Snowmobile racing originally got its start in Beausejour at the end of February, 1962. The Beausejour Lions Club was planning its annual winter “blow-out,” a special end-of-February festival to pick up everyone’s spirits after the long, cold winter season. One of the Lions’ members suggested it would be fun to match local snowmobile builder Mike Bosak’s machines against some of the other new machines in a race during the 1962 festival. The idea of having a power toboggan race to stimulate attendance was warmly accepted and rapid organization was started. The power toboggan event was given high billing, right behind the horse-and-cutter races.
The first track was laid out on the school grounds in Beausejour. Hay bales were placed in a rough semi-circle. Six daring drivers raced their power toboggans around the course at an estimated speed of 15 miles per hour. The cheering crowd loved it. As soon as the race was over, eager spectators had a chance to take a ride on these mechanical marvels by themselves, and the power toboggans raced around the school yard the rest of the day.
The following article about how the races got started was written by Eyfi Walterson, past president of the Beausejour Lions Club (1963) and past president of CPTC (1971). It appeared in the 1997 CPTC program in celebration of our 35th anniversary:
“The Canadian Power Toboggan Championship Races destined to be held annually at Beausejour, Manitoba was conceived on a very cold January evening in 1963. That evening, a special meeting of the Beausejour Lions Club was held in the dining room of the Howland Hotel owned by a long standing business family in town – the Rumaks. I was President at the time and the sole purpose of this meeting was to consider a proposal to stage a fresh annual event to replace our Ice Show and the crowning of a Carnival Queen. It had been very successful for years but attendance and interest was starting to drop off.
We met with two young gentlemen from the Dept. of Industry and Commerce, Province of Manitoba who I had come to know very well during the past year in my capacity as Chairman of the Beausejour Industrial Development Corporation. They were assisting us to attract industry to our community and visited us regularly. They were helpful and did their job well.
During one of these many meetings, I mentioned that the Lions Club was looking for a new and different event to sponsor. They said, ‘Leave it with us and we will come up with some ideas.’
By early January they had put a package together and asked me to call a special Lions meeting as soon as possible. I did just that and here we were at the Howland Hotel and in walked Ron Kinney and Gary Gault with a sealed brown manila envelope.
A few Lions had met Ron and Garry casually during their regular visits to town but I knew them well. I had full confidence in their abilities to analyze and implement a plan of action. This combined with their many contacts in government and in the business sector made them an invaluable team to work with.
The sealed brown envelope became a very contentious issue that cold January evening and the atmosphere heated up considerably!
Inside the envelope was a plan of action to stage a new and unique celebration annually in Beausejour. It was something that hadn’t been tried before but could well put Beausejour on the map.
The kicker came when the presenters asked the Lions Club to put up a cheque for $500 before seeing the contents of this package. However, they offered to help co-ordinate the event along with a working committee of the Lions. They would do this on their own time and in essence the $500 as far as I was concerned was really seed money to cover initial expenses and would not end up in their pockets.
Now the negative arguments rose in pitch and intensity: ‘What? We can’t buy a pig in a poke! Why should we buy an idea? It isn’t right for the Lions Club to spend money this way!’
There was some support but no one was prepared to bring this to a vote in case it was defeated and we would never know what might have been. We weren’t going anywhere fast!
In desperation, I offered to write a personal cheque for $500 in order to open the envelope, see the contents and then the meeting could decide to go for it or not. There was much hesitation and comment that this was not expected of me. I was confident that if we got past this hurdle, we would make the right decision. I wrote the cheque and the contents of the envelope were revealed.
The proposal was to hold a celebration to be called Winter Farewell (good-bye to winter) and finishing with the running of the Canadian Power Toboggan Championship races on the weekend. This name was later officially registered to prevent anyone else from using it. We realized that not all the proposed events would be successful but there was agreement to try them all the first year. This consisted of the crowning of a Winter Farewell Queen who reigned over the rest of the events such as Horse and Cutter Rides, Mayors Snow Shoe Race, Smoosh Races and miscellaneous events.
Ron and Garry had done their homework well. They had already checked with the weather bureau to determine what weekend was most likely to offer more moderate temperatures. Going back several years indicated that the third weekend in February gave the best odds. The meeting enthusiastically endorsed the plan. I got my money back and the rest is history!
The Founding Fathers of this now famous event held annually at Beausejour are the 1963 members of the Beausejour Lions Club as follows:
To the hundreds of community volunteers during the past 35 years who have worked so hard to keep the Canadian Power Toboggan Championship races going – pat yourselves on the back! This event has definitely put this community on the map.
To all our visitors, we sincerely hope that you leave here today feeling that Beausejour is a good place to stop.”
CPTC certainly owes Eyfi Walterson a great debt of gratitude for his enduring support of the races throughout his lifetime. It is because of his foresight and that of his fellow Lions Club members that we are now proudly celebrating the 50th annual Canadian Power Toboggan Championships in March of 2012, the longest running snowmobile race in the world.
The 1963 race became the first formally organized snowmobile race in the sport’s history. It was held at Colmer’s Park and featured three different events: the closed course, which was marked by hay bales; the cross-country race, a gruelling six-mile bumpy course along the Brokenhead River; and the third event was a novelty race for the ladies. The first Canadian Champion was Larry Oneail of Winnipeg.
The race was still held at Colmer’s Park in 1964 and 1965. 1964’s race was run under what were probably the sport’s first-ever set of published rules. Crowds were growing as were the numberof entries, from 15 in 1963 to over 100 in 1965.
The Lions Club realized the races were still gaining momentum and could foresee the attraction becoming a community effort rather than just a club project. Therefore in November of 1965, through a general public meeting, the Lions Club gave this event to the community at large. Canadian Power Toboggan Championships Inc. was formed and a nine-member board of directors was elected to run the races.
In 1966 the race track was moved to the agricultural fair grounds on the east end of Beausejour. This allowed for a large parking lot to be built on what is still called Kanarowski’s field. The track consisted of snow banks which the racers used to help propel them around the corners. These snow banks also served as the spectator viewing area, with only a snow fence separating man from machine.
In 1967 the track was changed to a true oval race track. Although the length of the track has changed since then (the longest was 5/8 of a mile) the oval design has remained. By this point, the races were drawing huge crowds and attracting lots of media attention. The ’67 race was officially opened by Premier Duff Roblin and the race site area was officially dedicated as Centennial Park.
In 1968 the race track took another major step forward. The snow banks remained for the spectators to stand on but organizers cut the walls of the banks straight. The racers now used the
wide, flat surface as the race track and the straight walls prevented the snowmobiles from coming into contact with spectators in the event of an accident. This was the first major step forward at the time by any race organization to ensure crowd and racer safety. It is still the hallmark and creed of CPTC Inc. to this day.
Gerald Reese of Roseau, Minnesota became the first two-time winner of the Canadian Championship in 1968, following his win in 1967.
In 1969 the races were filmed for a half-hour feature on Wide World of Sports which aired in April of that year, showcasing Beausejour on the world stage.
By 1970 crowds reached 25,000 and over 200 competitors were involved in the races.
Unfortunately in 1971, a snowstorm wiped out Saturday’s crowd and cut Sunday’s attendance in half. 10,000 spectators on Sunday still enjoyed a great day of racing despite the grim weather conditions. Because of this weather fiasco, CPTC did not fare well financially that year.
Not to be beaten down by mere weather, or anything else for that matter, the people of Beausejour prepared for the 1972 races. Those races put the organization back on its feet financially. 25,000 race fans were on hand to watch Yvonne Duhamel of Quebec hit speeds of 96 mph to win the Canadian Championship and his share of the $25,000 purse for the weekend.
To keep up with the ever-growing technological improvements to the machines and the swelling number of spectators, the board of directors decided to build a new and permanent home for the Championships. An 80-acre site was purchased on the south-eastern edge of the community that fall. Work began immediately to be ready for the ’73 Championships. A provincial government grant was obtained to cover some of the labour. Local equipment operators donated both men and machines, farmers supplied tractors, and even members of the Winnipeg media showed up to help. By race time in February, there were 400 volunteers working full-time.
Gilles Villeneuve of Quebec won the ’73 Championship hands down, and the people of Beausejour won an international reputation for the top snowmobile race track on the entire continent.
On December 16th, 1973, Beausejour hosted the first-ever Sno-Pro race in Canada. 8,000 chilled spectators gathered trackside to watch this event. This was CPTC’s first foray into a December race but it wasn’t until 1989 when they held another SPORTS series race in December that it became a fixture at the race site. To this day, Beausejour hosts the annual Season Opener in early December every year.
In 1974 another member of the famed Villeneuve race family returned to Beausejour. Gilles’ younger brother Jacques won the Canadian Championship that year and kept the trophy in the family.
1975 was the year the Villeneuve name was cemented in the hearts of race fans in Beausejour. Gilles returned to Beausejour, but this time he had his radical twin track, rear engine, front cockpit race sled. He wowed fans as he led races and waved to the crowd as he made his way through the corners. He became the second two-time winner of the Canadian Championship and the Villeneuve name remains a crowd favourite to this day in Beausejour.
In 1976 the track surface was made of solid ice for the first time. Ice provided a more consistent surface for the race sleds than packed snow. Racing got faster but also safer because of the ice. Race sled preparation also got more difficult and expensive. Arctic Cat racer Bob Elsner won the Canadian Championship that year and Dick Trickle of Nascar fame was runner-up.
1977 CPTC President Bill Relf presenting the trophy to Canadian Champion Larry Omans of Richmond, B.C.
1978 saw construction of the first permanent building on the race site, a press booth and announcer’s tower. Unfortunately the first and only fatality in CPTC history occurred in February when Polaris driver Jerry Bunke was killed in a race accident on the track. After an inquest, the judge ruled the accident was the fault of no one, just something that can occur in the sport of snowmobile racing. The plaque on the Canadian Championship trophy for that year is dedicated to the memory of Jerry Bunke.
1979’s races were officially opened by the Governor General of Canada, Beausejour’s native son and former Premier of Manitoba, Edward Schreyer.
In 1980 CPTC re-introduced the snow track back to racing. A snow track was prepared in the infield of the ice oval in an effort to encourage more local amateur participation. These races ran while the ice track was being cleaned during intermissions. Bob Elsner became the third two-time Canadian Champion on the ice oval track that year.
Following 1980’s successful attempt at snow track racing, CPTC decided to eliminate the ice track and go back to snow. Mother Nature decided to prove what a mistake that would be. Unfortunately, snow does not hold up nearly as well as ice under warm conditions. After two years of being forced to cancel the races in 1981 and 1982 because of unusually warm temperatures, the CPTC board decided to return to an ice surface for the 1983 Canadian Championships. The next few years saw a resurgence in local participation at the races with Canadian Championship titles won by hometown boys Wayne Voss in 1983 and 1986, and Kurt Gretsinger in 1990.
In 1987, professional Formula I racing returned to Beausejour and Jacques Villeneuve became the fourth two-time winner of the Canadian Championship, 13 years after his first win in 1974.
As mentioned earlier, CPTC held a SPORTS series race in December of 1989. That led to the SPORTS series returning to Beausejour in 1991 during the Canadian Championship race which was now permanently being held on the first full weekend in March. This series brought big-time recognition for Beausejour as the series races were televised on TSN, ESPN, ESPN2, and RDS across North and South America. People from Beausejour vacationing in places as far away as Hawaii and Brazil reported watching the televised races being run in Beauejour.
The 1991 Canadian Championship was won by Dave Wahl of Greenbush, MN in what was to become the beginning of the “Wahl Dynasty” in Beausejour. Dave Wahl repeated as the Canadian Champion at the 1992 races.
During the summer of 1992, construction began on a new 1300-seat grandstand, heated washrooms, concessions, and two multi-purpose buildings in what was the first major change to the facility since it was built in 1972. Upon completion, the race track became the premiere snowmobile race facility in the world.
From 1989 until 1998, fans at the Canadian Championships watched the radical twin track designed sleds race for the Canadian Championship. The engine was in the front of these race sleds and they looked somewhat similar to a regular race sled, but that is where the similarity ended. The driver of a twin tracker rode over the tunnel of the inside track. As the racer turned the sled in the corner, a cable-controlled differential allowed the inside track to disengage. This allowed the racers to corner at extremely high speeds. It made for great racing and because of their handling, it allowed CPTC organizers to put more sleds on the track in the final race. One of those memorable finals saw 18 twin trackers on the track at once.
At the 1996 Canadian Championships, Beausejour hosted the final race of the Boswell Super Sleds Series. The series replaced the SPORTS series as the premiere snowmobile race series. Boswell Carburetion, the series sponsor, put up a $50,000 bonus to any driver if he won three of the four series races. Terry Wahl had already won two of the three previous series races and hadwon the Canadian Championship as well the year before in Beausejour. He loved racing on Beausejour’s track, his sled ran great, and he repeated as the 1996 Canadian Champion. That win earned Terry the $50,000 prize, the largest single cheque ever awarded in snowmobile racing history.
Terry Wahl receiving a $50,000 cheque for winning the Boswell Super Sleds Series, the largest single payout in snowmobile racing history. He is flanked by second-place finisher Dale Loritz (right), and his uncle, Dave Wahl (left), who placed third.
In 1998 Dave Wahl won the last twin track Canadian Championship, making him a three-time winner of the Canadian, but he was not the first to attain this feat. Incredibly, his nephew Terry Wahl won the Canadian Championship the three previous years, which made him the first three-time winner. Terry went on to win the Canadian Championship four more times, in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2005, making him the winningest driver in CPTC history. Between Terry and Dave, the Wahl name is on the Canadian trophy a whopping ten times!
The Champ 440 class debuted at the Canadian Championship in 1997. This class was started as a replacement for Formula One which had been dominated by Ski-doo who had designed and built the original twin tracker. The other manufacturers wanted in and the Champ 440 class provided that opportunity. By 1999 Champ replaced Formula One as the Canadian Championship race. Because the Champ sleds had few moving parts and weighed 75 pounds less than the twin trackers, they could run just as fast under the right conditions.
In 2000 CPTC race organizers proved they could run a race under practically any conditions. Prior to the race weekend, the mercury began to climb. By Saturday, the temperature reached +13 C. In an effort to conserve the track, Saturday’s program was cut short. On Sunday, by the time the final was run, it was +14 C. There was water everywhere, but the track held up. Eric Nicholsen of Greenville, New York became one of the wettest Canadian Champions ever. It was so warm on Sunday that one female spectator removed her snowmobile suit to reveal she was wearing a bikini underneath. She proceeded to watch the races from the grandstand in her bikini, something she said she had always wanted to do. Every pair of rubber boots and flowery Hawaiian shorts for sale in Beausejour were snapped up by enthusiastic fans, who enjoyed the balmy temperatures.
Beausejour is known throughout the snowmobile race world for its impeccably-prepared race track and the amount of work done to make the track as safe as possible. The major safety feature of the track is the 3800 flax bales that line the outside perimeter of the track. The corners have a second wall of flax bales 20 feet inside the outside row. This row has plastic snow fence attached to it. When race sleds crash into the inside row of bales, the plastic fence holds the bales together and they act like a giant spring which helps slow the driver and sled down before they crash into the outside wall of bales. On many race weekends the ambulance, which is always at the track on standby, is rarely used. To attest to the safety of Beausejour’s track, the major Canadian insurer of snowmobile races uses Beausejour’s track as the template for how a race track should be prepared.
In 2001, another eastern driver, Philip Moulton of Baldwinville, Massachusetts, became the Canadian Champion in convincing style. He dominated all of his heat races and the 15-lap final.
2002 and 2003 saw Terry Wahl win two more Canadian Championship titles. The east was back in 2004 with Larry Day of Lyman, Maine winning the Canadian Championship.
The organizers in Beausejour realized that to be successful in hosting an early December race, they would have to be able to make the 18-inch ice base required for racing in a very short amount of time. In 1991, a 250-foot by 650-foot by 5-foot-deep pond was excavated in the infield of the race track. A 4-inch electric water pump was installed to fill the track’s 7,000-gallon water tanker. The tank fills in 15 minutes allowing the truck to spread two loads of water per hour. Working non-stop, the 1.5 million gallons of water required to build the track can be completed in five days.
Terry Wahl of Greenbush, Minnesota won his 7th Canadian Championship title in 2005. It is hard to imagine anyone ever again being as dominant as Terry Wahl has been in Beausejour. He loved racing in Beausejour, referring to it as his “home track.” The Wahl name was very close to appearing an 11th time on the Canadian Championship trophy when Dave’s son Dustin led the championship race in 2008, right up until his track blew in the closing laps of the race.
In 2006 the famous Villeneuve name was again engraved on the Canadian Championship trophy. Jacques Villeneuve, at the ripe old age of 52, won the Canadian final in a race dominated by drivers 25 years younger than him. His win made Jacques the third three-time Canadian Championship winner. His two previous wins were at the ages of 20 in 1974 and 31 in 1987. The race fans in Beausejour enjoyed Jacques’ win almost as much as he did.
Gary Moyle of Houghton, Michigan won the Championship back-to-back in 2007 and 2008. The Moyle family have been racing in Beausejour since the mid ‘90s and everyone in Beausejour shared in their excitement in winning the Canadian Championships.
In 2009, 18-year-old Nick Van Strydonk of Tomahawk, Wisconsin became the youngest driver to win the Canadian championship since 21-year-old Mark Mondus won it in 1993.
P.J. Wanderschied of Sauk Centre, Minnesota was a three-time World Champion and a very accomplished racer, but a first-place finish in Beausejour had always eluded him. Some years, PJ had a hard time even finishing races, as mechanical problems always seemed to dog him in Beausejour. That all ended in 2010. PJ and his sled performed flawlessly all weekend. He was dominant in his heat races leading up to the final for the Canadian Championship. In the final, he led from start to finish and he became the 29th different racer to hoist the Canadian Championship trophy over his head. The monkey was off his back in Beausejour.
In 2012, well over 100 racers turned out to compete for their share of over $55,000 in cash and prizes awarded at the 50th Annual Canadian Power Toboggan Championships. Nick Van Strydonk of Tomahawk, Wisconsin became the Canadian Champ and thrilled the massive crowd with his first place finish in every race he ran in the Pro Champ 440 class on his 2012 Polaris. This clean sweep earned Nick over $10,500 in prize money, not to mention having his name forever grace the oldest ice oval racing trophy in the world.
Coming in second place was Travis MacDonald of Lockport, Manitoba on his 2009 Ski Doo. Third place in the Pro Champ 440 class went to PJ Wanderscheid of Sauk Center, MN. on his 2012 Arctic Cat.
2015 saw the return of motorcycle racing to the CPTC Raceplex as an exhibition sport. The Ice Bike Pro Open and Semi Pro Open classes were offered, with up to 16 bikes on the track in each class. The thrilling race action was a crowd favorite and is slated to become a regular feature at our upcoming races.
Race venues in Beausejour have changed over the years. Race sleds have changed greatly over time. Drivers and race teams have also changed. But the one constant over the almost 50 years of snowmobile racing in Beausejour is the hospitality of the people of Beausejour and surrounding area. Beausejour is known world-wide for having the best prepared race track and for running a great race. What Beausejour is remembered for by all the race teams and drivers is the hospitality. All teams, bar none, rave about how well they are treated by everyone in Beausejour. Our races have put us on the map world-wide. Our hospitality is what is talked about and what keeps us on top of that map, hosting the “Greatest Show on Snow.”
The future racers of tomorrow. CPTC started kids’ racing in the 2009-10 race season. Kids from 4 to 14 can race on either a snow or ice track. Kitty Kats and 120 snowmobiles are allowed. The kids have a great time and are introduced to the sport in a safe, well-organized manner.