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Your "Hometown Sports" on the Internet
Web posted Saturday, February 12, 2000


Nisswa's Russ Ebert, a welding and fabrication instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, helped build the winning snowmobile at ESPN's Winter X Games. (Dispatch Photo by Steve Kohls)


Ebert slides to the top CLC instructor helps build wining snowmobile
Sports Writer

Russ Ebert has seen both ends of the spectrum in the sport of snowmobile racing.

His brother Roger, who was a professional, was killed on a snowmobile in the mid-1970s.

Last weekend Russ hit the other peak as a sled he had a major hand in building was instrumental in 15-year-old Tucker Hibbert's victory at the Super Bowl of Snocross -- the ESPN Winter X Games.

"I've been way down at the bottom and way up at the top, which is right now," said Ebert, who lives in Nisswa and is a welding and fabrication instructor at Central Lakes College in Brainerd. He has been involved in the Brainerd school system and CLC for 30 years.

Tucker Hibbert, winner of the Snocross Winter X games, drives a sled that Nisswa's Russ Ebert had a hand in building.

Hibbert, son of racing legend Kirk Hibbert, won the 2000 snocross championship on Beaver Hill Run in Mount Snow, Vt., and became the youngest gold medalist in Winter X Games history.

Ebert takes his "summer vacation" at Thief River Falls in the engineering department at Arctic Cat, where he works closely with Kirk. But the sled Tucker raced on was built mostly in Ebert's workshop in the Brainerd lakes area.

"A 15-year-old kid wins on a hand-built snowmobile that was built right here in Lakeshore, Minnesota," said Ebert, who became friends with the Hibberts when Tucker was racing motocross in Brainerd. "I couldn't be much happier.

"Kirk and I visited in July and we thought maybe we should build Tucker a new open-mod because the one he ran was an old hand-me-down and about three years old." Ebert has major hand

Ebert started working on the sled the last week of July. He spent 40 to 50 hours alone just putting together the parts to use in the project.

"Tucker came by after about two weeks, along with his dad, in between motorcycle races, and Tucker said, 'Where's that new sled of mine, Dad?'" Ebert said. "His dad pointed over at one of my work tables. There were all these frame parts laying there and he couldn't hardly even identify with all of those."

Ebert had plenty of help, though. Fuzzy Carter, crew chief for the NHRA Top Fuel dragster driven by Eddie Hill, assisted Ebert. NASCAR driver Dick Trickle, who worked with Ebert for a number of years, was instrumental in building the chassis. Steve Houle of Speedwerx in Forest Lake had major input in the creation of the clutch, Ebert said.

Kirk Hibbert, Roger Skime, the vice president of Engineering at Arctic Cat, and the entire ZR team at Arctic Cat also designed and developed many parts for the project. Ebert describes himself mainly as a facilitator.

"(Ebert) has played an extremely huge part," said Kirk, who has been racing snocross as a semi-pro or professional since 1971. "He has taken care of Tucker's snowmobile project. Anybody that's going to be involved in open-class racing, you have to put a lot of effort into detail. Russ is excellent at that."

Ebert even enlisted the help of his students, some of whom stayed after school and put extra time in building the parts.

"They put it together and made it as light as can be," Skime said. "As it is allowed in the mod classes, we wanted to make as many reductions that we could afford.

"I can't say enough about Russell and his tenacity and dedication to put it together. It's just not something you start on just before the race."

Ebert said: "It's hard for me to get into a lot of detail about the snowmobile because there's some industrial secrets that I'm not ready to share. Ninety percent of the pieces are production pieces that have been modified, strengthened where necessary and lightened where we could."

Ebert also teaches

About 1 1/2 years ago, Kirk approached Ebert and asked him to take Tucker to about six races and do a summer program to help him improve his technique. They started in the junior class and by the time the season was over the two had participated in a dozen events.

"I was so impressed by his skills, ideas and racing ability," Kirk said of Ebert, "and also his desire to win and do well. As another big bonus, I felt he was a better father than myself. It was one of those things you didn't plan, it just developed.

"With me trying to race, (Tucker and Kirk) were going to be going different places and doing different things."

After Ebert and Tucker became friends and the sled had been built, they traveled to Spirit Mountain in Duluth for the World Snowmobile Association's Black Magic Duluth Nationals, one of the qualifying events for the X-Games. Tucker, racing as a semi-pro, easily qualified against almost all professionals (the X Games and WSA allowed Tucker to race, even though he's too young to run pro).

The pair then hit a number of races, including one at the Metrodome one day before the snowmobile was to be transported to Vermont for the X Games.

"That particular Saturday we crashed end-over-end so we had a fair amount of repair work to do on it," Ebert said. "It couldn't have been a worse time to crash the sled. But we made that decision and looking back on it, I'm glad we did. We needed to keep Tucker on the sled as much as we could."

Ebert got back from the Metrodome at 4 a.m. on Sunday and they loaded the sled on the truck at 11 p.m. He worked to get it in shape the entire day.

Tucker holds off top competitor

After practice sessions were completed and qualifying rounds were finished, it was time for the big day -- and nerves were a factor.

"His father had asked me to help bring him up in the racing circles because I've been doing this for 30-some years," Ebert said. "And I told Tucker this was just another race and is just another day. All we have to do is the same thing we've been doing every other weekend. If we let other people start dictating our program and go away from what we know works then we probably aren't going to make it."

The pressure was even greater when Tucker looked down the line and saw his father. Tucker was the youngest competitor ever, Kirk was the oldest and the two were the first father/son combination to race in the X Games.

But Tucker was not deterred. His hole shot was unprecedented as he leaped out to an early lead. As the race unfolded, Blair Morgan, generally considered the best racer in the world, took over second place.

"He was lined up with the best that there is and Tucker just executed a hole shot that was masterful and drove away from the field," Ebert said. "I felt the setup that we put in there was probably going to go to the corner first. I don't want to sound arrogant, but it wasn't totally a surprise. My early thoughts were we got the biggest part of this job done.

"When I saw Blair Morgan fall on line mid-pack, I breathed a sigh of relief. When Blair got into second, Tucker just kept him at bay. I'd say I wasn't worried, but only nervous."



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