The 2023 I-500 was the 54th edition of the iconic snowmobile race in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. If you are not familiar with this event, it is a 500 lap race on a one mile ice oval. It tests the drivers and the machines over the course of 9+ hours. This year was special as the finish was the closest in the history of the race with the win being by a ten thousandth of a second.
To start the day, we made our way down to the track for the opening ceremonies. The teams were introduced, the anthems played and the the famous words of "Riders, start your engines" is announced over the speakers. At this time, the teams first driver is ready to go and after a few pace laps, the green flag flies.
At the green flag, the snow was flying. Not just a light snow, it was coming down hard. This led to more difficult driving conditions for the teams as the snow was coming down from the sky and dusting back up from the track. Heading into the corners the drivers relied on taillights of the team in front of them. The snowy conditions led to quite a few cautions in the first 100 laps and after a grueling first 100, the plows came out to work on the track. This happens every 100 laps but was really needed after all of the snow.
The teams in the I-500 have multiple drivers. The can switch out as needed and each team has their strategy. Weather and track conditions have an impact on strategy and many teams switched up drivers around lap 100. Moving into the next few hundred laps, the snow let up. At this time we decided to get out a new camera lens to try and capture photos of the race. Here are some of the results.
Throughout the middle of the race we also decided to head into the main spectator areas to show some first time attendees the experience of the I-500 from a fan perspective. There are a lot of unique things about the I-500 fans. For example, it is common to see that people brought their own couches for seating or people wearing custom animal fur headwear and fire pits to stay warm. More traditional tailgating style activities are take place with grills going and beverages flowing. There is also the ability to bring an RV or custom rig to the track for the entire week of festivities. There is a beer tent with music, a vendor tent if you need some new headwear, food trucks and more.
Fans can really choose their own adventure for the I-500. Some get there for opening ceremonies and stay through the end of the race. Some choose to come around mid-race and watch through the end while others come and go throughout the day. After enjoying a big part of the middle of the race watching from different angles, we headed back down to the infield for the final 100 laps.
As the sun started to set and we were able to speak with a few teams about strategy and conditions on the track. As the laps went by, three teams remained on the the lead lap. Tommie Bauer Racing, team #19, DL Racing, team #29 and Cadarette Collion, team #21 were left with a chance to win. This is when the closest finish in I-500 history took place. Off of turn 4 and onto the final straight away of the race, Tommie Bauer Racing and DL Racing were side by side and even making contact with each other as they raced to the checkered flag. The crowd roared as the two teams crossed the finish line and waited to hear who won. After a few moments it was declared that #19, Tommie Bauer Racing was the winner of the closest race in the history of the event. Fireworks filled the sky and a team that has been part of 52 of the 54 I-500 races celebrated its first victory on the track.
Overall, the I-500 is an amazing event. The teams put forward so much effort and it wouldn't happen without the fans and volunteers. Put this event on your bucket list!
Check out our full video from the 2023 race!