Matt Szalai, 27, was sitting beside the track at the season opener for the Canadian Power Toboggan Championships (CPTC)—which is held in Beausejour, Manitoba—in December 2008, when he decided to start racing sleds.
“I went to the races all of the time with friends and thought, ‘That’s enough, I gotta try this,’ ” said Szalai.
Szalai, who is from Beausejour, was a motocross racer before he entered the world of ice oval snowmobile racing.
“Motocross was the same way,” said Szalai. “I watched a few events and thought, ‘I gotta try this,’ and I went out and bought a bike and that kind of was my motivation for snowmobiles. It was the same starting point.”
Szalai bought a 1997 MXZ 583 and in March 2009, he won two championships in the Sportsman 600 and Sportsman 800 classes at the CPTC. A year later, he won the Canadian championship title. Last season, Szalai was a high points cup champion at Buffalo River Race Park in Glyndon, Minnesota. He has also won a number of vintage snowmobile races in the state of Iowa.
Szalai has built a few of his own sleds, including a 1975 Rupp 340 F/A and a 1975 Free Air 340. For the CPTC in March 2011, Szalai built a machine to compete in the fast-growing Formula 500 class. It took him about three weeks to build and although he spent very little time testing it before the races, he won the final qualifier for the Semi-Pro Formula 500 class.
A lifelong passion
Szalai grew up around snowmobiles, and he and his father have spent hours working on sleds in their shop.
“My dad had snowmobiles, and ever since I was little, I’ve been on one,” said Szalai. “My first sled was a Sno-Pony.”
Szalai said he has become hooked on ice oval snowmobile racing since he began competing three years ago.
“It’s addicting,” he said. “Since then, a lot of my friends have become more and more involved with it.”
This year, Szalai joined the board of directors for the CPTC.
“I wanted to help out with it rather than just go there and race,” he said.
At this season’s opener for the CPTC, Szalai got to pilot one of the new Outlaw 600 sleds from Andy Miller Racing.
“This was the first race for these machines,” he said. “No one really knew what to expect; however, by Sunday finals, these things were real rocket ships and a lot of fun to drive.”
Szalai is looking forward to the CPTC finals on March 3 and 4, 2012. He will be riding a vintage IFS 440 sled for Matwychuk Brothers Racing in the Jerry Bunke Memorial Challenge.