New Berlin — Members of the city-based Suburban Sno-Hawks Snowmobile Club said they are happy to see that winter's snow has come early and often this year.
They just hope that the white stuff as well as a strong dose of cold air will last at least until the club's 44th Annual Snowmobile Races on Jan. 26.
"We have only canceled twice," said President Brad Garland. "One was when there was too much snow. The other time was when it was too warm. Mostly, though, we have been able to hold the races."
The race day includes competition among snowmobile classes competing on an oval track and a drag-racing straightaway.
"This is our main event for our club members, other snowmobilers and the public," Garland said. "We raise money for various community projects, and it's something that our members as well as others look forward to each year."
Funds go to New Berlin's Police and Fire department as well as to the Historical Society and other local organizations.
Family and safety
While the club supports community service, the sport and social outlet fuels members' passions.
"The biggest attraction," Garland said, "is that it is a sport that can be enjoyed by the family. We go all over the state and it's the same. We took our daughters out when they were 2 and 3 years old and they learned. Now they are out of college and they still enjoy it.
"The important thing is to learn to do this safely and within the rules," Garland said.
Safety for veteran and new members is one of the ways the club intends to remain viable. John Unger, club vice president, said even though snowmobilers have the past reputation for being speed demons who also operate their vehicles in a less than sober state, the sport has changed with a renewed sensibility geared to safe, family fun.
A set of three classes for $10 is held annually in November at the club's regular meeting place, VFW Post 1576 at 179th Street and Beloit Road. Law requires anyone born after 1985 to pass the safety course to operate a snowmobile in Wisconsin.
"It's a good program and it helps keep our membership up," Unger said. The club has 80 families registered, a bit down from its peak of more than 100.
Locally, snowmobiling has undergone a slow, but impactful, change. An abundance of open fields has been replaced by an increase in subdivisions and other suburban growth. The number of farmlands has dwindled, squeezing the number of available miles from dozens to barely two.
The club still holds an appreciation summer picnic for the few landowners who allow them to use their properties. Now, most of the long-distance riding is done outside the area as the club organizes trips to other parts of the state where members make contact with other snowmobilers.
"We actually have one of the smaller clubs," Garland said. "Clubs in the northern part of Wisconsin have more members, more trails and they have been around longer."
The Suburban Sno-Hawks history began almost five decades ago when a group of snowmobile enthusiasts decided to band together and share their love of the sport. Life-long New Berlin resident Rae Blaser and her husband, Darrell, answered a newspaper ad for organizers.
"We enjoyed snowmobiling up north, so we thought it would be fun to have a group to get together with around here," Blaser said.
When one of the men who became the original secretary of the club could not keep up with meeting notes because he could not type, Rae took over and served as club secretary from almost the beginning until this fall. The club presented her with a service plaque. Garland and Unger described Rae as an example of dedication and called her a "club historian."
"I was very surprised that they gave me that," Rae said, adding that she has not retired from being a Sno-Hawk member. "I'm not leaving the club. I just don't go to board meetings.
"I think it's time for someone else — one of the younger club members — to take the job," she said.
Rae said the reason for her longtime association with the club is simple.
"We started because we liked to snowmobile and we made a lot of friends," she said. "My girls snowmobile and they are teaching their children. It's a very social activity. Even though I don't go out as much, I still keep up with the activities. It's in my blood."
RACE DAY 2014
WHAT: 44th Annual Snowmobile Races – Drags and Ovals
WHERE: V.F.W. Post 5716, 17980 W. Beloit Road, New Berlin
WHEN: Starting at 10 a.m.
COST: $10 for adults, kids under 12 free
RACE INFO: (262) 470-6855 or (262) 547-6225 (Race day – (262) 679-0800)
CLUB INFO: www.surbansnohawks.com
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