For nearly 10 years now, kids have been discovering an alternative to playing hockey and other sports during the long winter months in Manitoba. Snow and ice oval racing near Beausejour is seeing kids ages four to 14 learn and realize the magic of racing and bonding with family and friends. The Manitoba Mini Sled Racer’s Association (MMSRA) offers a fun and safe environment for these kids and is looking forward to the season ahead.
Glen Gusta is the president of MMSRA and is very passionate about introducing kids to the sport. The MMSRA has seven classes for kids to choose from: Kitty Cat, Beginner 120, Stock 120, Girls 120 (since there’s so many girls involved), Super Stock 120, Improved Stock 120 and Pro 206.
“It was started in Beausejour by founding president Dave Cole,” said Gusta. “He had a lot of connections with racing groups in the US so he took their model and brought it here to Manitoba. We are actually the only mini snowmobile racing association in all of Canada. At first, we just had a snow oval so you didn’t really have to modify your sled at all but then eventually, at one point, we had 36 kids and we started to branch off into ice oval racing as well.”
The size of the ice oval track is 160-feet long on the straightaways and from corner to corner is 90 feet. New families tend to still use the snow oval and then graduate up to the ice oval when they’re ready since this involves an additional investment of picks and racing carbides and other modifications. Gusta said they are always looking for new families to join. Even kids as young as four and a half can start learning.
“Without the young kids joining and moving up, there would be nobody racing,” said Gusta. “So we really encourage parents to get their kids involved. What we do is start them off in our beginner stock class where there are absolutely no modifications allowed to the snowmobile and the max speed is nine miles per hour, so basically a fast walk.”
Gusta, who has two daughters of his own (ages nine and 12), said when he started teaching them when they were young, he would tie a dog leash up to the tether cord and walk beside the sled. He’d let his daughter go ahead a bit but if she ever started going too fast, he could just pull the cord and stop the engine. From there, kids can move up through the classes based on age and ability.
“We definitely teach kids proper racing etiquette and enforce safety,” said Gusta. “As the president and race director, I will allow a child to bump a class if I feel they’re capable of handling the power. It’s at my discretion. I’ve been doing this for seven years now with two kids of my own and I don’t put up with any unsafe behaviour. If I see a kid going too fast, or bumping another sled or driving erratically, I will black flag them. Safety is very important.”
MMSRA races out of the CPTC Raceplex in Beausejour and they rely a lot on the generosity of others. As a group, they don’t bring in a lot of money so Gusta is grateful for the many sledders who come out to mentor the kids as well as all the families and parents who help scorekeep or flag races.
“Without the parents, this wouldn’t happen,” said Gusta. “All of our parents really enjoy the sport and the competitiveness but most of all, they really enjoy doing this together, and for the kids.”
To make sure racing carries on to new generations is an important reason why MMSRA does what they do. But it also works to get kids off their computers, into the outdoors and doing something active, according to Gusta.. Gusta is looking forward to the upcoming season and is hoping for good weather so the ice comes early. He also encourages families to either join the club or at least come check it out. If you’d like to get involved, you can reach him at [email protected] or at 204-268-5130.