ESCANABA - First-time events are often a trial-run. A chance to gauge interest, to find out what you're doing right and wrong and make the necessary adjustments.
American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) race promoter and driver Jeremiah Sherman described "a perfect storm of wrong" as far as bumps along the way to hosting the First AMA State Championship and Great Lakes Ice Racing Invitational at the U.P. State Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday.
Sherman, a Perkins native and owner of Highland, Mich. based White Lake Racing, mentioned weather being a contributing factor to driver and spectator turnout as well as not having a desired amount of time to prepare.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Andrew DeGrand (28) of Escanaba maintains his lead during the final for the 450 Sportsman Quad class in the AMA State Championships Saturday night. DeGrand won the race and also raced in Sunday’s Invitational.
"We really put this together in a week and half. I made the call Thursday and I was here Friday. It was a shot in the dark, but we're building bridges," he said Saturday night.
Sherman and Great Lakes Ice Racing vice president Dan Kujala estimated that 1,000 spectators came through Saturday, though no official count was available.
As far as the racing went, both Sherman and Kujaja thought it ran smoothly given the circumstances.
"The event went smooth. Riders were enthusiastic," said Kujala. "Night racing is it's own attraction. It's fun to race under the lights and people came from 12 hours away to race in this event."
Sherman, relating to the Friday night snowstorm that passed through, added "Unfortunately the weather cost us probably 30 entries, it was a factor.
"The economy was probably a factor too, with gas prices the way they are."
Frigid temperatures in the lower 20s with cold gusts of wind also may have been a factor in the low attendance Saturday night. However, those who stayed got to see a good show.
Motorcycles and quads of different classes looked stunning on the 3/8 mile ice track, racing under the lights.
Some drivers were slightly irked about the bumpiness of the track, likely due to the snowmobile races that took place Feb. 24-25, but appreciated the event.
Ben Myers of Midland, Mich. was the winner of the 250 Open Bike class Saturday night. The race was his first in the Upper Peninsula.
"It was a rough track, but you gotta work with what you have," he said. "There's a lot of classes here, it's a big event."
The track was created by volunteers with Great Lakes Ice Racing, the result of hundreds of man hours and hundreds of gallons of water.
Kujala noted that while the snowmobilers were all from lower Michigan and out of state, many of the drivers racing in the AMA's and Invitiational were local.
"We're going to work on making this event bigger and better, and we're never going to go on after the snowmobiles again," he said.
Andrew DeGrand of Escanaba was the winner in the 450 Sportsman Quad class Saturday, one of the evening's final races. Sherman drove in that race as well and was off to a good start before the red flag was signaled and the drivers had to line up all over again. Sherman got off to a slow re-start and finished near the bottom.
Though DeGrand races locally with Great Lakes Ice Racing and occasionally with Wells Ice Racing, this was his first time racing on the Fairgrounds track.
"The track was a little choppy, but with the weather the way it was and the snowmobiles coming through last week, it is what it is. The track is rideable," he said.
"I'm hoping they'll have this next year. It's a bigger event than I'm used to but it's an opportunity to talk to other drivers, pick up tips and see what they're running."
DeGrand also raced Sunday.
While Sherman was unsure if he would be asked to come back as promoter next year, Kujala vowed to correct some things and put on a better event.
"We're going to work on making this bigger and better. We had some guys racing in the AMA but not our event, and vice versa. Next year we plan to be more spread out. Originally we weren't supposed to be going right after the snowmobilers, but they were rescheduled," he said.