THE HISTORY OF HAY DAYS AND THE SNO BARONS SNOWMOBILE CLUB
The story of today’s legendary Hay Days Grass Drags, often referred to as the “Official Start of Winter,” begins, ironically enough, on a steamy July night in 1966. Over drinks at the Crooked Lake Tavern, a group of winter enthusiasts – Dale Ilgin, John Gorman, Dave Pegor, Louie and Jolene Wilhelm, Bill Porter, Lloyd Stanchfield and Frank Swensrud – wondered how to connect with others who shared a passion for the still-relatively new sport of snowmobiling.
An idea soon formed. “Let’s start a snowmobile club!” In no time, membership in what would become the Sno Barons Snowmobile Club grew to 150 people, with many more waiting to join. It didn’t take long for members to start looking for a way to showcase their skills while having a great time. The answer was obvious: A race. And, from there, Hay Days was born.
The first race took place in November 1967 on the site of what’s now the Majestic Oaks Golf Club, in Ham Lake, Minnesota. Early events – then known as the “Hay Day” race – took place in a single afternoon in October or November and drew racers from just the Twin Cities area. Because snow is far from certain during those months, organizers built the race surface out of alfalfa hay, hence the name “Hay Day.”
As word spread about an interesting snowmobile race held on a bed of hay, its popularity grew. Still, events were held on a shoestring budget and Sno Barons coordinated everything – from building the track to signing up racers to managing concessions. Long-time members recall spending endless hours preparing hundreds of pounds of sloppy Joes, brats, polish sausages and hot dogs to feed hungry spectators.
The event led a nomadic existence, with development forcing it to move several times until the club in 2010 purchased its own land in Sunrise Township in Chisago County, about seven miles east of North Branch, which is now Hay Days’ permanent home.
Hay Days really kicked into gear in 1976 when the Southern Wisconsin Drag Racing Association added the event to its racing circuit. Soon, racers from everywhere were flocking to Hay Days, and race day permanently moved to the weekend following Labor Day. From then on, grass would be the surface of choice for sleds and drivers eager to challenge each other for top honors.
In 1980 the Swap event was added, and it quickly became one of the largest buying-and-selling events of its kind anywhere. Hay Days racers come from all over the U.S. and Canada, and so do the swappers – pulling trailers overflowing with snowmobiling treasures.
Over time, attendance swelled from a few hundred spectators braving the colds of November to tens of thousands basking in the September sunshine. As a testament to its success, Hay Days in 1990 became a two-day event.
To many snowmobilers, dealers and manufacturers, Hay Days marks the beginning of the snowmobiling season, making it the “Official Start of Winter.” Many manufacturers unveil their newest models at the event – often in grand style.
The Sno Barons believe in reinvesting in the sport they love, so the club supports and sponsors many other racing events throughout the area. Event proceeds also fund a wealth of charitable causes. The Sno Barons Grant Program helps other snowmobile organizations and clubs finance infrastructure, such as bridges and warming houses on their trails. Proceeds also fund a scholarship for a deserving student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. The club also donates to other charitable causes, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Sheriffs’ Boys Ranch, as well as local food shelves, police, fire and community groups, among others.
From humble beginnings as the brainchild of a few dedicated snowmobilers, Hay Days is now the largest powersports event of its kind in North America, attracting some of the fastest, flashiest and most sophisticated machines in the world – and, of course, some of the greatest fans!
See you at this year’s Hay Days!