I heard about what happened to the full racing team, the more I thought, 'This is a story people need to hear.'

"That was the genesis -- finding the sleds."

Preston said he began interviewing the racers in 2005 and knew from the first interview that he'd be able to compile their stories into a book, which he wrote on nights and weekends.

"I interviewed every one of them, in some cases a couple of times," Preston said. "I wore out a car driving up to Roseau. I went everywhere and talked to everyone remotely involved."

All of them, he said, had a knack for tinkering and making the sleds better -- and faster.

"That all came from being farmers who had to figure things out on their own," Preston said. "There were no manuals for the stuff they had to fix. It was either fix it or starve, and they were very good at it and loved to experiment."

The only requirement from Polaris was that they win races, Preston said. That continued until 1978, when racer Jerry Bunke was killed during a race in Beausejour, Man.

He was 26 years old. Polaris stopped sponsoring the racing team a short time later, and the era of snowmobile racing's glory years ended.

"Once Polaris stopped putting out factory-backed drivers, the sport nearly folded," Preston said.

Preston said he wasn't sure if other racers would want to talk about Bunke.

"To my surprise, they couldn't wait to tell the story," he said.

That's the essence of the book, Preston said, the opportunity for the racers to share their stories before the stories are lost.

"I think it's going to make a good read whether you're a snowmobile fan or not," Preston said. "I wouldn't trade the experience of talking to these guys for anything. These are some really amazing guys that lived through an amazing period that won't happen again."

If you go

• What: Vintage snowmobile show, autograph session to mark debut of "Starfire Kids Midnight Blue Express," by author Larry Preston.

• Where: Polaris Experience Center, 205 Fifth Ave. S.W., Roseau, Minn.

• When: Autograph session from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, with vintage snowmobile show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Info: starfirekids.com.

More on the Web: starfirekids.com

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.