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Hillclimb Preview: Strong, Focused Polaris Team Adds Stock Specialist Luke Rainey

Published online: Oct 21, 2012 News, Polaris
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Polaris heads into the winter of 2012-2013 with one of the strongest collections of hillclimbers ever assembled on one team as dominant champions Keith Curtis, Erin Beukelman and Cole Wilford return and are joined on Polaris sleds by Stock class star Luke Rainey.

Including Rainey, who makes the switch from Ski-Doo, hillclimbers who will compete on Polaris sleds this winter won 11 Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association (RMSHA) Pro class points titles last season and they won eight classes at the Jackson Hole World Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb, the sport's premier event.

Polaris Western Race Coordinator Darin Gould sees Rainey as a great addition to a Polaris team that is led by: Curtis, winner of four RMSHA points titles and the Stock King of the Hill last season; Beukelman, winner of four points titles and the Imp. Stock King of the Hill; and Wilford, the winner of two season points titles whose performance at Jackson Hole jumpstarted the team on the final day of the championship.

"Keith and Erin and Cole are probably our top three guys," Gould said. "Luke Rainey is a great addition, especially in the Stock classes. As far as riding a snowmobile, Luke is as handy as anybody on the circuit, and he's a pretty fierce competitor. He has been a Stock class specialist to this point and I think he can do very well in the Mod classes, too."

Gould said Rainey rides and practices relentlessly, and it pays off with Stock class success, where driver skill is so important.

"The Stock sleds, they're pretty comparable side by side, so winning is 40 percent the sled and the other 60 percent goes to the rider," Gould said. "In the Stock classes, Luke has been a top guy. He works in the oil fields in winter and when he gets off work, he's on that snowmobile until the wee hours of the morning. We're expecting big things out of  him."

Top Polaris Hillclimbers Primed For Success

Curtis heads into the season in the prime of his career and on top of the sport. Last winter he won RMSHA points titles in Pro 600 Stock, Pro 800 Stock, Pro 1000 Stock and Pro 800 Modified, and he was second in Pro 800 Imp. Stock points. He was the season's Stock King of the Hill, a title he also won at Jackson, where he won the Stock 800, Stock 1000 and Open Mod classes and was second in Mod 800.

"Keith's a finesse rider, so he's pretty good on equipment," Gould said. "Keith will be at the top of his game I'm sure. I don't know how he does it, but he's been going to school while racing and he graduated in May."

Curtis is focused on a career in business, and his hillclimb success is helping him significantly. He just launched a partnership with Polaris in which he'll develop a Keith Curtis signature line of Polaris snowmobile gear. He'll test and develop products over the winter for introduction in the spring.

Beukelman is also coming off an impressive season and should achieve great success again this winter, said Gould, who added, "He'll be on his `A' game. He brings a lot to the table."

Beukelman dominated the RMSHA Imp. Stock classes last winner, winning the 700, 800 and 1000 Imp. Stock points titles as well as the Pro 700 Modified crown. He was the circuit's Imp. King of the Hill and he won the Imp. Stock 1000 class at Jackson.

Wilford won the RMSHA Pro 600 Modified and Pro Open Modified points titles last season, but his biggest win came on the final day of competition at Jackson. Gould said racers on other brands won the day's first few class titles, then Wilford climbed on his 600 Mod sled.

"He's the guy who turned it around for us on the last day at Jackson last year," Gould said. "He won the 600 Mod class by a mile and that got us started when we really needed it. He's just a good, good guy and he's a fierce competitor. He works in the oil fields all summer so he can have time off in winter."

Strong Polaris Lineup Targets Titles, King Crowns

Several other Polaris hillclimbers should contribute greatly this winter, Gould said, including:

  • Tyson Thomas, who finished third in Pro Masters Modified points last winter. "He should be really good in the Pro Masters Stock classes," Gould said. Thomas had a great season two years ago and is expected to rebound to those heights this season.
  • Dolan Phelps, who was second in Stock 700 and third in Imp. Stock 1000 at Jackson. He will run several Stock classes and should do well, Gould said. Phelps made his mark in the sport several seasons ago when he won the Stock King of the Hill title at Jackson--on a 440 snocross sled.
  • Jason Crane. He scored two top-five finishes at Jackson and will focus on the Stock and Improved Stock classes.
  • Charles Lopeman. This Wyoming cowboy with a vice-like grip won the Pro Masters Mod class at Jackson, where he was also third in Pro Masters Stock. Gould said Lopeman's incredible grip helped him stay on the sled at Jackson when he went through some monster ruts. "Most guys would have been unloaded at Jackson last year, but he's got such a strong grip, the bars usually break before he lets go."
  • Aaron Sterck, who finished second in Stock 600 at Jackson. "Aaron could be one of our top guys. He could go a long ways," Gould said. "He's in the gym a lot, he's a strong kid, aggressive. He does well but we sometimes need to get him to slow down a bit. But he should do well this year."
  • Brandon Titensor. This Wyoming hillclimber was third in Pro 600 Modified points last season and fifth in Pro 700 Stock points, and Gould predicts that he'll have a successful season.
  • Les Keller. This Montana racer won the Stock 700 title at Jackson and was in the top five in RMSHA points in three Stock classes, including finishing second in Pro 700 Stock points. "He won at Aspen and won a class at Jackson and he was in the hunt every weekend," said Gould. "He's always right there and he did very well for us last year."
  • Mike Crockett. "Mike was one of our top guys last year. He's always right there," Gould said of the Montana racer who finished second in points in Pro 600 Modified and Pro Open Modified.
  • Tyler Crockett. Mike's brother was second in Pro 1000 Imp. Stock points and third in points in Pro 700 Stock and Pro 800 Stock. He also finished in the top four in three classes at Jackson.
  • Sandy Sletten. "He is a good role model and good competitor," said Gould. Sletten finished third in Pro 600 Imp. Stock and Pro 700 Imp. Stock points and was fifth in Stock 600 at Jackson.
  • Travis Spencer. "He moved up from Semi-Pro and did some winning last year," Gould said. "Some guys move up after dominating in Semi-Pro and they don't do as well against the Pros, for whatever reasons, but he did well last year."
  • Justin Thomas. He will compete in all three Semi-Pro classes and has a bright future, according to Gould, who said, "He could go a long way for us for a long time."
  • Cody Birmingham. He won the Semi-Pro Imp. Stock points title and was second in Semi-Pro King of the Hill points. At Jackson, he won the Semi-Pro Stock class title.
  • C.J. Evans. He won the Semi-Pro Imp. Stock title at Jackson, and followed it up by winning the event's Semi-Pro King of the Hill title. He finished in the top four in two RMSHA Semi-Pro classes last winter. "Cody and C.J. are moving into the Pro classes, and they'll have their work cut out for them, but they're good guys and they work hard," Gould said.