Duluth National Snocross: A behind-the-scenes look at the work of a pro team
Nov 25, 2012 (Menafn - Duluth News Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Minutes after Tucker Hibbert turned in the fastest time in the practice rounds of the Amsoil Duluth National Snocross on Saturday afternoon, his Arctic Cat SnoPro 600 was being disassembled inside the spotless work area of Team Monster Energy/Arctic Cat's 53-foot trailer.
Jeff Tweet, a high-school classmate of Hibbert's, knocked ice chunks out of the sled's inner workings.
"Just a constant eye," Tweet said later in describing his role as one of his friend's mechanics. "Making sure that you're not overlooking anything."
From the stands at Spirit Mountain, the races pit individuals against one another, as they guide their machines at 60 mph through a twisting course and over jumps that take them 20 feet in the air.
But inside Hibbert's 5-year-old trailer, emblazoned with the Arctic Cat logo, it is obviously a team sport.
Team Monster Energy/Arctic Cat has four full-time employees, but the crew expands on race weekends. A team of eight made this trip.
"We're on the track for a very short amount of time compared to the amount of time we spend working on the machine," said Hibbert, 28, as he munched on a sandwich. "It's not just fixing something that's wrong. We're always trying to make things better."
The work area offers ample room for a team of mechanics to work on the sled. One wall is lined with hundreds of tools, each in its place. When asked if it's important to keep the workplace clean, Tucker's dad, longtime racer Kirk Hibbert, said, "It's really important to him."
Tucker Hibbert agreed. "It gets dirty and cluttered, and they lose all their stuff," he said. "Then ... they can't find their tools. I've got to keep after them."
The Hibberts are a powerhouse in the snowmobile racing world. But inside the trailer, it's a cozy operation of family and friends from the Thief River Falls, Minn., area. Tucker's mom, Teresa Hibbert, helps with cooking duties. The chief cook is Tucker's wife, Mandi Hibbert, who was celebrating her 29th birthday on Saturday. But Mandi is also marketing and media relations director and co-owner, with Tucker, of the operation.
Mandi Hibbert also seemed to be keeping a constant eye on the schedule, letting Tucker know when it was time to sign autographs, picking up a box full of posters and heading with him from the pit to the chalet.
The Hibberts, who were high-school sweethearts, married five years ago. Mandi, who has a degree in broadcast journalism and had worked in public relations for NASCAR and Indy racing, started working full time with Tucker soon after they were engaged.
Their life is lived on the road much of the winter. Duluth is the first of 10 cities on their schedule this winter, culminating with Falun, Sweden, in late March. The transportation costs alone for attending a domestic race run a minimum of 5,000, she said. Traveling overseas costs many times that.
They're able to manage it because of a team of sponsors, some of whom have been with Tucker Hibbert for 10 years.
"The money comes from the sponsors," said Kirk Hibbert, an Idaho native who started racing in 1972 and still prefers to ride in the mountains. "You don't make any money off the race itself."
It's a frenetic lifestyle, and it's not easy, Mandi Hibbert said.
"People look from the outside in and think it's glamorous," she said. "And it is so far from something glamorous. I mean, it's incredible that we get to showcase our talents on an international and national stage. But it's exhausting."
It's a lifestyle that has kept the Hibberts from starting a family, although it's something they look forward to doing after Tucker's racing career, she said.
How long will they keep doing it?
"As long as we still love it," she said. "If we can wake up every morning and be passionate about what we do, then we'll be here. And when the day comes when we don't have that fire, we'll walk away."
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