Take a good look at the photo above. First published in Race-n-Rally (now Snowtech) in the fall of 1974, I think this photo is largerly responsible for my snowmobile addiction. The sled, the suit, the snow being kicked up... for a ten-year old kid at the time, this was about as cool as it gets!
Then to imagine that thirty years later this very machine would be in my garage?
How did it get there? Well first, the back story.
No snowmobile race season was anticipated and hyped more than the 1974 Sno-Pro oval snowmobile racing series.
The rules were set out early, they were simple. The machines were limited to three engine classes by size, 340, 440 and 650cc. The machines needed to have a (very low) minimum weight. Other than some safety rules, that was it. Anyone building a 1974 Sno-Pro machine was only limited by their imagination, their skills, and of course, their budget.
Polaris had the skills, and they had almost a $1 million dollar budget and a plan for 1974. Given the amount of time they had, engineering some completely out-of-the-box, brand new design wasn’t really an option. Instead, they did everything they could to lighten up the machines, improve the motors and emphasize continual improvement over something more exotic.
Each driver would race two Sno-Pro classes (as well as endurance and cross-country races), so they divided the classes up with Don Omdahl, Stan Hayes, and Bob Eastman to tackle the 340cc class. Omdahl, Jim Bernat, and Larry Rugland would take on the 440cc class. Bernat, Hayes, Eastman, and Rugland would all take on the 650cc class.
The machines were shortened in both the front and back, and the tunnel and bulkhead were both made of high-strength, lightweight magnesium.
The tracks were made of a special lightweight rubber that was cut into four thin bands, held together with titanium cleats and aluminum rivets. Where ever it worked best, titanium was used to lighten the machines, and even the pipes didn’t escape the diet – they were made of aluminum as well.
Just nine sleds in all were ever made, with one spare that was dressed up and used for the 1975 promotional photo.
Polaris dominated 1974 in the 340cc and 650cc classes, and would have routed the 440’s as well, except for Yamaha, who had the same plan as Polaris, making sleds so small that they were almost 3/4 scale, and made from all the same exotic materials. Omdahl, Bernat and Rugland had a tough time with the little rockets, and only managed a few wins over them.
Stan Haye’s 340cc machine was nearly invincible. The only times he got beat, it was because Eastman had done a better job of setting his machine up for the particular track, or he had a break down.
Stan’s 650 was almost the same. Stan had a lot of his heart and soul into that machine, including the unique heads, where he cut every other fin down to remove some more weight.
When the year was over, Stan had accumulated enough points in 340 and 650 to be the #1 driver for the year.
The title was a great addition to Stan’s already impressive resume: The first man to win the Eagle River World’s Championship, the 1973 Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 winner and the Soo 500. He would go on to race for Mercury and Ski-Doo where he continued his winning ways.
Stan Hayes, 1974 Sno-Pro
Diver of the Year
To date, the only known survivors of the original 1974 Sno-Pro machines are the extra chassis dressed up for the 1975 promo picture, Don Omdahl’s 440, Larry Rugland’s 650, the carcass of Stan’s 340, and this 650cc machine of Stan’s, which of this writing has the most original parts still on it.
Stan’s 74 650cc motor was the only one with the unique head fins trimmed off. All of the 1974’s utilized lightweight Mercury recoils that were adapted. The motors are close to a 1973 Starfire engine, but with different stampings and big improvements to the exhaust ports. They also had some trick carburetors.
Back around 2003, I got a phone number from a gentlemen named Todd (last name unknown) who has 1973 Starfire hood decals for sale. After we chatted for some time, he told me about a 1975 Polaris he had. Intrigued, I told him I would driver over to pick up the decals if I could take a look at the 75. He said okay, and a few fays later I was on my way to a small Wisconsin town outside of Milwaukee.
What greeted me in his yard was a pure shock to the system:
Stan’s original 74 hood was just sitting in the driveway! Todd then shows me the sled, which he believed to be a 1975, but I could tell from the skis and handlebars almost instantly that it was a 74. At that point, it was a rolling chassis, but it had been painted the 1973 Starfire light blue. I later found out a Wisconsin racer who knew it was illegal because of the magnesium, had disguised it as a 193, and had been racing it successfully for years.
“You know a lot of people have tried to buy this from me,” Todd said. “I believe you, but would you believe me if I told you it was a 74, not a 75?”
We talked about it for hours, but the dead giveaway was the serial number. It started at 9, which is the 1974 model year indicator. Todd invited me to dinner with him and his parents, and before I was ready to head home he asked what it was worth.
I shot him my best appraisal what it was worth, and he raised an eyebrow. “Wow.” He said. “Everyone else was trying to rip me off on it. The best offer I got before was $250!”
We talked some more and he asked if I wanted to buy it at the appraised price. The wallet came out, and the sled went into the back of my Chevy Blazer.
1974 Record Wins
- St. Lazare, Quebec Sno-Pro 650: First Place
- Peterborough, Ontario Sn-Pro 650: First Place
- Rhinelander, Wisconson, Sno-Pro 650: First Place
- Eagle River, Wisconsin, Sno-Pro 650: Second Place
- Bangor, Maine, Sno-Pro 650: First Place
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sno-Pro 650: Second Place
- Syracuse, New York, Sno-Pro 650: First Place
- Butte, Montana, Sno-Pro 650: First Place
The restoration took almost three years. Most of that time was hunting down original parts. Although Todd had the original hood, he would not sell that with the sled.
Years later, Todd called me from jail. I know not why he was in jail, and he did not want to talk about it. He had called to talk about old sleds so he could take his mind off of being in jail. To the best of my knowledge, Todd passed away in jail, and his parents passed away some time after that. A friend of mine happened to be driving by as their farm was being auctioned off, and he got the original hood. It’s still with him, and I think that’s a great place for it.
Over the years, I found an original titanium clutch guard, and original track in much better condition, and with a lot of help from friends, we found what is probably some of the original motor and were able to complete it with NOS parts. Later I found an insanely rare set of those trick carbs, as well as magnesium primary and secondary clutches for it.
It was on display at the Polaris Experience Center in Roseau for a few years, and also in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame. Other than that, she’s stayed in my garage where I sometimes sit and stare at her with my coffee.