What began as racing snowmobiles with a friend last winter at Elk River’s ERX Motopark has translated into a lot more for Ryan Springer, a 2010 grdatuate of St. Francis High School.
Springer quickly navigated through a novice class in his first season of racing and caught the eye of track owner Chris Carlson who also operates a national-level race program through Carlson Motorsports.
“Ryan was very dominant right out of the gate and I encouraged him to jump a class and he was immediately competitive,” Carlson said about the quickly rising rider.
Springer bought a newer sled this season and continues to succeed each time on the track despite the higher-level of competition and degree of difficulty to compete in weekly Sport Open and Pro Light divisions in Elk River.
That success continued early on this season and Carlson offered to guide Springer through the early stages of what seems to be a budding pro rider career with mechanical help in addition to racing advice from a now-retired veteran of the sport.
“He’s an all or nothing kind of guy,” Carlson said about Springer’s racing style. “We call them checkers or wreckers so I encouraged him to go slower which will ultimately help him go faster but he’s had some bad luck so far.”
The partnership doesn’t include a Carlson-sponsored sled but his mechanics have shown Springer a few tricks to keep his machine in top-shape, what to watch for on the track and how to relay what he feels to the mechanics.
“It seemed like he had a mechanical failure every time I saw him race on the track and I knew it wasn’t a reflection of him as a rider but just some general maintenance issues,” Carlson said, which is when they made the decision to help him out.
“We helped him and now he’s on the podium. It’s been fun to see how he and his family responded to his success.”
As a sport-level competitor, Carlson doesn’t pay him to race and Springer has purchased all of his parts for the sled up to now. “We’ve supported him with the right parts and used our factory-partnership with Polaris to help him out too. They’ve were 100-percent supportive of our efforts to help him to, so that’s been a tremendous help.”
The financial side of stepping in to help Springer isn’t what motivates Carlson and his staff. “We give him the tools to be a better racer,” he said. “He works until 6 p.m. then comes in here and works on his machine until 10.”
The best racers, according to Carlson, are those with the mechanical-knowledge to explain the situation to the mechanics so they can remedy the issue quickly. “Ryan’s definitely not afraid to get dirty.”
As for expectations for the rest of the 2012-13 season, look for Springer to continue to race on the regional sport-class level and compete in at least two more national-level events at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and Fargo, North Dakota in addition to weekly races in Elk River.
“I wanted to see if he would stick with it [this year],” Carlson said about watching him compete last year before offering to help him this season. “It’s more than talent with Ryan. He’s a nice young man, his family is great and our values are consistent with ours,” Carlson said, noting that the Springer cheering section always makes itself known with numerous family members in the Elk River stands. “We wanted him to be part of the team on a limited basis… it’s been a really positive experience.”
As a result of the help, Springer has been able to expand his racing calender to include multiple national-level ISOC competitions and even more regional ISOC events.
Carlson said it normally is tough for someone Springer’s age to break into the racing scene: “Some kids start racing at age four and grow up around the sport like my kids so they went through the natural progression.”
Ryan’s family has been around snowmobiles but not racing.
Carlson added finding the financial and technical backing of a team can be tough for an older newcomer to the sport. “As he jumps classes it’s even more important to have the support to fix a sled or tune it for each race. At the national sport level these guys are on fully-factory supported rides.”
Springer competed in two national-level races in Duluth and Besimer, Michigan before the most exciting weekend of his young career in Shakopee at Canterbury Park Jan. 5.
As a national sport-class rider, Springer came through with his first podium finish as he stood on the third place spot after some help from Carlson’s mechanics.
“I had some troubles in the morning with a broken chain and a brake rotor but they saved the day for me,” Springer said, gracious for the help. “Replacing the brake rotor is very hard and a huge project but they had it done in 20 minutes.”
Springer was one bright spot of the weekend after Carlson Motorsports pro-open rider Johan Lidman missed the finals.
“Everybody knows who they are,” Springer said about being noticed by the Carlson’s. As for the steep learning curve to have so much without much formal racing experience: “You can’t explain [the feeling]. It’s huge.”
Springer returned to the Elk River track Jan. 11 to help Carlson test some new items for Polaris. “Comsumers always want race-inspired technology albeit new components, engine parts, chassis development and we wanted Ryan to be a part of that.”
The process includes completing several dozen laps then talking with the factory engineers to see what works and doesn’t. “It’s good for [Ryan] to develop as a ride in terms of what he likes and doesn’t like and how to relay that to others.”
It appears Springer’s ultimate goal remains the same: to become a professional snowmobile racer and he’s well on his way to achieve that if he can get a little luck to stay healthy and keep his sled upright.
Jason Olson is at firstname.lastname@example.org