Snowmobile History – 1984

Who can forget 1984 – Ghostbusters; Cindi Lauper’s She Bop and Girls Just Want to Have Fun; the #1 gold hit for the year, Kenny Loggins Footloose; or the Judds’ country hit, Why Not Me?

And what about the snowmobile world? Where was it?

drag racing
David Aksomitis in a snowmobile drag race start

On the home front we were racing across Saskatchewan, drags with CCSDRA and ovals with the SSRA. Some races had as many as 400 snowmobiles entered. Racing was at its peak! My job was picking the ice at the start line and sweeping it — just like in curling, sweeping gained a new importance.

duct tape
Snowmobile racer with his face duct taped for protection

Of course I dragged a little too, and won my first race on an old mercury that belonged to a friend. It had no carbides – just point and hammer the trigger, don’t even try to steer. Riding accessories were in the development stage too, with duct tape being the most popular form of keeping your face from freezing, although it was usually only needed when we took in an oval race.

Elsewhere, the Snowmobile Hall of Fame was born in February of 1984, with its first organizational meeting held in the last week of January in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Loren Anderson said, “We feel the time has come to honor the many people who have contributed so much to the sport of snowmobiling and snowmobile racing.” [quote from Snow Week, Volume 11, Number 16, page 3]

The year represented major changes to snowmobile manufacturers. The John Deere snowmobile operation was acquired by Polaris Industries with all parts inventory, tooling, designs and patents being taken over in March of 1984. Arctco and Manta had been resurrected from the ashes of past failures with lines of 1984 sleds. Bombardier produced its last bright orange Moto-Skis, although Ski-Doo continued strong. Yamaha was the lone manufacturer not to undergo structural changes.

Arctco snowmobiles, which looked, they said, an awful lot like the old Arctic Cats, had a limited line. You could ride an El Tigre 6000, powered by a 500cc liquid-cooled engine. It had a standard leaf-sprung ski suspension – the IFS [independent front suspension] Tiger remained a rumor. The family sled of choice from Arctco was the two-up maroon and brown Panther.

The last season of John Deere snowmobiles was led by the Liquifire, aimed at the high performance trial rider. The Sportfire 436 cc was still around for fan-cooled drivers. The direct drive Sprintfire and Showfire models led in the lightweight and efficiency categories from John Deere.

Polaris, John Deere’s new owners, had brought out a line of five proven models, including the Indy 600 that was the only triple cylindered model in snowmobiling. The Trail Indy was the trail riding sled with its IFS, while the SS direct drive model filled the family sport model category. They also boasted a 440 cc Long Track model, as well as a 244 cc single cylinder lightweight Star Long Track model.

1984 was Bombardier Ski-Doo’s twenty-fifth anniversary year, and the last year for the Bombardier Moto-Ski models. The last Moto-Skis were 1984 Sonic LCs, or the twins of the Ski-Doo SS25s. The SS25 led the Ski-Doo line with a 463 cc fan-cooled engine, long travel suspension and aerodynamic design. Also present were three Safari models, the Blizzard 9700, Blizzard MX with its IFS, Citation 3500, Skandic, Alpine and Elan models.

Sonic LC
Linda Aksomitis lined up at the start of a snowmobile drag race 1984

Yamaha had a popular new model you may remember — the Phazer. Appearing for the first time were the headlights located between the handlebars so that the lights rotated to shine in whichever direction the driver was going. Powered by a 485 fan cooled twin engine, it featured YEIS and twin carbs, and the telescopic strut [IFS]. Yamaha also had the Enticer line, 340, 300 and the luxury appointed Excel III. The V-Max and SRV were also back in the fast track, with the SS440 as a sporty family trail sled.

Although many of you will likely never have heard of it, the Manta was described as “the twin-track sensation that finally seems to be coming into its own as a viable snow vehicle.” [Quoted from Snow Week, Volume 11, NO. 1, page 6] It had three engine options – 500cc liquid-cooled Suziki twin, 440 cc fan-cooled Fuji, and a 340 cc liquid cooled Fuji twin, which were sold in limited quantities.

Something that you also needed in limited quantities was cash! The 1984 Yamaha Phazer had a list price of $3299.00 and weighed in at a slim 388 pounds. You could buy competition leathers from Elkhorn, KY, for $275.00 plus liner and options. A raced 1983 Indy 600 plus, with all of the tricks but still declared trailable, was advertised at $4995.00 – after it ran 107 mph in a quarter mile at the World Championship Radar Run. Aaen Performance was selling Arctic 6000 Dayco Max 1062 wide belts with a regular price of $34.50 at an overstock price of $19.95. [Quoted from Snow Week, Volume 11, Number 16]

Moving to the world of competition, February 1984 found Jim Dimmerman still celebrating what was reported as the best Eagle River World Championship in a decade, and the first time in thirteen years that the championship had been won by a non-factory driver. Less than one second separated the top six drivers after the time trials, so the race started out more exciting than usual, even though Dimmerman’s Phantom left the line last due to a bad start.

Rules on the racetrack were still in a state of evolution at the time – and Dimmerman could have been disqualified by the Race Director, Ted Otto, on a ripped racing loop. The function of the metal loops at the front of racing skis is to keep them from becoming lethal spears during a crash. Dimmerman’s loop had been torn during a bump with Frans Rosenquist midway through the World’s Championship race, and nearly severed.

Ted Otto came under considerable question for his actions in not black flagging Dimmerman at the time of the accident, as was standard procedure. Otto claimed that the rules of various clubs didn’t apply and that, “the world’s Championship race is a special event and has rules all its own.” Further he stated, “Second, when the race is in progress, it’s MY race. I have control and I’m the ONLY one who has control. I have to make judgments in a split second. I don’t have time to consult a committee.” And so the victory stood, despite the controversy. [quoted from Snow Week, Volume 11, Number 16, page 9]

Around the country racing was going strong. Steve Houle of Forest Lake, Minnesota had moved to the top of the points standings in Central Cross Country Racing with his Yamaha SRV. Bill Britt and Rob Sass of Turner, Michigan, piloted their sno-pro Arctic Cat to first place on a 150 mile pro enduro in Gladwin, Michigan.

Brian Musselman and Karl Schwartz drove their Ski-Doo Formula MX to victory on February 4th at the 16th I-500 enduro race in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. 11000 spectators circled the one mile oval track to watch the two drivers beat out teams by a 12 lap lead. They drove 500 km [311 miles] in a record time of 4:52:20 with speeds averaging between 63 and 70 mph.

On the trail front, the DNR Trail Planning section surveyed Minnesota snowmobilers for feedback on trails. These were the reasons riders gave for choosing a particular trail:

Trails are “close-to-home.”
Trails were “known and liked by the snowmobiler.”
To try a new trail.
Trail goes somewhere I want to go.
“Snow conditions.”

So there you have it – February, 1984 in review.

Photos are all from the Aksomitis archives. This article was originally published in March 2001 SnowRider Online Magazine.

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