The Mystery of the Black RXL

Another Midnight Blue Express mystery solved!

In photos from the late 1977 races in Alaska and Kinross Michigan, if you look really close, you can see Jerry Bunke leaning over what appears to be an RXL with painted tunnel.

Note this picture, where you can see the now infamous “Black 440X” hanging from the truck.

I asked anyone and everyone involved with the team at that time, and showed them photos.. yet no one remembers Jerry having an RXL with a painted tunnel. This is also the best picture to date of Hulings 1978 340.

I met Jeff Stevens years ago at an east cost snowmobile show, and he showed me the 440X he had. You could clearly see that at one time, the bulkhead was painted black. The first thing I asked to look at was to life the seat.. and sure enough, we could see that it was black under the seat.

Years later I found the picture of Jerry lined up at Eagle River in 1978, his hood open to show an RXL with a black bulkhead and a not painted tunnel. Pretty good proof that at sometime after Kinross, Jerry stripped the paint off the tunnel.

Jerry working on the black RXL in Alaska, late 1977.
Note the black bulkhead and the normal tunnel.. this is the black RXL at Eagle River, by then the paint had been removed from the tunnel.

Why? No one will ever know. Perhaps it was because it didn’t match all the other sleds… something Polaris marketing would not have liked.. or perhaps it kept getting scratched and he got tired of touching it up? in any case, it was a great clue that helped to identify all the remaining 440X sleds from 1978:

Brad Hulings 440X WC sled – the only one built with a magnesium tunnel as well, it was destroyed at Eagle River in 78.
Brad Hulings 440X – “Rocky the Flying Squirrel”
Steve Thorsen 440X WC – found, verified and owned by Karolyn Eastman
Steve Thorsen 440X sled – found, on display at the Snowmobile Hall of Fame with one of Bunke’s hoods.
Jerry Bunke 440X – the famous “Black” RXL” is in a private collection.

And then there is this one:
Jerry Bunke 440X WC – raced by TJ Patrick in 1979. Restored in 2021 and was part of the first Dery Track “Legends Laps” where TJ Patrick, Gabe Bunke, his two sons, and Derry’s brother Vern all got to run some laps on this amazing sled. I cannot stress how amazing the work TJ did to make this track ready and working so all of us could enjoy it.

TJ Patrick on the 1978 440X RXL he raced in 1979 back on the Derby Track in 2022.
TJ Taking his laps.

TJ Patrick and Gabe Bunke.
TJ and Geb before Gabes laps.

ME riding a 440X!!!
Bucket list item checked off: I got to ride a real 1978 440x on the Eagle River track!


The passion, triumph, dominance and tragedy of one of the most successful
efforts in motorsports: The Polaris Professional Race Team


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