Ironwood SnoPro - 1976

Ironwood, Michigan was, and still is, one of the first big points race of the snowmobile oval racing season. In 1976, the name “SnoPro” returned after the term “PDC” (Professional Drivers Circuit) failed to capture the imagination of race fans like the simple, sweet, and descriptive “SnoPro” had in 1974.

The Polaris race team went into the 1976 weekend at Ironwood with a lot of trepidation – The new liquid-cooled engines were not the horsepower monsters they had hoped, they had lost Larry Rugland and Leroy Lindblad to Ski-Doo.

Worse, their new SnoPro sleds were not made of the lightweight space-age materials they were able to use in 1974 and 1975. They were, in fact, stock 1976 Starfires lightened up as far as they could, and they utilized a lot of parts from the 1973 Starfires. The team also had in mind that the Polaris marketing department decided the Starfire should also work for trail riding, so its racing potential was compromised from the start. That meant any one of those new stock Mercury Snow-Twisters,  a lightweight, purpose-built race machine that Doug and Stan Hayes conceived of, could walk all over a stock 1976 Starfire. And in all likely hood, given the right driver, they could beat the SnoPro version of a Starfire. 

Except the 76 sleds being all cut up stock machines was not exactly true. Recently I discovered that one (just one) of the 1976 machines was built on an all magnesium chassis. 

Don Omdahl and Jim Bernat were to each run three classes a piece. Since Bernat was a little bigger, Donny was assigned 250, 340 and 440, while Jim Bernat was to run 340, 440 and 440X. The 440X machine was allowed by the rules to be made of alternate materials, so they either made a whole new chassis for this sled, or more likely, they used a leftover, unfinished and unused tunnel and bulkhead from 1975. Either way, Jim’s 1976 440X was considerably lighter than any of the other machines. 

Way back around 2007, my brother and I (Doc Jim) bought a pile of parts from a man in Michigan that included one magnesium tunnel, and two magnesium bulkheads. One of those mag bulkheads clearly came from the mag tunnel and when I checked the serial number with the derby track – it had been registered in the 440X class in Eagle River in 1976 with Jim Bernat Driving. 

Ironwood turned out to be a good race for the team in 1976 with Jim Bernat winning the first big “Cup” of the season with that very same 440X machine.

The 2021/2022 Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus  is the opening USSA sanctioned weekend.  Racing starts around 9:30 AM Saturday, January 1. 
Live streaming for the event is available at USSAPROSTAR.TV.
1976 photos courtesy of Snowtech Magazine

Progress on the restoration of Bernat’s 1976 440X.