FREMONT — There may not be any snow on the ground yet, but the Granite State’s snowmobiles have definitely hit the ground running.
Best known simply as “the Grass Drags,” the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association’s “Race into Winter” event is expecting 45,000 people at Brookvale Pines Farm this weekend for what is considered to be some of the world’s best grass-based and water-based snowmobile racing.
After the event concludes on Sunday, volunteers from New Hampshire’s nearly 100 snowmobile clubs will soon begin preparation for next year’s event, proceeds from which provide crucial funding for the maintenance of the state’s snowmobile trails.
Since the 1960s, the event has slowly grown, faded, revived and evolved into its current mixture of a New England fall festival and a gathering of racing enthusiasts, stemming from its birth as a showcase for potential snowmobile customers.
“Traditionally, snowmobiles were sold in the fall and the manufacturers would say, ‘Hey, look at how great our sled is, look at how fast it is. Ours is better!’ So they would race them in farmers’ fields, to show whose machines were the fastest,” said New Hampshire Snowmobile Association Executive Director Dan Gould.
From these rudimentary races across grass fields and skipping across ponds, specialized snowmobiles arose to increase performance on these non-snow surfaces, with professional riders coming from as far away as Sweden to perform feats that could not have been imagined several decades ago.
Along with the grass-based races, the event serves as the premier competition for the Eastern Watercross Association, an organization for snowmobile racing on water. The event also serves as the final competition of the year for New England Lawn Mower Racing Association.
Weare resident Heidi Munson defended her championship in the women’s semi-pro watercross oval on Friday despite a boom in female participation that gave her a much broader swath of competition.
This marks Munson’s third year competing on land and water, and she has competed in women’s and mixed-gender events. She has been riding snowmobiles since she was 4 years old, stepping into grass racing and water racing in the past few years.
Although any snowmobile can ride on grass or water to an extent, significant modifications are needed to ride competitively on these surfaces.
And for Munson, there’s another difference as well: Riding on grass or water is much more fun.
“I said, ‘All right, I’m building a sled’ and it’s like no other racing I’ve done before,” she said. “The adrenaline is crazy.”
Munson says that anyone can get a stock snowmobile for around $1,800 and ride on water, but competitive watercross machines can cost more than ten times that amount to account for needed weight reduction and drainage modifications.
There’s also the matter of getting used to the machines.
Munson says she needs to travel to Connecticut to practice due to concerns about noise from neighbors as well as what she sees as misplaced concerns about the environmental impact of watercross-modified snowmobiles.
“Everything has to be sealed, so there’s little chance of any fuel going into the water,” she says. “I think it’s actually much cleaner than outboard motors you find on boats.”
Racing isn’t the only thing that happens at the Grass Drags.
The Rave X Freestyle team performs aerial tricks with snowmobiles and motocross bikes dozens of feet above the ground, and snowmobile vendors are on hand to show off their latest wares to enthusiasts from across the Northeast.
Ray Trudeau of Nashua is one of those enthusiasts. He purchased his first snowmobile 15 years ago and had to sell it as he briefly moved down to Florida. He eventually moved back to the Granite State and hasn’t bought another snowmobile yet, but he still continues to enjoy the Grass Drags.
“It’s a festive event, it’s great camaraderie,” he said. “Everybody here is a friend of the sport. There’s no animosity between anybody. One guy might like Polaris, another might like Ski-Doo, another person might like Arctic Cat, but everybody loves the sport.”
More information on the event, including directions and ticket prices, is available at the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association website, nhsa.com.