I-500,Cam Vermeersch,Billy Skea

Hold That Throttle Down

By Ric Federau, Contributing Writer

It’s December, time for race fans. to get excited about the upcoming 55th running of the International 500 snowmobile race hosted at Sault Ste. Marie, MI. the first Saturday of February every year.

This is the time when race fans need to confirm their plans for attending the International 500 and it’s also a time when race teams are in full force preparing for the 55th. running of the most prestigious snowmobile race on the planet.

I’d like to take a moment and make a couple recommendations.  First …Is being certain YOU have your lodging reservations confirmed.  Second…. Is for YOU to keep in mind that your entry button allows you entry to all the weeklong series of events as well as the 

I-500 main event.  It’s a week of race related fun for everyone to enjoy.  Visit the International 500 web site to review the schedule of events for the whole week leading up to the main I-500 race.  (Visit: www.i-500.com )

Let’s get moving at a faster pace.  It’s time to jump directly into the segment titled… “ Tech-Chatter”.  This is an opportunity for YOU the reader to learn a little bit more about the inner workings of the International 500.  From building the ONLY mile oval ice track in North America to a few good ole “ Sunday sit down “ interview sessions with some of the best of the best professional snowmobile race drivers who will answers questions race fans have and facts that will give YOU the opportunity to know more about the drivers and perspective. From this point forward within this article you’ll learn about the interesting perspectives and history of these professional drivers who indulge in the “High Octane”  sport of “Oval Ice Endurance Racing”  

 So once again, grab the beverage of choice, a snack, get comfortable and set back to experience another lap around the track with some of the best of the best. Let’s head down “Pit-Row” and commence a couple “Sunday Sit Down” interviews aka: “Tech-Chatter” with two outstanding drivers.

I-500,Cam Vermeersch,Billy Skea

Driver Cam Vermeersch

Age:  32

Hometown:  Unionville, Michigan

Ric: Before we get started, I want to take the time to mention how much I appreciate you sharing this information with the racing community and the race fans. It’s always great to help people understand what goes on behind the scenes And it gives them the opportunity to get to know the drivers and their personal perspectives. So again, I want to thank you very much for this opportunity.  Let’s get started, shall we?……

Ric: So Cam…. How long have you been involved in oval ice racing? And how did you get into it?

Cam: I’ve been racing sleds since I was two years old. My father was racing at the time and he got me into it. We’ve had family racing since the start of Oval ice racing.

Ric: Driving for a particular sponsor and team you obviously have a supporting cast of team members. How many are on your team?

Can: We have around 10 people that try to make it to every race, even if they can’t make it, they show up to work on the sluds every week to get them ready and get them going every year. We seem to find one or more person to help out, which is really great.

Ric: When racing at the international 500 race, On an average, how many times do you have to make pit stops?

Cam: We try to pit every 100 laps. However, it seems we pit around 60 to 80 to get a fresh driver or to throw some more woodies Carbides on.

Ric: When racing at the International 500 how many drivers do you normally carry on your team?

Cam: We try to have at least three drivers.  Every session when we go out we ride as hard as we can while pushing the limits. When we get off, we like to have a few labs to get the fatigue worn off, get something to eat and drink then it’s get back on. This year, I’m racing with Eric Churchill and we’ll have Andrew Terrell backing us up.

Ric: I-500 Fans want to know what make snowmobile you ride and what size engine you use.

Cam: Word die hard Polaris racers. We raise the brand new 600R which is a 600 CC race sled that Polaris offers.

Ric: At the International 500. the straightaways are long, and the speeds get really fast. What type of speeds do you reach on the straightaways at the I-500?

Cam:  We shoot to hit at least 112 miles an hour. But we look for 115 miles an hour. I’ve been Clocked at 124 miles an hour down the back stretch before. But we all know what goes fast, doesn’t go as fast for long. We’re looking to average A118 miles an hour during the qualifying sessions.

Ric: This is an interesting question Cam.  At the International 500 the corner banks are high, you entered turn #-1 at a high rate of speed when you come out of turn #-1 and head in to turn #-2, What kind of average speed do you have between the two corners?

Cam: It’s hard to say.  With clean ice during qualifying we’ve hit a 105 miles an hour by the first trailer in line. during the race, it’s hard to get those fast. runs with massive bumps and dust. I would say during the race were probably averaging around 95 miles an hour with a good pull.

Ric: Can you give me a brief explanation of what goes through your mind while you’re on the ice racing?

Cam: I try not to think too much. I just try to relax.  I watch what the driver in front of me is doing and I look at anyone that passes me t try and see if their line is faster. You can pick fast line down the straightaway to gain three or four miles an hour during the race. I do have thoughts about what bumps there are that need avoiding and how the corners are set up for massive bumps coming out of turn #-4. And the bigger kicker. is under the bridge that claims many riders.

Ric: When racing at the International 500 the ice is smooth and fast. What effect does incoming snow have on your ability to race at the International 500 should snow move in to cover the track?

Cam: One of the biggest concerns I have is snow dust. I know better than to drive over my ability at the time, but a lot of others don’t. So it’s hard to navigate when some people let up really to see the other guy bury it into the corner, racing over their head, causing bad situations. Luckily, in the past years at the I-500 there has been an awesome mixture of snow dust control that keeps it safe for everyone.

I-500,Cam Vermeersch,Billy Skea

Ric: What do you like best about racing at the International 500?

Cam:  When it’s over!! You see we prepare for it all year long, whether it’s in the gym or in the shop building race sleds. There’s so much time, anxiety and sleepless nights that go into this. And if you ever had the opportunity to finish that long grueling race, then you know how great of a feeling it is to make it to the 500th. lap.

Ric: During this past summer The International 500 went on a summer tour promoting the sport of oval ice racing and the International 500. Do you feel it’s important and why?

Cam:  Absolutely !!!  The International 500 wouldn’t be what it is today, without all the great fans and businesses that support us. I think it’s awesome that they’re promoting and helping out where they can.

Ric:  Do you hav

e any racing rituals you go through before racing at the international 500? Like a routine of sorts before the main event?

Cam:  My wife knows my routine and usually lets me be to get my head on right as long as she gets a pre – race kiss as far as a good luck charm. I’ve tried just about anything I could think of, and I’ve come up empty so far. Never stop trying.

Ric:  Racing at the International 500 and going 500 miles consecutively it can take its toll on you as drivers. After racing the famous I-500 race. How do you feel the next day?

Cam: If I work out every day for 4 months before, I can usually not be useless at work on the day 3 after the race If I’m not in the best shape, then I’m pretty useless for the next four days. No matter what workouts you do, you can’t get in shape for the next I-500 unless you’re able to ride a snowmobile every day for two weeks straight beforehand.

Ric:  CAM….. It’s a rap and a pleasure my friend.  Again, I wanna thank you for allowing me the time to sit down and have a “ Sunday Sit Down “ Okay. interview with you. I’m certain the readers will enjoy reading your perspective. Thanks again my friend…..

OKAY race fans, let’s continue with another entertaining and exciting “ Sunday set down “ with another best of the best.  Let’s continue down ‘Pit-Row”……..

I-500,Cam Vermeersch,Billy Skea

Next UP…..

Professional driver, Mr. Billy Skea

Age: 48 

Hometown:  Maple City, Michigan

Ric:  Billy,  I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview.  Much appreciated by many.  Ready to Rock?…. Lets get roll’n.

Ric: How Long have you been racing oval ice endurance racing? And how did you get into the sport?

Billy:  This will be my 24th year of racing sleds. I was introduced to it when I was asked if I wanted to head to the lake for an afternoon Test session with someone who is now my crew chief. and I haven’t looked back. 

Ric: Race fans wanna know what type of sled do you ride and what size engine do you have?

Billy:   I ride Polaris and it’s a 600 AXYS.

Ric: You raised for a specific race team and sponsor. How many people are on your team during the race at the International 500?

Billy:  I race for Novak Motorsports on the #24 sled. Our team has allowed 12 in the pits during the race, and I believe we always fill our spots. Everyone has multiple jobs to complete and it’s a tall task when you’re racing 500 miles.

Ric: Obviously, when racing you have pit stops, what type of things happen during your pit stops and how many times do you pit during the race at the International 500?

Billy: The pit stops seem like a blur as they’re happening, but they’re strategized every lap because the racetrack and the drivers change the outcome. Typically, we change skis, fuel up, adjust the track, check fluid levels, and swap racers under. 14 seconds. We typically we pit usually seven to eight times during those 500 miles at the international 500.

Ric: During your time on the track while racing, do you have any primary concerns?

Billy: The only concern I have is when chances are taken without the thought of consequences. You have to respect other drivers because we don’t have protective roll cages.

Ric: At the International 500 the tracks corner banks are high banked corners. When coming out of turn #-1 and going into turn #-2 what might your estimated avg. speed be?

Billy: Speeds in turns #-1 & #-2  and turns #-3 & #-4 are totally different. Turns 1 & 2 carry tremendous speed and seems to average high 80’s to low 90’s. Whereby turns 3&4 are at 45-55 mph.

Ric: What does winning at the International 500 mean to you?

Billy: To win the International 500 would be a great accomplishment for this whole team. Everyone works so hard to give me the best chance to win They all deserve it, and I’d like nothing better than to hand them the trophy.

I-500,Cam Vermeersch,Billy Skea

Ric: What do you like best about racing at the International 500?

Billy:  I actually like the longevity of the race to be out there at the end is such a feeling of YES!!, We did it followed by thoughts of what could we have done different to be better? Guess winning would definitely answer that.

Ric: Do you think the international 500 summer tour was worth the effort? And did it help the sport of oval endurance racing?

Billy: I think it was important to do. Racing breathes racing and campaigning the International 500 at the race tracks in the summer is a perfect way to NOT let winter racing fade too far from people’s minds.

Ric: Racing snowmobile endurance races requires an enormous level of personal fitness. Going 500 miles is tough, and the sleds are getting faster and they’re heavier. It’s man versus machine and the elements that Mother Nature bestows upon us during a race. What do you do to prepare yourself physically for the international 500 race Billy?

Billy:  Sept. is my time to really start working on areas that I know will be used over and over.  Therefore, I do many quats, push-ups, curls, jumping rope and most importantly, yoga stretching.  Any areas I miss will be barking at me for a couple days after the race is over.

Ric:  Billy, I want to thank YOU for your personal time and willingness to sit down for this interview.  I’m certain race fans will appreciate all you had to share.  Thanks again, my friend.

Well…. race fans…..

That’s a wrap for December 2023.   Time to zero in on the next issue whereby I’ll be sitting down for a “ Sunday Sit Down “ with additional professional drivers. Dr. Deric Kolbus driver for Team # – 8 – “ Kolbus Racing and another bright driver, Mr. Kyle Richter.

And…. let’s not forget the “Sunday Sit Down” with International 500 race director, Mr. Billy Cryderman.

There’s only a matter of a few short weeks before it’s happening at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan hosting the world class International 500.  To learn more about this great week-long series of events and the main I-500 race, visit our web site at: www.i-500.com

Till next time……

“ It’s all left turns from here…”

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