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home : outdoors : features October 3, 2015

2/6/2014 5:45:00 AM
Anderson, Omdahl, Nielsen, Rager to be inducted into SHOF
Ride with the Champs slated for Feb. 15
Loren Anderson
Contributed photographs
Loren Anderson

Contributed photographs

Don Omdahl

Don Omdahl

Craig Turk
Outdoors Writer/Photographer

Last fall, when the ballots were cast for the Snowmobile Hall of Fame (SHOF), a local snowmobile icon was voted in.

Loren Anderson, of St. Germain, who was instrumental in getting the SHOF going and, eventually, into its own building, will see his face on the wall there alongside other snowmobiling greats.

He found out last fall.

“About mid-October, November is when the ballots are due. This is the first time in 30-some years I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Anderson said.

Anderson retired from his longtime position as president of the board of directors for the Snowmobile Hall of Fame and Museum last August.

“Craig Marchbank, the new president, came walking into my office and congratulated me and told me I was going to be inducted into the hall of fame,” Anderson said.

Anderson was caught by surprise – it wasn’t supposed to happen, he said.

“I had said to the board that I did not want to ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Anderson said. “I didn’t think I was as deserving as all the people that are on the wall, by any means.”

“I’m just kind of the janitor around here,” Anderson added with a laugh.

He told Marchbank as much.

“When I said that to him he said, ‘Your opinion doesn’t count anymore, you’re not on the board anymore.’ I tried to argue with him, but I had no luck whatsoever. He said ‘It’s a done deal – you’re going in.’”

The SHOF inductees will be honored at the 31st annual Ride with the Champs Saturday, Feb. 15, in St. Germain. A banquet and induction ceremony will cap off the day.


Changing the Northwoods

Anderson has lent his hand to help grow the sport of snowmobiling.

“When I think back to the 60s ... you could shoot a cannon down the main street of Minocqua in the wintertime and never hit anything,” Anderson recalled. “And then the snowmobile came along and pretty soon, in the 70s and 80s, there were as many people in the Minocqua area and the Northwoods as there were some sunny, summer weekends.

“The snowmobile made such a tremendous difference in the year-round economy.”

He said that’s what the SHOF, which was started more than 30 years ago, is all about.

“It was to preserve the history of the sport and tell about the pioneers – honor them, induct them into the hall of fame if they’re worthy of it,” Anderson said.

The snowmobile has certainly changed the Northwoods, but it’s not always been a smooth ride.

“We’ve seen the snowmobile go through some ups and downs, peaks and valleys with the economy, with snow conditions,” Anderson points out. “It’s a tough way to make a living, the snowmobile business, but boy is it a fun sport and it’s a family sport, and that’s the most important thing that I see.

“When you see whole families snowmobiling together, whether they’re just trail riders, or if they’re racers, they always seem to be a family unit.”

Anderson’s four grandchildren, ages 14, 12, 10 and eight, all have their own snowmobiles.

“And of course Grandpa bought the first one his first snowmobile for Christmas many years ago,” Anderson said. “That’s the responsibility of grandpas to do that, I guess.”


Help along the path to induction

Anderson was a racer in his early days and then a team owner.

“We had some pretty substantial teams that won some pretty substantial races,” Anderson said.

But his path to SHOF induction has been more about his contributions to the sport.

“I’m the most known for the 30 years I spent with my wife building and developing the Hall of Fame,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s wife, Carola, was his “right arm” during that building and developing. For about 20 of the years she served as a secretary for the SHOF. Anderson also credits her with teaching him how to use a computer.

Back in Anderson’s racing days, some had to turn wrenches.

“My first mechanic when I started racing back in 1968 is going to be at the banquet,” Anderson said. “Larry Hicks, from Lake Geneva ... he’s an avid stock car racer – spent most of his life racing stock cars. But in the winter he had time on his hands and he and I became good friends and he’ll be there and I’m going to single him out because the start I got in racing I couldn’t have got without Larry’s help.”

There have been many more who have helped, Anderson said.

“Down through the years there’s just a whole string of people that were involved at certain points in my snowmobile career, whether it was on the racing side, team owner side, or working for the Ski-Doo factory for a while as well,” he said.

Even a bout with cancer didn’t stop Anderson from striving toward his vision.

“That’s when I was determined to, if I survived, to see to it that the Hall of Fame got their own building, got their own land, and they could stop paying rent to landlords and have a permanent place,” Anderson said.

“We finally accomplished that a few years ago. That’s one of the greatest things I’m thankful for. We got that done. And I’ll be thanking a whole lot of people at the banquet that helped make that happen.”


How it started

It all started in Minocqua when Anderson was the chamber’s executive director. He invited snowmobile magazine publishers to Minocqua for a trail ride.

C.J. Ramstad, a publisher, editor, writer and photographer with several snowmobile magazines responded. The trail ride was a go.

“Mike Trapp was our guide that day and the rest is history,” Anderson said.

That was in 1982. Before that ride was over, Anderson, Trapp and Ramstad decided that a museum and a hall of fame should be created.

Anderson and Trapp approached Larry Bosacki of Bosacki’s Boathouse in Minocqua. Bosacki joined them and offered his restaurant for the first Ride with the Champs headquarters.


2014 SHOF inductees

Loren Anderson

• Career span: 1965-present.

• Brands represented: All brands.

• Age at induction: 72.

With a singular, unwavering passion to honor the magnificent people who comprise the sport of snowmobile racing, Loren Anderson turned the idea of a Snowmobile Hall of Fame into a glorious reality.

Undaunted by significant challenges along the way, Anderson cultivated his many local and industry connections, scraped together the necessary funding and poured his heart into every aspect of launching the SHOF in 1982, the first Ride with the Champs in 1984, the first museum in 1988, and settling into its current location in St. Germain in 2008. 

Like many of snowmobiling’s “greatest generation,” Anderson entered the sport during its first wave of popularity in the mid-1960s. He founded the first snowmobile club in Williams Bay, and helped create the first snowmobile trail in the bay.

Anderson’s love of snowmobiling expanded when he began competing in grass drag and oval competition. In 1972 he campaigned Ski-Doo Blizzards, which evolved into brand alliance that would span more than two decades and include roles as racer, team owner and communications manager for parent company Bombardier.

Later, while working for the governor of Wisconsin, Anderson was instrumental in averting negative legislation against snowmobile recreation on the nation’s public lands. He was a president of the Chamber of Commerce in Minocqua, where he was a tireless promoter of winter recreation.

International Snowmobile Racing named Anderson “Outstanding Contributor to the Sport of Snowmobiling” in 1998.

Of the many gifts Anderson has given to the snowmobile industry, the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St. Germain remains his greatest, most lasting contribution.

Intent to preserve historical artifacts and memorialize the sport’s great men and women, Anderson was the primary force that grew the SHOF and Ride With the Champs event into the world-class experiences we enjoy today.

Not even the diagnosis of cancer in 1996 could deter the sometime controversial, strong-willed and passionate man from realizing his dream of honoring the sport’s heroes.


Don Omdahl

• Career span: 1970-76.

• Brands represented: Polaris.

• Age At Induction: 62.

As Team Polaris racer during the dawn of factory Sno Pro competition, Don Omdahl leveraged athleticism and tactical savvy to become one of the top drivers during the first heyday of snowmobile oval racing. 

Fresh out of high school in 1970, Omdahl landed a spot on the mighty Polaris factory team with Bob Eastman, Larry Rugland and Jim Bernat.

Small, light and strong, Omdahl concentrated his expertise in the 250 and 340cc classes, where he found success at racetracks across the Sno Pro circuit.

He captured wins at Eagle River, West Yellowstone and Beausejour. He scored a rare trio of class wins in Syracuse, N.Y., as well as a World Series title in Weedsport, N.Y. Omdahl’s natural talent proved successful in the rare occasions when he competed in cross-country, winning the Rhinelander Hodag event and posting several fast days in Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500. 

Some of Omdahl’s strongest and most memorable feats came just shy of the big win. He led the 1975 Eagle River World Championship final for 10 laps before succumbing to teammate Bernat and finishing second.

And a remarkable 440X final in Alexandria, Minn., saw Omdahl go from first to nearly last after his throttle cable came unhooked. Undeterred, he remounted and charged back to finish fourth in a performance that thrilled a stadium filled with fans. After injuring his neck, Omdahl was forced to retire from competition in 1976.


Ted Nielsen

• Career span: 1967-present.

• Brands represented: Arctic Cat; Polaris; Ski-Doo; Yamaha.

• Age at induction: 75.

A pioneering snowmobile and motorsports dealer, strategic businessman and one of the sport’s most decorated independent race team owners, Ted Nielsen of Lake Villa, Ill., forged a remarkable career that set industry benchmarks for success while spanning more than four decades. 

After falling in love with the emerging sport of snowmobiling in 1967, Nielsen launched his franchise as an Arctic Cat dealership in a converted gas station in 1969.

In the decades that followed, he added product lines and product categories, growing his family business into an award-winning dealership that garnered International Dealer of the Year as well as multiple state awards.

Nielsen co-launched the successful Lakewood Sportswear brand of snowmobile outerwear in 1982, the first aftermarket brand of clothing targeted to the snowmobile industry.

He was among a small group of individuals that financed the successful launch of Arctco prior to the company’s public offering, which brought back the Arctic Cat brand in 1983. Today the Nielsen Enterprises dealership sells all four snowmobile brands as well as six ATV, five motorcycle, three personal watercraft and two boat brands. 

Many of Nielsen’s most recognizable achievements occurred in the competitive arena of snowmobile racing.

As team owner, Ted partnered with some of the sports greatest drivers: Jeff and Greg Goodwin, Brad Hulings, Bobby Donahue, Chuck and Allen Decker, Dale Loritz and Mike Campbell. His drivers and teams won at nearly every venue in North America, one of the most satisfying being the hard-fought victory at the 24 Hours of Eagle River in 1996. 

Nielsen’s greatest racing accomplishment was winning the World Championship in 1984 with Jim Dimmerman piloting the Nielsen Enterprises Phantom to victory, a historic achievement for an independent race team that was not factory sponsored. 


Thomas Rager Sr.

• Career span: 1985-2012.

• Brands represented: Ski-Doo; Polaris. 

• Age at induction: 63.

Starting as a regional oval racer in 1978 and then transitioning into increasingly prominent roles within the snowmobile industry, Tom Rager Sr. grew two profoundly successful race programs while exerting a lasting influence on the entire sport of snowmobile competition. 

His comprehensive, long-term approach as race manager for the Ski-Doo and Polaris race programs cultivated emerging talents who would become some of the most successful and decorated racers of the past two decades.

Rager’s career with Ski-Doo began in 1978 as an oval racer from Nebraska competing in regional events before starting his own dealership.

In 1985 he moved to northern Wisconsin to be a district sales manager. He soon transitioned his skills to become Ski-Doo race coordinator, then North America Race Manager in 1988.

There Rager combined a strategic vision with tactical acumen to retool a race program that had been primarily concentrated on Formula I twin-track oval machines into one that was stock sled-based and focused on all forms of racing.

Within a handful of years, Rager’s efforts led to innumerable class wins and championships for Ski-Doo in all forms of racing, including drag, cross-country, sno-cross, hill climb and oval.

For his second great act, Rager accepted the challenged to rebuild the Polaris race program beginning in 2000. 

Once again, Rager surrounded himself with excellent colleagues, and then hired key proven racers to achieve immediate success while simultaneously nurturing young and emerging talents.

By the time Rager retired in 2012 Polaris had returned as a winning powerhouse in all venues and at every level, from novice to pro classes.

Inductee bios provided by the SHOF.


Ride with the Champs, SHOF inductions

The SHOF inductees will be honored at the 31st annual Ride with the Champs Saturday, Feb, 15, in St. Germain.

The day begins with breakfast and registration at the Whitetail Inn at 7 a.m. Trail riding and lunch will go on throughout the day with a choice of five different trail rides.

The evening continues with an autograph signing of the celebrities at 6 p.m. at the Whitetail Inn. Dinner and honoring the inductees will follow.

During the evening there will be a silent auction of vintage and other memorabilia including clothing from Tucker Hibbert and Wayne Nicholson.

Throughout the evening there will be raffle tickets available for the 2014 Arctic F5 that will be drawn at 8 p.m.

There is a choice of prime rib or chicken for the evening meal if registered by Feb. 7. After this date, prime rib is the only option. Tickets can be purchased one for $10, three for $20, or 10 for $50.

If anyone is interested in registering for the Ride with the Champs or buying raffle tickets for the 2014 Arctic Cat F5, contact the Snowmobile Hall Fame at 715-542-4463, via email at Jamie@snowmobilehalloffame.com or through the SHOF website at www.snowmobilehalloffame.com.

Craig Turk may be reached at cturk@lakelandtimes.com.

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