By Terrance Gavan
What draws two young guys, Cody Withey and Kevin Brand to the eye-popping sport of competitive snow-cross racing?
Call it a family affair.
Call it an exciting way to warm-up a long winter.
Mostly, it’s just fun.
“It’s exhilarating, fast-paced and intense,” says Brand, an 18-year old, Grade 12 student at Haliburton Highlands High School.
Withey, a 14-year-old, Grade 10 Hal High student says he’s been racing snow-cross for two years and just started racing ATV-Cross events last summer.
“My parents threw me on a sled a few years ago and now … I just love it,” says Cody, who has just come off a very successful ATV racing season.
He placed first overall in his final ATV event in Cobourg on Sept 12.
Cody says that one sport meshes nicely with the other.
Both involve taking substantial air over strategically built berms built into a bump and gun course.
And you know what they say about big air.
The air’s easy.
It’s the landing.
That. Gets. Ya’.
“I like the competition, the travel … the jumps can be intimidating, but it’s a great sport,” says Cody.
What started out a couple of years ago as a larger two-family pursuit has been whittled down by the vagaries of age, responsibility and getting on with life.
The Brand brothers Jeff and Kevin, along with Cody, Kandice and Bill (aka Dad) Withey formed the nucleus of a team (the ad hoc name a blend of their major sponsors: Prepared Surfaces/Tek Rider Racing) that has been racing out of Minden Hills for several years.
Kandice Withey is a nurse, and despite finishing second in her trail sport women’s event last year, her racing has been curtailed somewhat by her job in Lindsay. Jeff Brand is still racing semi-pro, but again his schedule has been downsized because of commitments at university.
So this winter season the Prepared Surfaces/Tek Rider team is down to three racers Bill, Cody and Kevin. Steve Brand brings his expertise in machine maintenance to every race.
The Withey’s manage Prepared Surfaces (restoration of Log Homes and Cottages) and Steve and Nancy Brand run the Tekvest/Tekrider protective gear business out of Minden Hills.
Kristen works part time with a real estate agency in Haliburton, but her full time gig includes work as the team’s official photographer, stats compiler, travel agent and cheerleader. Nancy Brand and Kristin also fill roles as proud – if sometime wincing – moms.
“The Racers on the race team split up between our two families Steve and Nancy Brand and Bill and I,” says Kristin. “We enjoy it … but sometimes, yes I have to close my eyes.”
Enter Tek Vest/Tek Rider, which provides the racers with a full line of protective clothing, helmets and body armor. (Google Tek Rider and Prepared Surfaces for info.)
Not that there are any guarantees in the no-holds barred sport of competitive Snow-X.
But of course there are also no guarantees in football, hockey or other knockabout games that kids play.
Sometimes an eye-poppin’ run up a ramp and 15 feet of air forces mom to look away, or squint very, very hard.
Other times it’s eyes wide-shuttered for Kristin, staring through the lens of her camera at strategic points in the race.
Usually at the midway section of a challenging riser.
Her vibrant photography of the team at work graces the photo section of this piece. Many thanks Kristin.
The moms are on board with the fun, and they recognize the dangers inherent in the sport, but they are also cognizant of the strictly held bylaws that govern this popular and burgeoning sport.
The X-Games, televised world-wide, have served to underline the steep learning curves and nuanced energy of ATV and snowmobile cross events. They also offer a full slate of rules and regulations that are adopted for all competitive racing organizations across North America.
Of course, the snow-sled trick section of the X-Games has brought the full-adrenalin-charged Red Bull zap and zing to all facets of the Snow-X racing community.
The hype culminated with young Levi Lavallee’s attempt to land a double back flip on a snowmobile at the Winter X Games in Aspen.
A double back full had never been done before. The attempt itself drew world-wide attention to both trick and Snow-X racing.
He didn’t ride it away. But he nailed the double. And walked away.
The attempt andc others like it garnered countless millions of YouTube hits and was featured on cable sports networks like ESPN and TSN and on worldwide news.
No wonder two young men in cottage country – where snowmobiles abound on frozen lakes and are used as a secondary form of travel – are drawn to the sport of Snow-X.
It’s cool. It’s smart. It’s the complete package.
It’s a full-on juke and jive, and it sure beats those quick 10 second spurts across Head Lake from the stop lights to the Park and back. (With the necessary stop at Greg’s for refueling.)
“I love everything about it,” says Kevin. “I’m looking forward to moving on with the sport, but of course university has to come first next year.”
Kevin was a member of the very successful senior Red Hawk football team this year. His ‘full metal jacket’ tackles were probably just as jarring as the landing off a 30-foot snow-covered berm. This winter he will again compete as a member of the very successful Red Hawk snowboard team.
“I’m on my victory lap this year (cohort or fifth year) and it’s fun,” says Kevin.
Cody meanwhile, was on the wrestling team last year, and he has been involved in rep league hockey since he was six. None of that compares with the exhilarating rush up a riser in a tight-knuckled pack of four sleds at full throttle.
This year he’s coming off that inaugural year of ATV-X, and he says he dreams of advancing and perhaps travelling to the States to take part in some X-Events down there.
“I really like the ATV event and I think that’s what I’d like to concentrate on,” says Cody. “And I’m doing pretty well … not bad for my first year.”
Not bad at all. His results have consistently improved from fledgling races at the beginning of the summer. He says he feels a bit more comfortable on the sandy berms. Although he adds that the sports are complementary.
Cody finished second overall in CMRC against Ontario riders. “But the most impressive fact is that he competed in the Canada Cup series (three races in Ontario and two in Quebec),” says Kristin. “It brings pro riders from all over including the states. He finished second overall. That makes him the number 2 plate in Canada in his category, and that’s pretty impressive for his first year.
“Next year he will be competing in intermediate which is one level below pro and will be racing riders anywhere between 17 to 25 years of age.”
Right now Cody and Kevin are preparing for the start of that Snow-X year on Dec 3-4 at Calabogie Peaks near Ottawa.
Calabogie makes snow for the ski hill and they will have a track up for the first race of the season.
After that it’s a full slate of weekends traveling to places like Rouyn-Noranda, Barrie, Kitchener and places in between.
“The travel is fun, and the people are always friendly,” says Cody.
Kevin says the travel is hectic, but it also serves to stretch one’s horizons.
HB Cycle offers the team discount in parts and accessories and Kristen says that the team is always on the lookout for local sponsorships.
For more info on Snowcross racing go to the snowcross.com website.