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Racer of the Year

Kyle Tapio

Published online: Nov 01, 2007 Feature LANE LINDSTROM

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.

Looking Deeper

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 racer.

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 Roots

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 points races."

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, though."

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 said.

If past performances are any indication, it looks as if Tapio is up to the challenge for 2008.

 

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