Roseau, Minn., man gets snowmobile racing laurels
Team Polaris racers from Roseau, Minn., in the 1970s are back together ... in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame. Don Omdahl, 62, was inducted recently into the hall, located in St. Germain, Wis. He joins fellow 1970s-era Polaris factory team racers Bob...
Team Polaris racers from Roseau, Minn., in the 1970s are back together … in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame.
Don Omdahl, 62, was inducted recently into the hall, located in St. Germain, Wis. He joins fellow 1970s-era Polaris factory team racers Bob Eastman, Larry Rugland, Jim Bernat, Stan Hayes and Leroy Lindblad.
“It’s nice to know that all team members have gotten recognized in recent years,” Bernat said.
“Don was a good, aggressive rider. And he weighed only about 110 pounds back then. That helped him some because the less you weigh, the faster you go.”
Snowmobiles weren’t Omdahl’s first ride, however. Horses were. Starting at age 13, he was a jockey at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg and other regional racetracks.
“Both horses and snowmobiles can be difficult and you have to ride them the same - wide open,” said Omdahl, who still lives in Roseau.
The skills transfer on both tracks. “You learn to hang on and you learn to use your legs to get a feel for the horse and the machine,” he said.
Racing marketed sleds
Race teams played a major role in snowmobile marketing in the early 1970s.
“If an Arctic Cat won the race, then Arctic Cat was regarded as the best,” Omdahl said. “If the Polaris sled won, then Polaris was the best.”
Omdahl was 18 years old when he started with the Polaris team and lasted six years.
“When you’re that young, you’re fearless,” he said. “All you wanted to do then was race.”
His career ended in 1976 because of a neck injury suffered in a bar fight.
“When you come from a small town and get fame from being on a race team, you go out and party after you race,” Omdahl said. “It was an unfortunate deal.
“When you get older, you see things a lot differently than you do when you’re young. I look back and wish I would have done a few things differently. But, it was what it was.”
The factory teams lasted until 1978, when Polaris’ driver Jerry Bunke died from a crash in an oval race. A combination of the fatality and a downturn in the economy prompted the major manufacturers to end their factory racing teams, although they still provided technical support to independent drivers who used their brand.
An oval race specialist, Omdahl also competed in the I-500, a former annual 500-mile race from Winnipeg to St. Paul.
The Hall of Fame has 101 inductees, selected from both the competition and recreation realms of snowmobiling.
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