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On fast track

Cold raw speed: Snowmobile racing in Doughtys' blood

Brothers, family, friends enjoy snow sport near, far from home
By Zack Miller | Mar 01, 2020
Courtesy of: SpeedShot Photography Darren Doughty races in the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races on Jan. 10-12 in Eagle River, Wis.

Unity — It only took 40 years to accomplish, but Darren Doughty of Knox finally checked an item off his bucket list as the 48-year-old traveled halfway across the country with family and friends to compete in the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Friday through Sunday, Jan. 10-12.

The annual event completed its 57th season of racing in Eagle River, Wis., which featured more than 800 snowmobiles who tore up snow on a half-mile track.

“I’ve wanted to go since I was little," said Doughty. "My family owned a Polaris dealership, and when I was young, my dad and my uncles all raced. It kind of faded off when I was in my later-teens and early-20s, but it was something I always wanted to do, but they kept doing it out [in Wisconsin], because it’s big in the Midwest.

"It was a blast. They were [running] between 60 and 80 races a day. The track looks like a paperclip, with really long straightaways, and then complete 180 [-degree turns] the other way. The turns are banked like Daytona, and it’s a man-made track."

"It was a whole new experience for us," said Rob Doughty, Darren's brother. "We tried to take it all in and check out all the events and different classes they had. It was the biggest race we’ve been too. We both grew up watching it and wished we could have been there and experienced it then. As a kid it would have been even more exciting. It was nice to fulfill a dream, race, compete and have a good time."

Snowmobiles have been in the Doughtys' blood for decades, and the chance to race among the best in the world was too good to pass up, as the Doughty brothers, Darren's 18-year-old son, Damien, father, Ralph, and other family and friends packed up and headed west for the week.

Darren, who owns "around 35 sleds" competed in four different classes including, the 340 IFF, 440 Sport Mod, 440 Pro Mod and a qualifying race for the world championships. Three-lap heat races ran before the five-lap main event, and the brothers experienced success.

Darren placed second in the 440 Sport Mod class and fourth in the 440 Pro Mod class, but was not as successful in the 340 IFF class, nor did he qualify for the world championship race.

Darren was one of 42 racers to attempt to qualify for the world championship race, but was not one of the final 12 to advance.

Rob finished sixth in the Sport Mod 340 and Super Mod 340 heats, but claimed a third place in the Pro Mod 300 main event.

Classes ranged from Junior — 17 and younger — to Super Senior for racers 70-and-over, with the oldest racer "82 years old." Each class had two-to-three heats of three laps, with five-to-six sleds per heat before the main event, which ran five laps.

Overlooking the track were "hot boxes" which stood three stories, and heated, to allow for a great vantage point of the track during the action.

"I raced a sled for [Jeff Brown of Newburgh], and I raced my own sled in three classes," said Darren. "[There were] snowmobiles with the latest and greatest stuff on them, and my sled is a 2008, and I needed another 8-to-10 miles-per-hour to compete with them. [The snowmobiles] were running 80-to-90 mph in the straightaways, and 60-to-65 mph in the corners.

“To go out there and do it for the first time, it was hard to figure everything out. To go out there and do something from here though, is kind of big, because there are a lot of people that go and don’t win anything."

Normally the races award trophies, but this time medals were handed out.

"There were people out there with some big money," said Rob. "Some sleds were $30,000 while I’m racing on a sled that’s $5,000 to $6,000. It was definitely hard to compete, since those guys had been there many years and they knew what to expect."

Before loading up and heading to Wisconsin, Darren and Mike Lancaster of Jackson brought snowmobile racing home to Unity Pond.

Jackson got the ball rolling in June of 2019, when he started attending town meetings to get approval, as well as permission from the land owners to allow the races to be held.

"My first goal was to get permission, before I started anything," said the 52-year-old Lancaster. "[The land owners] gave me permission, and to access the pond, since it's only waste deep out there, which made for the perfect spot.

"Every day I was doing something, either going [to find sponsors], or clearing and cutting back trees, since it used to be an old campground."

"We scoped out Breyer’s Beach, and it’s really shallow water so it freezes well," said Darren. "We said we might as well try it and see what kind of interest we get, and it’s gone crazy.

"We have people from New Hampshire calling us to come out, and I just love it. Lancaster has done a lot of the leg work with permits, and Jeff Brown helped us with an engineered track map. [We] looked up some insurance, and went for it."

Before racing was possible at Unity Pond, Darren Doughty competed in Howland, the closest spot around for racers to assemble.

"We went up to South Branch, and I’ve been racing Brown’s sled up there, and [it] gives us an extra place [to race]," said Darren. "They come down and support us, and we go up there and support them.

"We started out slow and didn’t make a lot of dates, and we waited for [South Branch] to [finalize] their dates, that way we could pick a few and see how they went. We picked what was available and the races we weren’t going to [at South Branch], and it went crazy [down here]."

"The first [race on Jan. 25] we had between 300-and-400 people," said Lancaster. "We had a really good turnout [for the second race on Feb. 8], and started getting the people from New Hampshire, and they told their buddies, and more people started showing up.

"We are trying to bring this back around. It used to be big in the 1980s [in the area]."

"It’s good [to see their success]," said Rob. "Everyone wants to help chip in. I think the community is coming together with it. We’ve got several sponsors now that are contributing and a booster club, as well as a few others that help with concessions. I think the community will benefit from it, when they can come together, talk, laugh and do some racing."

One more race is planned before the end of the winter season on March 8, with racing scheduled to start around 10:30, after a driver's meeting is completed, but the second season of racing is expected to start again next winter.

"The weather killed us this year, because we’ve gotten so much rain," said Darren. "It’s hard to play the ice, the lake, mother nature and keep a good track. Every time we tried to do something it would rain.

"If we could get it to be cold around Christmas [this year], we could start [next year] in the middle of January. I really wouldn’t want to do anything sooner because you need a foot to 15 inches of ice to be comfortable and safe out there."

Lancaster and Darren are going to create classes for next year, something they did not have this year, as the interest level rises, but for now, it's kept simple.

"The good thing is, and probably the best thing, is we are all out there for fun," said Rob. "We aren’t getting trophies or purse money. It keeps the whole competitive aspect [intact]. You don’t have to have the mental attitude of you have to be number one."

For more information visit the "Unity Pond Ice Oval" Facebook page here.

Darren Doughty. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Some of the attendees from Maine at the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
"Hot boxes" overlook the track at the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Darren Doughty, left, and his son, Damien. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
From left, Darren Doughty, Rob Doughty, Ralph Doughty and Damien Doughty. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Crew and racers from the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Races Jan. 8-10 in Eagle River, Wis. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Wayne Doughty, front, and David Doughty. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Damien Doughty. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Darren Doughty, right, and Scott Copland of N.H. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
Scene from snowmobile races at Unity Pond Ice Oval. (Courtesy of: Heidi Doughty)
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