Meet “The Mad Scientist” Of The Snowmobile Hill Climb Racing Scene

July 11, 2016
By David Figura/The Post-Standard The Post-Standard
Stephen D. Cannerelli/The Post-Standard They call Daly 'The Mad Scientist' because he's always experimenting and trying new things with his racing snowmobiles.

Stephen D. Cannerelli/The Post-Standard
They call Daly ‘The Mad Scientist’ because he’s always experimenting and trying new things with his racing snowmobiles.

Snowmobile hill climb racer Rich Daly has been called a number of things.

Names like “The Mad Scientist” or “The Rainbow Warrior.”

“I realize I’m different. That’s just the way it is. Picasso was different, wasn’t he?” Daly said smiling this week during an interview at his business, Dyno Port in Scipio, which makes primarily snowmobile exhaust pipes and mufflers.

Daly, 59, is the kind of guy who shows up at races in a colorful suit, racing a sled that has plastic zip ties (instead of bolts) to hold his coils to the engine block, and holes drilled in various parts to reduce weight, and red duct tape on his handlebar to hold the throttle cable on. He occasionally wears different-colored gloves to play with competitors’ heads.

“People look quick at my sled and they think it’s a cob job. But there’s a method to my madness,” he said.

The truth is Daly’s sleds run fast — real fast.

This fall, while racing on asphalt, he got one up to 159 mph in 8 seconds.

The sled he plans to race Saturday at Song Mountain in a hill climb event is capable of reaching speeds close to 100 mph as it zooms up the ski slope’s 660-foot-long track.
“We’re the sled to beat,” he said.

Throughout most of his life, Daly said, his true love has been dirt bike racing. But injuries (he has broken his back twice) and the constant physical demands of that sport have turned him more toward snowmobiles in recent years.

“I’m almost married to the snowmobiles because there’s so much time involved in building and racing them,” he said. “It’s turned into a year-round thing. Come April, I’ll load my sled in a truck to race in Indianapolis on asphalt.”

His idiosyncrasies and winning ways, he said, have created problems in the snowmobile racing scene. Recent rule changes at the national level, he said, have targeted him and his lighter, modified sleds.

In response, Daly has organized and is competing this winter in his own 11-race, snowmobile hill ºclimb circuit on ski slopes throughout this state and Pennsylvania. The emphasis of the newly created Snowmobile Hill Climb Racing Association, he said, is to make hill climb racing more accessible to the average, trail-riding snowmobiler.

His competitions, he said, will feature more classes. In addition, as a result of sponsor money secured beforehand, the races will feature slightly bigger purses for the winners than previous competitions run by the International Snowmobile Racing Association or by private clubs.

His new racing circuit has already had three races this winter: two at Oak Mountain Ski Center in Speculator and one at Shu-Maker Mountain in Little Falls.

“The concept is to separate the pros from the trail riders,” Daly said. “For example, in the 800 stock class, you’ll have 30 to 40 entrants paying a $20 entry fee with the two top spots paying. The average trail rider doesn’t have a chance of winning and is donating his money to the pros.”

What’s the attraction of snowmobile hill climb racing?

“There’s the noise, the speed. You get a wicked rush going up. Once you do it, you’re going to get hooked,” he said. As for safety, Daly said hill climb racing is probably safer for the average trail rider than being out in a field or the woods.

“There’s not someone coming at you from the other way. You’re in a controlled environment,” he said.

It’s a different story, though, for souped-up, modified sleds such as what Daly races.

“You’re going so fast and have so much horsepower, the sled is always on the verge of going over backward when you hit a bump,” he said. “Last weekend, I stood my (sled) straight up. It felt like the wind got under me.”

Daly said he’s hired Tom Hurd, from Broome-Tioga Motocross, a successful promoter, to line up the ski resorts and coordinate the competitions. This Saturday at Song Mountain in Tully, his group is “piggy-backing” on the efforts of Mike Dannon and the Tully Trailblazers, who in past years handled the entire event.

“They’re still running it, but we’re bringing in our membership, the plaques and the structure to provide more (competitive) classes for the amateurs,” he said.

Is there much money in the sport?

Sometimes you’ll win maybe $500 for “King of the Hill” (open) competition. Often you just hope to win enough to buy some parts for the next week and gas. You’re not going to get rich,” he said.

Daly added that he’s raised an extra $10,000 (from sponsors) to pay out an additional $500 to $800 a race on top of the entry fee money. “My circuit will pay more than any of the other circuits,” he said.

He said the “work ethic involved” in competitive snowmobile racing has been grueling, particularly considering the fact that he’s also running a successful business with eight to 10 employees.

“If I could just have somebody build my sleds, and allow me to race and just hang out and B.S. That’s my ultimate goal,” he said.