By Christopher Cousins of the BDN Staff: DEXTER, Maine — Ice fishing isn't the only winter sport where the hook is crucial. The hook — along with lots of horsepower — is about the most important thing when it comes to snowmobile racing, too.
On Lake Wassookeag on Saturday, dozens of snowmobilers, ranging from occasional trail riders to self-proclaimed gear-heads, took turns on a 1,000-foot track to see how fast their machines could carry them. Lots of big, powerful sleds took their turns, many of them kicking up so much snow and ice that they couldn't be seen. Those sleds, even the ones with 1,000 cc engines, were the slow ones.
That's because they didn't hook, explained Chris Meservey of Newport.
When the balance between hook and horsepower is correct, the results are obvious. Meservey's wife, Jaime, one of the few women riders at Saturday's Wassookeag Snowmobile Club Radar Runs, inched her menacing-looking Yamaha up to the orange line. Given the signal by officials, she laid into the throttle and the sled shot forward with very little of the white stuff shooting back.
In two or three seconds, Meservey and her sled were hurtling away, the engine pushing so hard that the skis were several inches off the ground for the first third of the run. She was hooked, meaning the sharp steel spikes on the machine's track were gripping the ice, not shooting it behind. Hook, horsepower and Meservey's practiced hand sent the machine across the finish line at around 110 mph.
"I love it," she said after the race. "It stands the hair up on the back of my neck. Every pass I make I feel like I could go just a little bit faster."
Saturday's radar runs, part of Dexter's annual Winter Festival, were for many a practice run for this Saturday's Ice Wars, which will pit sleds against each other in one-on-one matches. Registration for Ice Wars begins at 7 a.m. near the Lake Wassookeag Beach.
Scott Warner, president of the Wassokeag Snowmobile Club, said the radar runs and Ice Wars are major fundraisers, with much of the proceeds used to groom nearby snowmobile trails.
But the love of snowmobiling isn't just about speed, especially for guys like Randy Nye of Ripley, though he managed almost 91 mph with his 26-year-old Yamaha V-Max Twin. That machine has had the top speed in the annual event's antiques and classics division since 2002.
"I just like the old equipment," he said, pulling the cover off his polished black beauty. "I've put 3,000 miles on this machine since it was new."
Guys like Nye, who use their machines on Maine's many trails, are a departure from Huey Martin of Bradley, who was riding a 1,000 cc Arctic Cat Thundercat souped up by Timmy Reynolds Racing. Late in the day, Martin stood above most of the other competitors with a run of 125.9 mph.
Reynolds, taking a break from wrenching another sled, agreed with almost everyone else about what makes a fast run: hook and horsepower. Asked whether he alters gear ratios, upgrades carburetors or uses sharper spikes to achieve top speeds, Reynolds had no comment.
"If I gave away all my secrets, they wouldn't be secrets, would they?" he said. "The only thing that matters is that it's going fast."
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