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It is August and there is no snow. Instead of icicles on the barn there are cobwebs. Instead of drifts there are bronze fields of hay and ditches clustered with goldenrod, black-eyed susans and ragweed. Instead of sheets of blue ice there are tepid ponds broken by fish circles radiating from where flies land.
The people aren't wearing their snow-suits, those one-piece, multicolored nylon playsuits that give snowmobile crowds the unisex look of astronauts. They are dressed in county-fair style—blue jeans, golf hats, sunglasses and undershirts.
There are hot dog counters, beer stands, souvenir displays and farmers eating lunch on the tailgates of their Chevies. Hay fever victims are sneezing and children are spilling grape soda down their stomachs. Flies drone through the breeze like scattered pepper flakes. It is a midsummer Sunday in Croswell, Mich., and were it not for all the waxed and bored-out snowmobiles roaring through the pastureland like so many pygmy half-tracks, the scene could put one to sleep.
Why race snowmobiles in summer? A member of the local Lions Club, which, along with the Michigan International Snowmobile Association, has sponsored this meet, says, "Danged if I know. But nearly every family in this state has one, two, maybe four snowmobiles. What else are they gonna do?"
The shiny Ski-Doos, Arctic Cats, Polarises and Scorpions rap like buzz saws as they warm up across the rented farm. At the end of each run the drivers climb out of their machines and hoist them around because the skis will not grab and turn in a pasture.
"There was this one fellow," a bystander says, "who took the skis off his machine and put some wheels on it. Then he got a rearview mirror and a license plate. He used to drive from Brighton to Pontiac and back, about 40 miles, on bets."
"There are more snowmobiles in rural Michigan than ears of corn," says Martin Gagnon, the Lions Club president, as he watches a thousand spectators pull into the fresh-mowed field. "Everybody used to hate winter. Now, come August they're looking for snow. They're crazy for snow. They want to see it pouring down so bad, they can hardly stand it. Me, I keep a 1,000-foot lane mowed in my backyard just to keep the carbon blown out of my machine for winter."
Summer drags are not sanctioned by the United States Snowmobile Association nor do the big companies sponsor racing teams as they do for the winter circuit. Consequently, snowmobile summer drags in Michigan and other Northern states have a definite local, small-time flavor to them. Each racer in the 20 Stock and Mod classes pays $10, which is then counted up and passed out as award money to the winners. On the Michigan summer circuit—in places like Brown City, Hope, Grand Ledge, Buchanan and Standish—a $150 pot is a good one. "We're just biding our time," says a racer. "We aren't trying to get rich."
The racing strip of close-cropped hay stretches like a green carpet past the spectators and into the woods. It is a third of a mile long with a 600-foot slowdown area at the end. By the time the big 440 and 650 modifieds reach the finish they will be streaking more than 100 miles per hour.
The machines of sub-zero winter, darting through tufts of alfalfa and daisies, provide a mad vision, and the scene is all the odder because of the matter-of-fact attitude of the sweating crowd. They cheer and wave and listen to country-Western music on their car radios, and every so often a group of snowmobiles goes honking past in formation.