Ernst, Sullivan, Shilts are Chill in the Rice Lake Cold

The hottest show in snowmobile drag racing—STM Powersports Snow Outlaws—opened up the 2023 season with some of the coldest conditions the series has ever seen. The world’s quickest nitro, alcohol, supercharged or turbocharged sleds and the teams that race them started Friday morning with -19 degrees at Rice Lake, Wisconsin, with the same forecast set for overnight.

So Friday night’s test and Pro Outlaw qualifying sessions were obscenely cold. “What are we doing out here?” veteran team owner Chris Connelly said before the final round. “This is stupid.”

Connelly could have been talking about either the weather or the performances of many of the sleds, and no doubt the extreme cold, rock solid track and poor performances were related. “When the surface is harder like this, something’s got to slip,” said Pro Xtreme 55 racer Brian Sullivan. “But it’s a racing surface, you gotta figure out how to go down it.”

“No one’s ever run nitro in these conditions before,” said Jeff Ratzlaff, owner of the defending Pro Outlaw champion “Grinch” ridden by Mike Allen. “Try to find information out there—it doesn’t exist.”

Alec Gibas got a face full of nitro flames in the Friday darkness when his new Hypersports-built, blown “Hulk” pushed out a head gasket, then things got even worse. “After it blew, the sled cut hard to the left so I bailed or it probably would have rolled,” reported Gibas. “My airbag went off—not even one bruise or scratch.”

The same couldn’t be said for noted tuner Shane Tecklenburg, flown in from California to tune the “Hulk.” Shane T. blew out his knee in a broken bone sort of way when exiting the trailer on to the ice before qualifying even started.

And while Gibas may not have been injured when thrown off the Hulk at well over 100 miles per hour, he did somehow punch himself in the face with his trailer hitch. “It’s been a hell of a weekend for us,” said Alec. “Now we can hit the reset button and focus on the next one.”

Temperatures got more sane for eliminations on Saturday, and gave Ratzlaff and tuner Howard Haack something more familiar to work with. “I’m sure we can go 3.30s and that’s my goal for 2023,” Ratzlaff said at the end of last season, and that mission was quickly accomplished. The Grinch ran a 3.35 with a .970 60 foot with a 2.9 second shut-off at only 140 mph against Lance Flathers in Pro Outlaw round 1 on the 500 foot track.

The “Grinch” wouldn’t go much further, however, as the drive belt broke against Dominick Ernst in round 2.

Mike Allen is thrown forward in the seat of the “Grinch” as the drive belt snaps.

While some were struggling in Friday qualifying, Ernst piloted his turbo-methanol HRC-4 Eagle-1 smoothly down track. That pattern continued in eliminations, and Ernst found himself in the winners’ circle after a final round win over Ethan Erhardt.

“Friday night, we got a decent pass at 4.05 seconds that landed us in third for qualifying,” said Dominick. “Saturday on raceday, everything came together perfect. The team and I took it round by round, facing the greatest, toughest competitors.

“First round we had Jeremey Hannen on the ‘Problem Solver’ (Connelly’s sled), second round we faced Mike Allen on the ‘Grinch,’ and for the final round we went up against Ethan Erhardt on the ‘Black Mamba.’

Ethan Erhardt on “Black Mamba”

“The Snow Outlaws crew gave everyone the best track we could ask for all rounds of qualifying and racing. With the great track conditions and the great team I get the privilege to be apart of, everything came together perfectly and pulled off the win with our fastest time of 3.41 at 163.18 mph. That happened in second round against the ‘Grinch.’

Dominick Ernst and crew in the Rice Lake winners’ circle

“I couldn’t thank Chad and Jenny Nyhus enough for the best opportunity a racer could ask for. Thank you Glenn Hall for all the hard work and dedication he puts into the Eagle sled and also to snowmobile racing. Thank you to Dillon Thompson for picking out the best spots on the starting line. Thank you to my dad, Matt Ernst, for the help lining up the sled and helping with the mechanical side. Thank you to Craig Campton and Chase Miller at Hypersports. Congratulations to Brian Sullivan and Kyle Shilts on their big wins, and thank you to the sponsors for the sled—Nyhus Erectors and Hypersports. Also thank you to my fiancé and my family back home for all the love and support.”

The Grinch wasn’t the only sled to break a belt, but no one blamed the belts themselves as new clutches, newly extended wheelbases, and getting used to the incredible grip of Snow Sharks were pointed to as likely causes. In fact, Hypersports logs the exact sizes of each individual belt to aid racers in making the right selection. Think a belt .003 of an inch bigger or smaller might help solve your problem? Hypersports probably has precisely what you need.

Brian Sullivan. Note to myself: locate Eatmyink banner away from the outhouse next time…

’22 Weenie Roast winner Brian Sullivan and his “John Deere” themed Hypersports HRC-2 went through a belt or two on their way to the Rice Lake Pro Xtreme 55 win.

Like many, professional custom harvester Sullivan extended the John Deere’s tunnel out to 74 inches, and moved from an 8 inch clutch to 9 inches with dual sheath angles and more overdrive that should allow Sullivan to run a lower gear ratio for quicker launches.

Sullivan attributes these changes—and the need to understand working with them—for his belt issues, which had him looking over his shoulder like a bracket racer to see if he needed to risk breakage and stay on the throttle through the finishline.

And pretty much, he didn’t. The sled responded to changes that Sullivan made, producing better 60 foots and 330s, and keeping the belt in one piece. He beat Ryan Rowe in round 1, Andy Gosch in 2, Casey Down in the quarterfinals, Anthony Tondryk in the semi, and Weenie Roast runner-up Samantha Martin in the final.

Sullivan was extremely impressed with how Chad Nyhus and the Snow Outlaws crew were able to pull this race off when many naysayers thought otherwise. “And that’s just because Chad works so hard,” said Brian. “He was out there three weeks prior plowing. So big thanks to him.

“Also thanks to Craig, Chase, and everyone at Hypersports for putting together a good sled, and thanks to all the people on my crew. I couldn’t win one of these things without them all.”

Kyle Shilts’ “Thumper #2″

Kyle Shilts’ Pro Mod sled “Thumper #2” looks racy, and it delivers the goods. The red and white, sportbike-style graphics on the three cylinder, 4-stroke Yamaha, Proline chassis machine make it pop in the snow like a cardinal on a garden fence.

And pop it did, right to the winners circle. “Way better than the win last year I had in Rice Lake,” said Shilts, whose win in ’22 came when his final round opponent left before the starter’s flashlight was even on.

“This was the toughest racing I’ve ever had on the snow. When l saw the bracket at the start of the day, I thought to myself, ‘This is gonna be the hardest day of racing.’ I had to mentally prepare myself to stay as focused as I could to get through them first two rounds, because I saw whoever makes it to the semifinals from our bracket will get a bye into the final.”

And fourth generation racer Shilts did just that, vanquishing Blake Saltzman and Tyler Stelton on his way to that bye and the final against Tom Brennan. “We just did our thing, as we knew our sled was rocking! Made it to that final round and I just kept the same mentality. Stayed focused to cut the light and drive our Pro Mod to victory lane!

“I’d like to tell the fans that I appreciate all their support! I heard a few fans pumping me up on my way to the line a few times, which is such a cool thing!

“Huge shoutout to my amazing team and sponsors for the help on getting this huge win! Big thanks to my dad for the awesome tune-up and everything else he does, my cousin Doug for picking my killer starting spots, my uncle Kelly for the help working on the sled, along with my pitman Ryan for working on the sled and driving the tow-back vehicle.

“Also, huge thanks to all my amazing sponsors: Bikeman Performance, FXR Racing, Studboy Traction Products, Century Power Sports, SouthBay Fuel Injectors, Curve Skis, Whiplash Design and Graphics, Blown Concepts, Johnson Motors, Proline Performance, Torque Link, Ride MN, GoPro, 6D helmets, ODI grips, Ogio powersports, NextGen Powersports, Caliber Products, Fastenal and Motiv Jewelry. Thanks also you to my fiancé for taking care of all the media for me this weekend as well!

“It was as epic as it could have been! Can’t wait for the next Snow Outlaws race now as we hope to continue this moment throughout the season. See y’all at the next one!”

Where and when that next one will be is currently in doubt, as an unseasonably warm wave of weather sweeps the region. Keep your eyes on this media outlet and the Snow Outlaws Facebook Page for further updates.

Whenever and wherever it may be, Chad and Jenny Nyhus, and the hardworking Snow Outlaws crew look forward to welcoming their drag racing family back to the snow.

Photo Slideshow:

Link to photo gallery

Visit the Snow Outlaws Facebook page

Snow Outlaws thanks STM Powersports , Hypersports , Samson Exhaust , Woody’s Traction ,Transport Refrigeration , Badger State Electric, H&H Performance , St. Joseph Equipment , Red Cup Racing , Days Powersports , Musselman Home Improvements , Studio 77 , Tracks USA , CARSTAR Hamlin Collision Center , Sullivan Custom Farming , Sullivan Transport , Bormann Performance , G-Force Racing , Timber Inn , Snap-On Tools/Aaron Wold , Troy Fisher Photography , Penntek Industrial Coatings , Knutson Fabrication Inc. , Darana Hybrid , Kyle Cook Racing , Rice Lake Tourism , Long Lake Chamber of Commerce , Pioneer On Long Lake , Lakewoods Resort , Weenie Roast , Kostman Racing , ISH Racing , Hogan Racing , General Concrete , Chris Connelly Racing , Ratzlaff Racing , Brunn Construction Company , Lewis Performance , and Xtreme Sound

story and photos by Tim Hailey

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