Not all freeriders are racers, but most all racers are freeriders.
That includes David McClure. A Team Arctic professional hillclimb racer who competes on the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association circuit, McClure is the poster child of the freerider-turned-racer crowd. It's almost like the excitement and adrenaline of pushing the limits in the backcountry just isn't quite enough for some sledders. You have to throw a timing light and a marked course into the mix to satisfy the competition addiction. With that being the case, imagine how crazy guys of this nature get in the back country.
We had a few good rides with McClure last winter, and all of that holds true. McClure rides with the throttle flapper pinned to the bar from the parking lot to the top of the mountain range. On most rides, his sled would be upside down at least once. If things got quiet for a few minutes, you could usually find a track traversing a slope so steep the snow barely even sticks to it leading to McClure's sled parked in a hole in such a way that you can't even begin to figure how it's getting out.
But that's another thing about guys who get to ride four or five days a week-even in a bomb hole that looks like the sled fell from a passing jet and plowed into its current crater, they seem to get it out of the hole as quickly as they put it there.
Get McClure into a powder-filled playground and he will send his Arctic Cat off every mound, boulder, cornice and ledge in sight. The guy loves to air things out.
When McClure was 15, he watched Justin Moeller race his triple-piped Yamaha Mountain Max to the top of the mountain at the World Championship Hillclimbs. He remembers thinking to himself "I'm going to do that one day."
Moeller lived in the same town as McClure's grandparents, so the two got to know each other. Moeller even let McClure tag along to many RMSHA events over the next couple years. David took in everything he could on sled setup until he reached a point where he could start racing himself.
When McClure graduated from college, he hit the Semi-Pro class with a new sled. He took third place at Jackson that year and finished the season off by winning the last Semi-Pro race. That summer, McClure sent in a sponsorship application to Arctic Cat. The August 15 deadline came and went without hearing back from Cat. But three weeks later, a contract showed up in the mail. McClure 150 was a Team Arctic racer and on his way up the ranks, finishing that next season with the Semi-Pro Stock points championship and turning pro the year after.
Becoming a Team Arctic racer opened some doors for McClure. It also led to some new friendships, most notably with Team Arctic veteran Rob Kincaid.
"One day Rob called me up and asked me to go riding with him," says McClure. "I said `Sure! What should I bring?' He said, `Oh, just an avalanche beacon and a lunch.' Within a few minutes I was off. That night as the sun slipped away behind the mountains I realized we were still twenty miles from the truck, and I watched as a turboed Apex couldn't climb out of the bowl we were in. I said to Rob `I sure wish you would have told me to bring dinner too.' That was the beginning of our riding together and friendship. It's always fun calling him up just to ask what he's been up to; last year he crawled into a cave with a pissed off mountain lion to retrieve his hound dog."
The pair are riding partners nowadays and great friends. Kincaid always provides a certain degree of entertainment, so the duo's riding group usually picks up a few extras during the week.
"About the first of December, Rob's finally done hunting trophy big game and is ready to ride," McClure says. "By that time I usually have 500 miles on my sled. We live twenty minutes away from each other, so typically one day I'll head over to Victor to ride, and then next we'll ride in Swan Valley. One day last year we rode the mountain range from Swan Valley to Victor, gassed up and rode back. We always have a good time pushing each other and if Tony Jenkins isn't out teaching clinics with Bret Rasmussen we'll have him come along, and that adds to the fun! It's not rare for us to be stopped on top of a mountain and my cell phone rings and someone invites us on another ride. We'll race back to the trucks, find the nearest gas station, and go for a second ride that day."
What's your favorite hill on the RMSHA circuit?
I like Jackson because it's the World Championships. It's the biggest, most challenging, fun race of the season. Every year it's a totally different hill-some years there's not much snow and it's super icy and the stumps and rocks are nearly impossible to get over. Sometimes there's a ton of snow and the trenches get five or six feet deep and only wide enough for a sled to barely squeeze through, and when guys get stuck it leaves a five-foot hole and a vertical wall on the uphill side.
What race has been your best to date for finishes?
My most memorable race was my first year racing Pro in 2008. I won 600 Improved Stock at Jackson. For the 2011 RMSHA season I had a podium at every race.
Which classes do you compete in?
Every year I change it up a little, but this year I'm going to be racing 600 Improved Stock, 700 Improved Stock, 800 Improved Stock, 1000 Improved Stock, and 800 Stock.
When you're at a race for a weekend like Jackson, how much time are you actually on the sled racing? What do you do in the time you're not on the sled?
All the races are typically the same as far as time on the sled, but at Jackson we are limited to entering four classes instead of five, like the other RMSHA events. So for qualifying at Jackson we get four runs each one around a minute, and then if you qualify all 4 classes, then you would get four runs on Finals Day, each one of those around one minute. So a good weekend at Jackson, we would be riding our sleds for a total of eight minutes! Possibly more if you win your classes and get a run for King of the Hill. So there's sometimes hours between runs. I usually make sure my sleds are ready to go, ride the chairlift watching for new lines, talk to teammates, eat, etc. The time actually goes pretty quick.
Best riding story with Kincaid?
Early last December, Tony Jenkins, Rob Kincaid and I left from my shop and climbed to the top of the mountain behind my shop and were pretty much playing follow the leader. This was Kincaid's first ride of the season on his brand new 2011 HCR, and actually the first time he had ever met Tony (Tony and I had already ridden a couple hundred miles).
So we get to this spot and I say, "I've never gone up this canyon on a sled, but this summer I went up it on my dirt bike." Off Tony went, with me behind and Kincaid bringing up the rear. We sidehilled on our throttle side through brush, downed trees, rocks and cedar trees for probably ten minutes straight on a steep canyon side that had at most three feet of snow on it. And you could see if you dropped into the bottom, you weren't going to be able to get out.
At one point I jumped off my sled and sprinted back to where I last saw Kincaid, only to find him in the bottom of the canyon, sled upside down (running), cussing about us polishing off every ounce of snow that was left on the near vertical slope.
We soon got to the top of that canyon and continued riding towards Victor, ID. I was leading since I knew where we were going and we got to another nasty sidehill and Tony tells Rob, "It's way easier to sidehill if you'll just hang a leg."
I've known Rob for six years and I've never heard anyone give him any advice, let alone advice on riding! I didn't know if he was going to deck Tony or kill him. He just looks at me and says `Who invited this guy?' and Tony continued to give Rob a Ride Rasmussen Style clinic.
At this point I thought we better just start riding before this gets ugly! So we continue on and get to another bad spot and Rob gets stuck, Tony and I ride up to help him and notice his sled is wedged in between a stump on one side and a big brush on the other side, Tony says, `Don't worry man, Bret taught me what to do in a spot like this', and the two of us lifted the front end of the sled straight up and flipped his sled over backwards landing right on his windshield-shattering it and bending his handlebars!
Rob says, `Dude this is my brand new sled.' Tony says, `Windshields are gay.'
After that ride, Rob called me a few days later and said we should go riding again with that Sanchez kid. He couldn't remember his name, just that he trashed his brand new sled!
Rob and I both ruined our tracks that day and had to replace them, by the way.
What do you do in the summer for fun and to stay in racing condition?
I have a Beta trials bike that I ride and this Spring I bought a KTM dirt bike, since not many people have trials bikes. I did a couple of local enduro races and went to the Klim Big Sky XC Enduro race this summer and took 3rd in the Open B class. Other than that I just work my butt off so I can take the winters off for snowmobiling.
What do you do to practice for the races in the winter?
Pushing the limits of our freeriding helps keep us in shape for racing and familiar with our sleds. Once the race season starts we'll setup practice hillclimb courses and hit those as often as we can.
Where do you see the circuit in 5 years?
I hope we can get to more ski hills for races, they offer better parking for all the trailers and spectators, a lodge for spectators to warm up, always have good snow, have snowcats to build jumps and rhythm sections, and have chair lifts so spectators can get to the top of the hill and get closer to the action. I think if we make the sport more spectator-friendly and make it easier for amateurs to race it will grow big time. Everyone has a mountain sled out west, let's make it so more people can come out and give it a try.
What advice do you have for someone who's always wanted to hillclimb but doesn't know where to start?
Come to a race and look at our sleds to see what modifications you need to do, i.e. screws in the track, wide front ends, Exit shocks, long snow flaps, tethers, etc. Then get a rulebook and make sure your sled is legal and what classes you want to enter and if you have any other questions ask a racer, we'll all be more than willing to help you out.
Who are your sponsors?
Arctic Cat, Klim, Speedwerx, SLP, Exit Shocks, ARS-FX, Toyskinz, S4 Optics, HPS, Rexburg Motor Sports, Kate's Real Foods, Boondocker, EVS, Black Diamond Extreme, and Cutler Performance.