FAIRBANKS — Even after 40 years, John Binkley said racing a snowmachine around a half-mile ice oval at speeds of 80-plus mph was “just like riding a bicycle,” except for the fact a bicycle doesn’t have an engine that can seize up.
John Binkley, 58, and his 61-year-old brother, Jim, returned to the Lower 48 last week to race vintage snowmachines on the same track they competed 40 years ago in Ironwood, Mich., as a pair of Alaskan renegades who made a name for themselves while touring the Lower 48 snowmachine racing circuit.
While the engine on the machine John planned to race seized up during a Friday practice run before Saturday’s qualifying heats, forcing him to switch to a smaller, slower sled that couldn’t keep up with the competition, Jim Binkley raced to victory in the Super Senior Class (60 and over) and placed second in the Master Class (50 and over) for 340cc machines.
For Jim Binkley, his first- and second-place finishes were a bit of redemption. He wasn’t able to race at Ironwood, which was then considered the Daytona 500 of snowmobile racing, when he and John toured the Lower 48 during that winter 40 years ago because he broke his arm shortly before leaving Alaska.
Standing atop the podium after winning the Super Senior Class on Sunday, Jim Binkley said the victory felt good, even it was 40 years too late.
“It helped make up for (not being able to race in 1971 and 1972),” he said of his victory. “It was a thrill. Everything about it was a thrill.”
There were more than 500 racers entered in the races at Ironwood, which brought back memories for both Binkleys.
“It was a great atmosphere,” John said.
John Binkley, who won at Ironwood in the fall of 1972 as a factory racer for Rupp snowmachines, qualified for the finals in both his 250cc races but was only able to finish fourth in one and fifth in the other on his underpowered machine.
Even though he didn’t get a win, John said it was gratifying to see his brother take the checkered flag.
“It was great to see him get his first Ironwood win,” John said of Jim.
Both Binkleys were racing borrowed machines and made the trip to Michigan to recapture memories from the past.
John Binkley was planning to race a custom-made duplicate of the 1972 Rupp 440 Magnum that he rode to victory at Ironwood in 1972. Friend Steve Darby of Darby’s Performance Machine in Fairbanks helped a friend from Wisconsin build the machine, which was designed after a 1979 Moto Ski SnoPro. The machine even had a custom-made cowling that matched the one on his 1972 machine, complete with original racing numbers and decals.
Unfortunately, the engine seized up during Friday’s practice run after Binkley had hit 88 mph.
“It was a phenomenal machine,” John Binkley said. “It just didn’t hold up.”
John Binkley ended up racing a 250cc against a field of 340cc machines. He captured the hole shot on each one of the four races he ran but wasn’t able to hold off the bigger, faster machines on the straightaways.
“It just wasn’t competitive speed wise,” he said of the smaller machine. “Those 340s hit up to 90 mph heading into turns. The 250 was in the low 80s. They just walked away from me on the straights.”
The Binkleys will head back to the Lower 48 next week to compete in another, bigger vintage race in Eagle River, Wis. on Jan. 14-15. Jim Binkley will be racing the same machine he raced last weekend, a Rupp 340 Nitro F/A, while John Binkley is hoping the engine on the machine he was supposed to race at Ironwood will be fixed in time to compete in Wisconsin.
Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - 40 years later Jim Binkley gets a vintage snowmachine win
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