Hook and bullet club
For 37 years now snowmobile race fans have gathered on the north side of the Twin Cities to watch machines tear up the grass in the beginning of the fall season. The Sno Barons Hay Days Grass Drags, “The Official Start of Winter,” is now the largest snowmobile event held in North America. It is held in a wide-open field in Columbus Township south of Forest Lake. We attended again this year on the first weekend of September and found that racing snowmobiles on grass may have been the original draw of the event, but that times are changing.Four years ago we participated in the “swap meet” at Hay Days. Here you bring down whatever it is you would like to sell, from snowmobiles to ATVs to motorcycles to chainsaws to sunglasses to parts to just-about-anything-you-can-imagine. We set up on the north side of the race track and unloaded the snowmobiles. Not far from us was a small track ringed by semi-tractor trailers from snowmobile parts manufacturers. This was a new event at Hay Days - a “sno-cross track.” Made out of dirt and woodchips with a small pond in the middle, this tiny track was made to showcase a new and fast-growing part of the sport, sno-cross racing. The sport’s top racers of the day put on demonstrations several times a day and the crowds grew each time. The highlight was a $100 bill paperclipped to a tree branch near a dirt jump that the rider would try to grab out of the air while flying by. We watched the event each time it was held that weekend, chuckling at the water skipping over the tiny pond at the end. The next year the track was in the same place but a new problem had developed. There was no room for spectators. The big trailers were back and we crawled underneath one to just get near a fence to watch. Hay Days had found a new entertainment event, they just needed a better location for it.Last year the sno-cross track was moved to the south side of the grass drag track. Again the crowds came and the racers put on a show. A new option was added as motorcycles took a few laps as well, showing off their aerial acrobatics. This year the show reached a new level. Professionally-built jumps were brought in, grandstands were added and the show got even better. The focus of Hay Days was still on the grass drags, but in our two days there, we saw very few fans sit and watch four snowmobiles go in a straight line for 800 feet. We saw massive crowds watch the sno-cross exhibitions. They were, to say the least, impressive. The motorcycle performances were outright amazing. If you’ve been flipping through channels and caught ESPN’s X-games, which include motorcycle and sno-cross events, you’ll know what I mean. In mid-air a rider will flip his legs over one side and then back again before landing. Or hang onto the handlebars with his feet in the air behind. The crowds loved it. The future of the sport was growing at one of the oldest snowmobile events. The new location allowed for bigger crowds and it didn’t hurt that a beer tent was located adjacent to the sno-cross track. But not far away, the main focus of Hay Days continued on. The grass draggers zoomed by and then headed to the race pits, now located on the north side where the sno-cross track was located four years ago. A change was happening and the Sno Barons snowmobile club was trying to keep up with it. There will probably always be grass drags at Hay Days, but you can bet the track with the jumps will continue to grow in popularity.