If you were to turn to the page showing the Rocky Mountain
Snowmobile Hillclimb Association's season high points leaders for the 2007 race
season, you'd be hard pressed to find Kyle Tapio's name anywhere in the top
three in any of the race classes.
Forget hard pressed, you won't find it.
Nor will you find the Washington
state racer's name in the racer profiles-a special section in the RMSHA
souvenir program that highlights the previous season's top racers, chosen
mostly because those racers did well in the chase for high points. Tapio's best
showing in the season high points chase in 2007 was in Pro Mod 800, where he
finished fourth. He also placed fifth in the points in Pro Imp. Stock 1000,
fifth in Pro Mod Open and seventh in Stock 800.
Yet, the 28-year-old Arctic Cat racer was named Racer of the
Year for 2007.
So what gives?
Perhaps now is a good time to point out a couple of things
that simply don't show up when looking at the high points numbers. Tapio didn't
even compete in two of last season's RMSHA races (Brian Head and Beaver Mountain,
both in Utah).
Yet he still managed to finish in the top five in three of the classes he
competes in. Then, if you consider that Beaver
Mountain was a double points race, you
can pretty much bank on the fact that had Tapio been able to compete in that Utah race, the final
points standings would have been far different.
Look at individual race results and you'll see that Tapio
made the most of his time on the hill in the races he competed in. Consider
this. Bear Lake Hillclimb: one first, two seconds;
Preston Pride Hillclimb: one first, one second, one third; Afton Hillclimb:
three firsts, one second and a triple crown in King of the Hill titles. Tapio
won all three King titles in Afton-Stock, Imp.
Stock and Mod. That will catch a few folks attention.
Moving on to the granddaddy of hillclimbs, the World
Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb at Jackson
Hole, WY, Tapio did
nothing to take away from his impressive season, winning Pro Imp. Stock 1000,
finishing second in Pro Open Mod and fifth in Pro Stock 800. He followed up his
win in Pro Imp. Stock 1000 with a King of the Hill title in Improved Stock.
Tapio didn't just pop onto the hillclimb scene this past
season to get voted by RMSHA racers as the Racer of the Year. His career has
been building over his four years of hillclimb competition, which actually
makes him somewhat of a newcomer in hillclimb circles. Two seasons ago, Tapio
really began drawing attention to himself with several stellar performances on
the hill. He was high points champion in Pro Mod 600 in 2006 and really shined
at the World Championships in Jackson.
There Tapio became the first Arctic Cat rider to win King of Kings after he won
Pro Mod 800 and finished second in Pro Imp. Stock 600 and Pro Open Mod. That
success carried Tapio through the 2007 (where he again earned the King of Kings
crown at Jackson)
and, he's hoping, into 2008.
And that's why those in the know-RMHSA racers-voted Tapio as
Racer of the Year. They saw what he is capable of doing on the hill and
bestowed their highest honor on the Washington
Not A Newbie
Tapio is a familiar name on the hillclimb circuit, for more
reasons than one-three to be exact. Kyle races/competes with brothers Nels and
Russ and all three are a formidable challenge on the hill. Kyle insists the
team comes before the individual racer. "I don't think there is much
competition between us," Kyle said. "On race day we try to do everything as a
team. If anyone of us gets the win we are all happy. We are probably more
competitive when we ride for fun." When pressed on who is the most competitive
of the three, Kyle said, "Hard to say who is the most competitive. Probably
Nels or myself."
Back at home in western Washington, the three brothers work at
family-owned Tapio Construction, which was started by their father. Kyle
explained, "We do mostly commercial work, anything that involves concrete or
excavation. We have about 40 employees. Our positions in the company are fairly
broad. Nels and myself manage various projects in the field while Russ
supervises a lot of our concrete place and finish."
The business is located and the three Tapios live and work
near Vancouver, WA,
which is just across the Columbia River from Portland, OR.
That's not far from where the Tapios snowmobile and
test/train for hillclimbing. The area they ride is near Mt. Adams
(elevation 12,276 feet), Tapio said. "We do most of our riding and testing in Hell Roaring
Canyon, our favorite test
and ride area on a local mountain." he explained.
On The Road Again
The Tapios may not be far from their local training grounds,
but they are far from the hillclimbs. When many of the hillclimbers are home
and in bed from a long day of racing, the Tapios are usually still driving to
get home to southwest Washington.
Tapio said, "I think 12-14 hours is about the average drive from home. We have
tried driving home between races but that is not very economical or enjoyable."
Over the past couple of seasons, the Tapios have tried a couple of different
options with regards to getting to and from the races. "In 2006 we left two
trucks and trailers in Logan, UT,
and flew from Salt Lake City
between races, which was actually cheaper than driving. Last year's work
schedule was light in February so my wife and Nel's family stayed through the
month, which was very nice. Russ and my Dad flew back and forth."
No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of travel. The
logistics alone, like getting the race sleds to and from the hillclimbs, take a
lot of planning. Tapio explained, "Our sleds are hauled in a 48-foot moving van
that we converted to a race trailer. It is pulled by a Kenworth T800 provided
by Tapio Construction in the winter months. This works really well, having a
moving sled shop. We still take a small truck/trailer combo and our local auto
dealer, Bud Clary Chevrolet provided a transport vehicle. Three racers, wives
and some children takes a little planning if you're staying 12 hours from
home." One of those wives and children include Kyle's-wife Edith and son Aaron.
Adding a Racer of the Year award to your resume certainly
helps fuel the competitive fire, but we asked Tapio what drives him to compete
in the RMSHA circuit when it's, well, such a drive. "I started as a spectator
at Jackson Hole," he said. "Then I couldn't
stand watching anymore so we thought we would give it a try. Racing is very
addictive. The challenge of Jackson
drives me, too."
As with many of the racers of the pro hillclimb circuit, Jackson Hole is Tapio's favorite hill on the schedule.
Racing hasn't always been hillclimbing, though, for Tapio.
He started out racing cross country nine years ago. Then, as mentioned, he
moved to hillclimbing four years ago. He finished second in his first cross
country race and also finished second in Mod 800 in his first hillclimb. As he
has shown since, success in that first hillclimb wasn't beginners luck.
Of course, one can only speculate as to what might have
happened in the final points standings had Tapio hit the other two hillclimbs,
but an educated guess would be he definitely would have finished higher. He
said, "We missed those two races and I am sure I would have placed higher in
the points, especially with Beaver
Mountain as a double
Regardless, that doesn't take away a successful season and
promise of another good one to come. Tapio looks back at his performance in Afton, WY,
as a highlight for 2007. "Afton 2007 was my best with a triple crown finish,"
he said. "Jackson
has been the most rewarding with the King of Kings two years running. There is
a lot more pressure at Jackson,
And what was his reaction when he heard about the Racer of
the Year honor? "I was kind of surprised when I heard I was Racer of the Year,"
Tapio said. "I guess I never really thought it might be me. It means a lot
having been voted Racer of the Year by your fellow racers."
But now Tapio is the marked man for 2008. "Each race season
always seems to come with a little more pressure and personal expectations," he
If past performances are any indication, it looks as if
Tapio is up to the challenge for 2008.
Bud Clary Chevrolet
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Wife Edith, Son Aaron