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The Local Kings of ProVintage Snowmobile Racing: Keith BaDour, Casey Swenby, Ethan Weeks, Darren Swenby

By Scott Wild

The “Godfather” of ProVintage Racing, Keith BaDour, is from Glenwood City, with his own pond to have his racers practice, and a complete snowmobile mechanic shop hidden in his private woods just out of town.  He’s won the Eagle River World Championships in the 800 Relic Mod class, with a 1971 Arctic Cat 4 cylinder 800cc King Kat. 

To get your heart racing by pulling up YouTube video “Open Up & Let “Er Eat.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf5UgRJqRPk to see his impressive win. 

But the new big news is that one of his protégés, 30-year old Casey Swenby, took the 1st Place Cup against a final heat of 19 others in the Super Stock 340 Free Air class in Dorchester on February 17, 2018.  You can experience a thrilling Point of View footage of Swenby racing from his GoPro helmet camera at www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Eh8W3SauGk. A video of fellow racer Ethan Weeks can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzATVw7-Q5g.

“Casey had an incredibly impressive win,” said BaDour.  “There were 20 sleds in the heats, and he had to beat out 5 guys just to be in that final mix of 20 sleds.” Casey Swenby overpowered and out drove 19 other drivers!  “I was very calm before the race,” said Swenby.  “I just said to myself, this better be the time.” Swenby has been preparing for this win for 6 years.  About 10 years ago he started racing.  The first year, “I won every race I was in on that class.”  Seeking a bigger challenge, he upgraded to a faster class the next year.  And from ’09 to ’15 practiced enough to really dial it in and got really competitive.

“I got into this sport through Keith BaDour,” said Swenby.  “He hooked me up. I’m not really that great of mechanic. We practice on Keith’s little pond on the back of his property,” said Swenby.  “It’s great for practicing cornering.”  Other than that, it’s really all those races that trained him.  “I don’t have a perfect practice place.”  

He and his wife live in Colfax with their 14-month old and 4-year old children.   “My Dad collected old snowmobiles.”  Love of snowmobile racing is a family affair, as both his parents, and Aunt and Uncle join on the racing circuit.  In fact, his wedding was a snowmobile wedding! His “Best Man” is a fellow racer too, named Ethan Weeks.

Darren Swenby, Casey’s father, commented, “My folks on the farm always had at least 2 snowmobiles.”  Darren is from Downing, and is a middle child with 5 brothers and 4 sisters.  And there were no groomed trails at the time.  “We’d watch mom and dad drive off in the night snow when we’d go to bed.  Us kids would watch all the headlights disappear.”  His grandpa had a cabin up north where the lake effect guaranteed lots of deep snow.  “I almost lived there winters when I was 10 years old.”  

During his son’s win at Dorchester, the elder Swenby was Pit Crew Boss.  “We had a close call and a very lucky break!”  After the first heat win, he found that a bolt had come off the gear chain — if it had happened in the last seconds of that race it would have ended things.  “But, lucky us, it didn’t hurt nothing!” he said gleefully.  “It was all fixed by the time of the final heat!”

The elder Swenby also raced this year.  “I race the 340 Mod Class.  I was in the lead, but I tipped it over both times.  I flew off backwards and landed skidding right on my back.  The next day I could barely get out of bed!”  He lets his son do the racing now.  “Because I have to get up and go to work!”  

“I’ve been friends with Casey Swenby since 2nd grade,” said Ethan Weeks.  “We were Best Man in each other’s weddings!”  Swenby said, “In High School I bought my own snowmobile. It was a 1970 Yamaha 340 Exciter that we’d drag race on Saturdays.” But the two do not compete against each other.  “I only raced against him once, and it was sort of by accident when I was last minute asked to drive someone else’s sled,” said Weeks.  Swenby laughed, “There was this Mercury Snow Twister that would always beat us!” 

“I’m born and raised in Glenwood City,” commented Ethan Weeks.  “When I was just getting in to snowmobile racing 7 years ago, I was told ‘There’s a real champion engine builder right there outside of town named Keith BaDour.’” Weeks is the up-and-comer to watch in future races. “My goal is to get in the top 3 every time in the Super Stock,” says Weeks, who drives a 1975 Arctic Cat Z 440 Super Stock.  “We’re trying to beat the Polaris drivers!” 

 The “Godfather” BaDour, of course, races with the best of them, but unfortunately this year “I flipped my sled on race day. I wrecked enough to take me out of the running,” said BaDour. He teased, “Maybe age is catching up with me!”  

Vintage Snowmobile racing is known as “Sprint Racing.” The hook up is so fast and quick, and you can turn on a dime. It is critical to “assume the position” going into the turns, so your sled does not skid out.  “For you drag racing fans, this stuff is like 6 drag races in one!” commented BaDour.  “It’s like a Go Kart on Ice.” Swenby added, “Yep, it’s quite a rush!  I still get butterflies when I light ‘er up! The bumping and sliding is very exciting.  We’re hitting 70 mph out there.” How does a race feel?  “Basically, you’re leaning your whole body off the left side the whole time,” said Swenby.  There are 350 ice picks grabbing at the flat ice for grip as you hammer it.  You stay on the snowmobile at high speeds by hooking your toe off to lean, otherwise the rear end would slip out.  “When you do that little extra, you go a little faster,” said Swenby. It’s a very physical sport.  He chortled, “Boy, that cold air and two stroke burn smell gets me amped up!”

It’s important to understand that ProVintageRacing is not timed. It’s a race!  The sleds are lined up.  The green flag is waved. And the drivers in thick traffic battle for position until only one sees the checker flag.  “Every minute is huge,” said BaDour.  If your curious if you would enjoy racing, BaDour has a 300cc Mod Stock Arctic Cat he’ll take you out to his pond to try. “It’s really friendly, and handles very nice,” said BaDour.  He might also mention that that sled won undefeated championships for 3 years in a row.  

Pro Vintage Racing (PVR) is an ice oval racing club that started in 1995. Vintage snowmobiles (1970 – 1985) are raced in 7 divisions, listed in order of Competitiveness: Pure Stock, Super Stock, Relic Mod, Mod Stock, Pro Mod and Super Mod.  Each division is separated into classes by engine size (250cc, 340cc, 440cc, and 800cc) and cooling concept – free air (F/A) and liquid cooled (L/Q). There are 38 classes typically run at each race event, including junior’s, women’s and master’s classes. Racers can enter as many classes as they want. Each division has rules of modifications you can do to make to the sled more competitive. As you go up a step in the divisions, more modifications are allowed. Tons of modifications can be made.  Noted Swenby, “There ain’t much Vintage on some of these Vintage Sleds!” Pure Stock is the entry level class with very limited modifications allowed (with the exception of safety requirements). Therefore, this is the least expensive division.

“If you like snowmobiles and racing, this is a great hobby,” concluded BaDour. “It’s also thrilling to watch!”  Currently there are 5 events scheduled in 2019: Ironwood, MI, Holcombe, Eagle River, Wausau, and Dorchester.

For those interested in Pro Vintage Snowmobile Racing, you can go to ProVintageRacing.com.  Eagle River, WI is where the World Championship derby is held.  They have vintage and modern races.  Their website is derbytrack.com.  Or be really brave, and give the “Godfather” Keith BaDour a call at 612-581-3377.