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Lowville man celebrates 50 years of snowmobiling

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LOWVILLE — Edward Yancey can still recall the first time he rode a snowmobile.

“A neighbor had one — an air sled with an airplane’s engine on it and a propeller,” the 64-year-old said. “He came to the door and said, ‘Hey, do you want to ride snowmobile?’ I put on a light jacket and went out and we froze ourselves.”

He recalled the propeller blowing cold air onto his face. He got a bug that day around January 1963 — the snowmobiling bug. A year later, his family purchased a Husky snowmobile and the 14-year-old spent hours racing his cousins.

Fifty years later, the owner of Yancey’s Sales and Service has yet to cure that affliction. He still participates in snowmobile races, only rather than facing his cousins, he faces other snowmobile racers.

“I treat them as a fun race,” Mr. Yancey said. “Most of the time I can get a trophy, though I don’t always get first. It’s a challenge.”

He recently was awarded a trophy in Salisbury, recognizing 50 years of dedication to snowmobile racing. Both of his brothers, Herbert and Theodore, likewise raced throughout their lives. Herbert even made the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Wisconsin. But both men retired their racing sleds in the early 2000s. Edward is the only one still going.

“They put up with it,” Mr. Yancey said. “They’re both retired, so to speak. I say the smart racers quit a long time ago. ... I just enjoyed it a lot.”

There are three styles of racing: cross-country, oval and drags. Cross-country is a longer race that can run, on average, 20 to 100 miles.

“Most limit it at 100 miles, to cover the cost of awards, gas and everything,” Mr. Yancey said. “You’ve got to be in good shape, which I’m not. Experience helps a lot. A lot of newcomers — I beat ’em because of experience. You’ve got to pace yourself.”

Mr. Yancey’s longest race was 150 miles in 1979. Most cross-country races take about 2 hours. Although he did well in the 150-miler, he cited a race in Redfield as his finest performance.

“I was racing a 1975 Thunderjet Snow-Jet 440,” Mr. Yancey said. “There were around 112 sleds in my class and I ended up taking second by about a foot. I was beat out by Brad Hulings.”

Top-flight competition: Mr. Hulings won the 1981 and 1983 World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Wisconsin.

After 50 years of racing, Mr. Yancey said he’s seen a lot of things that most others have not. He recalled being flagged from a race for going too slowly on a slushy track.

“I ignored the flag and kept running,” Mr. Yancey said. “Finally he came out and made sure I got off the track.”

In 1975, he was racing oval with a thunder jet on ice. “Usually your wheels spin when taking off,” Mr. Yancey said. “Mine hooked up real well and wheelied over backwards. I’ve not seen a sled do that before or after. They didn’t do a restart, so needless to say I didn’t win.”

Mr. Yancey said he is grateful that besides a few scrapes, he has never been injured while racing. And in 50 years, he has accumulated his share of wins.

Unlike others, Mr. Yancey had no trouble adapting to the changes in snowmobile racing. When he was a child, sleds would usually go 20 miles per hour. Now they can get up to 120, though Mr. Yancey said he has never topped 90.

“They’re more reliable, faster,” he said. “They handle better and ride better and the speed’s definitely a lot higher now than back then.”

Currently he races a Polaris single-cylinder Indy Starlight. Mr. Yancey said most of his family members have asked him to quit. But if they think 50 years are enough for the elder Mr. Yancey, they are mistaken.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “And so long as I enjoy it, I’m going to keep doing it.”

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