Behind The Titles

A closer look at some of the champions

May 2016 Feature Web Exclusive

Everyone sees their names on heat sheets and on the result pages, but the Rocky Mountain States Hillclimb Association (RMSHA) racers are more than just a name with their bib numbers next to it.

And after the snow season ends, we tend to lose track of these athletes until the hillclimb events start back up. Even though summer’s well on its way, we were able to catch up with five of the athletes that dominated the RMSHA circuit last season.                                                                                                               

Luke Rainey #303

Luke Rainey, No. 303 and racer for Polaris, won the year-end points championship in 700 Stock, took second in 600 Stock and 800 Improved and third in 800 Stock and 1000 Stock.

He hails from Thayne, WY, and started riding when he was 11 years old. His first sled was a Polaris 583 XLT and his dad Lloyd took him out riding almost every night on Black Mountain.

Rainey first gave racing a try in 2005 because his friend Brandon Titensor wanted him to race with him. He likes the Jackson Hillclimb the best because of the big rocks and trenches and said it’s one of the harder hills. He enjoys the challenge and having to work for it.

He considers his top accomplishment to be taking the Stock King title in Jackson three times and he’s most proud of when he won it in his first year on a Polaris.

Rainey asked if we had ever seen the movie “Rocky,” and said that’s how he trains. And his pre-race ritual is singing in his trailer like he does in his bathtub.

On a more serious note, his training really consists of a lot of cardio and riding his bike and he said he doesn’t have a ritual. In the summer he likes to ride his motorbike with his kids and spend time with them around the trails and tracks.

His advice to younger racers is to practice as much as you can and to never give up. “You are just as fast as the guys you race with, so tell yourself that.”

Keith Curtis #711

Another Polaris racer, Keith Curtis No. 711 from Dillon, MT, grew up spending the majority of his weekends at his parent’s cabin in Polaris, MT, riding as much as possible with his friends in what was called the Ratpack.

He concluded the 2016 RMSHA season with four class points championships in 600 Stock, 800 Modified, 1000 Stock and Open Modified. He took second in 800 Stock.

Curtis began his snowmobiling career at the age of four, riding with his parents and brother. In 1998 he raced at a local hillcross event in Maverick, MT, that was near Polaris. He did well in his age group and was hooked. From there, he raced in the Montana Snowmobile States Hillclimb Association (MSSHA) circuit for several years before going pro in 2005 where he took some first place finishes. Two years later, in 2007, he began racing pro in the RMSHA circuit and dedicated his winters solely to riding, training and preparing.

His dedication paid off with a few wins and a Stock King title and then Polaris picked him up as a sponsored rider in 2008.

Curtis also said that the Jackson hillclimb is his favorite as it is the most diverse one in the circuit and that it offers a long, steep technical course. In the good snow years, the course is even more unpredictable and challenging. He also mentioned that it’s in the perfect location of Jackson, WY.

Before a race, he follows the three Cs: cool, calm and collected. In the off-season, he stays ready for the racing season by cross-training, hitting the gym and focusing on staying healthy and fit.

Besides hillclimbs, Curtis has competed in other competitions. In 2014 he competed in the X Games Hillcross and his summer plans include competing in Europe at the Red Bull events Erzberg and Romaniacs, which he said he’s very excited for. He has also competed on the USA ISDE team in Sardinia, Italy and has raced in several Endurocross events over the years.

Timbersled snowbikes have also become a huge part of his winter adventures and he views them as the perfect toy to switch things up with throughout the winter.

Besides his numerous summer competitions, he also likes taking his 2016 RZR XP4 Turbo out as well as motorcycling, mountain biking and camping.  

His top accomplishments consist of 168 first place finishes, 35 class points championship titles, being a 3-time King of Kings and holding 61 King titles over his career. He is most proud of his full sweep in Jackson in 2014, where he won all five classes, Stock King, Mod King and King of Kings.

To younger racers, he said to stay focused and to make sure your equipment is prepared. Get plenty of seat time and manage time wisely.

Mark Thompson #45

Ski-Doo racer No. 45, Mark Thompson from Providence, UT, closed the 2016 RMSHA season with class points championships in Pro Seniors Stock and Pro Seniors Modified.

He began racing around 1970 or 1972 on a Ski-Doo S400, but it wasn’t until 1983 or 1984 that he got into hillclimbs. His family was big into riding and racing was the next step. He began with grass drag-racing and then moved into hillclimbs.

Thompson was one of the original organizers of RMSHA and has been involved with hillclimbs for over 30 years. In addition, he was the first to take a stock sled over Snow King in Jackson, WY.

His favorite hillclimb is either Jackson or Afton because the conditions are never the same and always a challenge, a common theme. He spends time before the race walking and studying the course to prepare.

Thompson maintains an active lifestyle in the summer and his work and hobbies keep him in shape during the off-season. He hunts, fishes and goes horseback riding.

Thompson’s words of advice are simple: “Don’t expect everything to be free and easy. Work hard and earn what you get.”

David McClure #150 

From Swan Valley, ID, and racer for Arctic Cat, David McClure No. 150 took two class points championships in 600 Improved and 700 Improved for the 2016 RMSHA season.

He began really getting into riding in 1996 and began racing in 2006. His friend Justin Moeller had raced for years and McClure looked up to him. Once he finished college and could afford it, he began racing.

Like the others, he is also partial to the Jackson hillclimb and said it’s his favorite because it’s the biggest race of the year and the craziest hill. It also pushes him to be the best he can to reach the goal of earning the title of World Champion.

McClure doesn’t have a pre-race ritual, but said he thinks he puts his right kneepad on first.

In order to stay in shape for racing, McClure leads an active life and works out when he has time. His job as a landscape contractor also keeps him in shape. He rides dirt bikes and mountain bikes, goes fishing, wakeboarding, camping and spends time with his family in the summer.

Besides hillclimbs, he also competed in the 2015 X Games Hillcross. McClure considers his top accomplishment that he’s most proud of as being a father and a husband. He said that without his wife, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he has. He’s also a 5-time World Champion, has two King of the Hill titles and won the 2015 600 Improved class points championship, as well as his championships this year.

McClure’s advice for younger racers is to work hard. “Too many times I hear of kids wanting to know how to get sponsored and noticed. They do everything except ride. In order to be good at riding, you need to put the work in first by riding a lot.”

Kaycee Balls #183

Kaycee Balls from Afton, WY, and Polaris racer No. 183, finished the 2016 RMSHA season strong with four year-end class points championships. She took first in Womens Stock 600, Womens Stock, Womens Improved and Womens Modified.

Balls began riding and racing when she was 16. She had been involved with sports, but decided to be done with them after her sophomore year and she felt a huge void in her life. Her dad and brother both loved riding so they helped her get started and taught her the ins and outs. She missed the competition, so on a wild hair, she entered her first race and has been hooked ever since.

She said she feels most comfortable at her hometown race in Afton and it’s her favorite of the hillclimbs. It’s super technical, steep and unforgiving and it’s the style of riding that she enjoys most.

During the off-season, she likes to stay active and keep in shape so when the snow hits she can really push it in the gym and on the sled without getting sore. Even in the summer she said she tries to workout at least four to five times a week.

She also loves being outside riding horses, fishing, camping and riding dirt bikes. Balls really likes to ride mountain bikes and dirt bikes in the summer because not only does it keep you active, but it helps you learn how to pick lines and look ahead which is similar to being on the course.

On the morning of a race day, Balls starts out by walking the course and looking at her lines. Right before her run, her pit boss Tyson Thomas warms her sled up while she warms up by moving around and stretching and just getting loose. Once on the line, she adjusts her helmet and takes off.

Her top accomplishment as a racer was taking first in all four Womens classes this season and becoming a World Champion and Queen at Jackson two years ago, which had been her dream. She said it was such an amazing feeling to accomplish it.

Balls noted that RMSHA is like a big family that supports and cheers you the whole way. She said racing is one of the most frustrating things you will probably ever do, but at the end of the day, it’s all you can think about and you will do anything to get better and improve.

All of the hard work and time that you put in is totally worth it, because the feeling you get after a great run is something you can’t get anywhere else. Her advice is to always push yourself and to remember to follow your dreams. 

Photos by: RLT Photos

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