DEER RIVER — At the age of 14, Deer River’s Daniel Benham Jr. decided to give the sport of snowmobile racing a try. His first race was at Quadna Mountain outside of Hill City. After finding continued success it led to competing regularly and eventually, at 16 he began racing in the Pro Lite Class of the Amsoil Snocross Circuit.
Fast forward three years later and Benham rose to the top of the Pro Lite Class, winning the points title at an event in Lake Geneva, Wis., March 18. The championship punched a ticket for Benham to compete professionally on the Pro tour next season.
It was exactly the result Benham envisioned when the season started, it just took countless hours of work and 10,000 miles of traveling to get there.
“I expected to be on top,” Benham said. “I expected to win the championship. But there’s also a lot of luck involved and it’s not that easy to do.
“Traveling, it takes its toll on the body. You have to be eating healthy and then there’s workouts at the hotel facilities.”
Prior to this season, Benham had third place finish in his first year racing Pro Lite, then a knee injury last year derailed his season, making this season’s win all the more important.
Benham and his family traveled to eight stops on the snocross tour this season. The national tour opened at Spirit Mountain in Duluth Nov. 24-26. From there, stops were made at Jackson Hole, Wyo. (Dec. 8-9), Canterbury Park in Shakopee (Jan. 5-6), Deadwood, S.D. (Jan. 19-20), Salamanca, N.Y. (Feb. 16-17), Mount Pleasant, Mich. (Feb. 23-24), Dubuque, Iowa (March 9-10) and Lake Geneva, Wis.
At each event there are two races which count in the standings making a total of 16 scoring opportunities for the season. Heading into the final event of the season, Benham trailed in the standings by just a point. He ended up finishing first in Saturday’s final race, then came in third on Sunday. It gave him a total of 600 points for the season, six in front of Jacob Yurk. For the season, Benham, who races for Factory Arctic Cat, won eight of the 16 races with three second place finishes. He reached the podium on all but four races.
When it comes to races, which usually last around 10 minutes, Benham said it’s all about getting off to a solid start, then finding consistent lines throughout the race.
“You have to get off to a good start,” he said. “You have to find better lines throughout the race and you have to hit the lines that are going to be the fastest and keep moving forward, pushing ahead.”
It’s an adrenaline-packed race which includes jumps of more than 100 feet, requiring precision on each landing.
“Your heart rate is also going 180 beats the entire race,” Benham said.
In between races, it’s a full time job just doing maintenance on the sled. There’s suspension tests, working with the clutch, rebuilding the motor, checking the framing and the welds, among other tasks. Benham’s father, Daniel Benham Sr., serves as head mechanic where the two work out of home shop.
“It makes it easier because trust is a big key and making sure we’re getting it right,” Benham said of having his father a part of the team.
“It’s a team effort to get it all to work, Benham Sr. added. “It’s a family thing for us.”
Benham said another key part of his success is being apart of the Arctic Cat team as they provide the sled, parts, trailer, transportation to competitions and a number of additional services to its riders.
Although a lot of the competition comes from outside the U.S., Benham did compete against a pair of Northland racers, Evan Daudt of Longville and Travis Kern from Palisade.
Live-streams of the races can be viewed on the Amsoil Snocross website. Races are also broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
In the summer Benham works to stay in shape, and knows that sticking to his regime will be key in preparation for the Pro tour.
“A lot of (the workouts) I educated myself on, but I’ve also been lucky to be around some smart people,” he said. “I always will have to step up my game no matter who I’m racing against. Everything is just a little faster, there’s more laps. And there’s definitely more experienced riders. And I’ll be the youngest racer as a rookie. But I also ride with those guys all the time.”
Benham said the goal for next season is to place in the top five.
With the proximity of Mount Quadna, Benham said the resources are there for youth to look into getting involved with snocross.
“If I could give some advice it would be to give it a try. A good place to start getting into racing is to look at Quadna. That’s where I started.”