Competition is the tide that raises all boats, or in this case, all sleds.
The Freddie’s Roadhouse snowmachine drag races hosted at the picturesque restaurant tucked away in the Caribou Hills east of Ninilchik have given peninsula drag racers a boost in recent years, and it’s shown at other statewide events.
Just ask Freddie Pollard Sr., the owner of the place since 2011. Pollard resurrected the snowmachine drags shortly after purchasing the 50-acre plot of land that the lounge-style restaurant sits on, revamping a tradition begun by previous owner Rocky Zuback but that never really flourished when the place was known as Rocky’s Straight-In Lodge.
“We get a lot of the same people but with some new people as well,” Pollard said during Saturday’s races. “The local racers go out and win Arctic Man and the Alyeska races … they’re hard to beat.”
With 12 total classes — six modified, five stock and one vintage class, the last one reserved for model years 1982 or older — making up the fields of snowmachine drag racers, local talent that used to have to travel far to compete now do not need to look far.
Instead of making the pilgrimage to the springtime blowout known as Arctic Man (held in interior Alaska), peninsula sledders itching to stretch their legs and test the horsepower on their machines have the Caribou Hills as their playground, just 16 miles up Oil Well Road from Ninilchik.
“It’s nice to come out and race here,” said Jacob LaPlante, a regular racer.
LaPlante, known as “Chicken” around the snowmachine racing crowd, knows what kind of boost the racing has given the Kenai Peninsula in recent years. LaPlante said he has been coming up to Freddie’s Roadhouse/Rocky’s Straight-In Lodge for at least a decade, with work allowing him the opportunity to see for himself what all the rage was.
The hills surrounding Freddie’s is a natural paradise for snowmachine riders, with miles upon miles of Alaska wilderness spread across the snow-laden terrain dotted with spruce trees.
LaPlante said it makes for a fun day of racing 10 times a year, or about every two weeks.
“Everybody wants to see who’s fastest,” LaPlante said. “Everyone here just loves the speed.”
LaPlante joked around with Freddie Pollard Jr., the owner’s son, and Kenai rider Will Hubler on Saturday while waiting for racers to arrive and sign up. Hubler is another regular that makes regular appearances at the races, and said the the bi-weekly events have blossomed into a anticipated community gathering.
“Freddie brought me up when I was little, we had family and friends out here,” Hubler said. “This is a family atmosphere and they are the safest races.”
Kenai’s Joe Dragseth doesn’t get the chance to get out and race much, as working on the North Slope will do that, but when he does show up, he’s a consistent winner in the open modified class, the highest and most powerful form of snowmachine drag racing that Freddie’s offers.
Riding a naturally aspirated 2002 Arctic Cat, Dragseth said he has beaten opponents who ride turbo-charged and nitrous-powered sleds, implying that he knows how to get off the line the quickest.
“Mine’s not that fast, but it’s quick,” he said.
Dragseth said he cherishes the times he can get out and catch up with old friends and racing buddies, which turn the roadhouse into a friendly community that raises the stakes when it comes time to toe the start line.
“It’s fun to get everyone together, see who’s got the fastest stuff,” Dragseth said.
Pollard said the fastest machines at Freddie’s Roadhouse — which maintains a 300- to 400-foot stretch of race track — typically see speeds in the 80 mph range. Pollard’s son, Freddie Pollard Jr., holds the record for top outright speed of 94 mph, accomplished in a turbo 1000 Arctic Cat. Pollard Jr. said his ride has cranked out upwards of 360 horsepower before.
Saturday at the drag races, Pollard said the groomed track was set up perfectly for fast runs after the recent above-freezing temperatures that have been followed by a cold snap.
Pollard said that Freddie’s Roadhouse will be adding new events this winter like Snocross, a snowmachine race to be held Feb. 16 and 17 on a groomed circuit with the potential of rolling hills and jumps to be added. Pollard Sr. said the Alaska Motor Mushers Club in Wasilla will likely be staging the event. Soldotna rider Corey Davis, a Winter X-Games medalist in the freestyle competition, could also show up to help stage a snowmachine freestyle event, Pollard Sr. said.
The roadhouse is also again expected to host Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble, a fat-tired bicycle race scheduled for February.
Pollard said the burgeoning schedule is exactly what he wants to see.
“Originally we thought (the drag races) would bring people in and get racing out here,” he said. “Now it’s helping people tune up for the bigger events.”