Young Merrill snowmobile racers bring home trophies
TINA L. SCOTT
The World Championship Snowmobile Derby was held Jan. 15-17 in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Brothers, Trentyn Strand (age 11) and Tavyn Strand (age 8), sons of Nathan Strand and Leah Strand of Merrill, brought home some impressive hardware. Trentyn is a 6th grader at Prairie River Middle School, and Tavyn is a 3rd grader at Washington Elementary School.
Tavyn brought home two first place World Championships in different classes in Eagle River. This was the third year in a row a World Championship was won on that Polaris 120 sled. Tavyn raced the sled the last two years, and Trentyn brought home the World Championship three years ago on the same sled before he handed the machine over to his brother.
This sled was the first Kitty Cat the Strand Race Team (comprised of dad and mechanic, Nathan Strand; mom, Leah Strand; and a Grandpa with deep pockets, Mark Kanitz) purchased, and it originally was the 44x sled. The team purchased it “from a close family friend, Eddie Myers, who passed away in a motorcycle accident this past summer,” according to the family. The sled was previously raced by Eddie’s son. Then Trentyn raced it and won the World Championship in Eagle River three years ago, before outgrowing it and handing it down to little brother, Tavyn, who can now boast two consecutive World Championship wins in Eagle River on the machine.
“It’s the same sled, but Tavyn is driving it with his #13x hood on it,” the family said. “We plan to hang the 44x hood on the wall in Eddie’s memory.”
Tavyn typically drives the Kitty Cats in the stock and improved classes but also drives a 2014 Polaris 120 in several classes, according to Grandpa, Mark Kanitz. “Tavyn’s two Kitty Cats are a combination of various years of parts, as most of the Kitty Cat parts are interchangeable,” he said. And Trentyn drives a 2005 Polaris 120 in several classes and also has a 2000 Polaris 120 sled that they overhauled by pulling the motor and replacing it with a Briggs 206 motor tht he races in the pro and semi pro classes.
The weekend of Jan. 23-24 the boys were scheduled to race at the Wausau 525 in Wausau. Unfortunately, Trentyn was sick. Faced with the prospect of scratching the 206 class, the Strand Race Team asked Tavyn if he could handle the bigger sled and another class of racing, and Tavyn reportedly replied, “Let’s do it.” Though the 206 sled is much faster than the 120 sled Tavyn normally races, little brother brought home the big prize, coming away with a first place win. Grandpa Mark Kanitz was especially proud. “[This was] Tavyn”s first time driving this 206 sled, not even a practice lap, and he dominated the 206 class in his heat’s race and the final for the victory.” he said. Tavyn also won the first place Championship at the Wausau 525 on his own Polaris 120 sled.
The brothers run the Wisconsin Kids Snowmobile Racing Association (WKSRA) racing circuit for kids ages 4 to 15, from Kitty Cat and 120’s in stock and modified classes to junior in the 300 to 340 classes. “We race throughout central and Northern Wisconsin and Michigan,” Kanitz said. “It is a family orientated group, and trophies and medals are awarded every week along with a goody bag to all (kid) participants with various treats. On numerous weekends there will be a generous sponsor and all kids are presented with a special item.” In the past, he said, that has included such things as fishing poles, t-shirts, racing covers for their race sleds, duffel bags to carry all their race clothing, an ipad, or a tool chest.
The first race of the season for their circuit typically starts at the Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus at the Geogebic Fairgrounds in Ironwood, Michigan, according to Kanitz. “The Snowmobile Olympus was the first place Tavyn raced at age four in 2016,” he remembers.
Trentyn started racing in 2014. “I was working at the Weston Power Plant,” Kanitz recalls, “And a co-worker said, ‘Bring your Grandson to Gleason this Saturday, and I will let him race one of my sleds.’”
“Trentyn was five years old and was so excited to do it,” Kanitz said. “He went out on the Gleason International Raceway track and took first place. In fact, he was so excited winning. He took the checkered flag on his victory lap, [but then] the following race, when the winner was taking the victory lap with the checkered flag, Trentyn asked me why he didn’t get to take the flag on the victory lap.” Of course, his grandpa told him he had taken the checkered flag and his own victory lap, but apparently five-year-old Trentyn had been so excited, he didn’t even remember it.
Kanitz said snowmobile racing for the kids has turned out to be really great quality family time on the winter weekends, and he really enjoys watching his grandsons race. “Many weekends we get motel rooms and order pizzas and all the kids go swimming,” Kanitz said. “We meet several people and we hang out like one big race family.”
He emphasized that they “would really like to thank our generous sponsors that make this all happen.” A number of local businesses from the Merrill area community support the Strand Race Team including: Z’s Fork Horners, Scott at Rock Island Resort, Geiss Meat Service, SGS Environmental Contracting, Park City Reality, Bob’s West 64, Central Wisconsin Construction, 365 Power Sports, Premier Companies, CarQuest, Pinno Buildings, and Stud Boy Studs at several locations.