By Steve Landon
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan – February 4, 2023; — – In the history of snowmobile racing few people have ever loved one race as much as Tommie Bauer of Farwell, Michigan loved the Soo I-500. Attending all but two of the first 47 races Tommy dreamed of one day putting his Arctic Cat team into the winner’s circle at the legendary one-mile oval of ice., sadly Tommie passed away December 2, 2015, never realizing his dream while on Earth. Last Saturday Tommy saw his long quest for the I-500 checkered come to an end from his perch in heaven as Tommie Bauer Racing with drivers Cody Bauer, Joey Burch, Tyler Nickels and Nick Wickerham captured the closest I-500 in history with Joey Burch squeezing out a 0.0001 victory on his #19 Polaris over fellow Polaris team D&L Racing’s Ross Erdman in the closest race in I-500 history and no doubt one of the if not the smallest margins of victory in the history of motorsports.
While Tommie Bauer never did get his precious I-500 win on an Arctic Cat you can bet he was thrilled none the less seeing his teams Polaris do the job and having his grandson Cody on board helping make it happen.
During his career Tommie Bauer’s teams had several strong finishes at the Soo. In 2008 driver William Long III put their Arctic Cat on the pole to start the 40th Annual I-500 with a two -lap average speed of 91.50 mph. Behind the scenes Tommie was an active I-500 volunteer donating his equipment to improve the facility and reshape turns three and four to handle today’s high speed racing machines. In 2001 he presented the track with a new flag-stand he built with friends in Farwell, MI. Known as the “Tommie Stand” / “Bauer’s Tower” it still serves the race today. In appreciation for all he had done the 2016 I-500 race was dedicated to his memory. Chad and Cody Bauer led the field on a parade lap with Tommie’s faithful #19 Arctic Cat that had run its share of miles on the famed oval. Cody and co-driver Tyler Nickels later went on to take the teams Polaris to a sixth-place finish. After Saturdays win Tommie Bauer Racing is the leader in most competition miles driven at the Soo by a single team in the history of the race with 13,334 miles. They surpassed the previous mark held by Team Chippewa of the Soo of 12,583 miles in 2022.
Racing has and always will be in the blood of Joey Burch ‘31 of Mt. Pleasant, Mi one of the finest and nicest snowmobile racers in the country. While he had seen his share of victories , titles and top finishes with various teams over the years nothing would make him happier than to win the Soo I-500.
The I-500 is more than just a race for Joey, it was on this very track 17 years ago to the day February 4, 2006 his father veteran racer Joe Burch passed away from a heart attack while racing the #19 Arctic Cat for Tommie Bauer Racing. Facing the finest teams in snowmobile racing and finishing in the top 10 or at all is an amazing feat, to win it the way Joey did with a come from behind surge is nothing short of amazing, clearly a story movies are made from.
While the team ran strong throughout the day with all four drivers performing exceptionally well from the start, the race all came down to the last 50 laps as usual.
“It was a battle at the end, there were four sleds left on the lead lap including us, I had the lead but as I lost more and more frontend, it became harder to hold onto that position. I fought for it and got back into the lead once or twice, but eventually ended up back in fourth place chasing the leaders.
Since there was only four of us on the lead lap, I wasn’t risking anything by making that pit stop with 10 laps to go because either I rode hard and got nowhere and finished fourth with no carbide, or got fresh skis and rode hard through the field and try to win this thing. There’s probably lots of teams that would say fourth place doesn’t sound bad at the I-500, and I can speak from experience that a top five finish feels pretty phenomenal. I’m speaking lightly when I say this is a hard race. But when you know that First place is right there, it’s within reach and this could be our time. Nothing else will do! This was the anniversary of my dad’s death on this very track, I was riding the same number he was that day, I was racing under Tommie Bauer’s name a man who loved this sport and this race specifically more than most people will ever understand. Winning meant so much more. I had to have it!
I don’t think this really was the hardest I’ve ever driven, I just focused hard on making sure I hit my mark’s made no mistakes and tried finding the cleanest line possible, because that was my chance to make the pass. The bumping at the end was probably a bit of both rough track and hard racing, as everyone saw I went a little airborne out of the corner and darted towards #29, I wanted to use it to my advantage and try to side draft him a bit but got too close and hit skis, I would never try to claim I’m not an aggressive driver but I wasn’t trying to take anyone out or anything. I can’t speak for sled #29 on their part.
I honestly had no idea who won when I saw the checkers, but I rode back around to find out. Coming down the front stretch I-500 flagman Mike Juday pointed to me with that checkered flag and I knew we won. I was flooded with every emotion possible I was somewhat in shock I still can’t believe it. I wish my dad had been there to see it, but i could feel he was along for the ride with me in spirit.
I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in yet. It feels a little unbelievable. This was a dream of my dad’s and a dream of mine, it’s the dream of probably every snowmobile racer, it’s crazy to think we actually accomplished it. Now, how many more can we win!? – Joey Burch said”
Almost from the time he could walk Cody Bauer son of Chad and grandson of late I-500 racer Tommie Bauer was getting exposed to snowmobiles racing Kitty Cats and 120’s at tracks across the state where he scored countless victories during his young career on Arctic Cats. In March of 2013 he made his professional debut on the pro-enduro circuit at the Kinross 300 in Kinross, Mich., While he came short of victory when the Arctic Cat he was driving encounter problems, the young man showed the racing community he had the talent and ability to be a winner. Since that first race he has gone on to take pro enduro wins in Caro, MI and at the Eagle River World Championship Derby in Eagle River ,Wisconsin on a Polaris with Tyler Nickels of Alpena, Mich., This year he shared driving duties with three talented drivers to take biggest victory in his career and fufill a dream by winning the I-500.
“Prior to this year our best finish at the I-500 was fifth in 2022 and 2017. We have been running up front for the past eight or nine years, however, there always seems to be one thing or another that happens to take us out of contention for the win. Finally, it came together this year.”
“We led a handful of times throughout the day. I believe I led for around 30 laps or so my first segment on the sled. Our day went pretty smooth for the most part. We had one mishap with our first brake change but we rebounded well without losing a lap in the pits. I was the last driver on the sled before Joey got on to finish the race around lap 427.”
“The visibility was very good all day given all the snowfall conditions. The I-500 has done a tremendous job the last five years keeping the track treated and the snow dust to a minimum when possible.”
“The race this year started off pretty normal for us. the past few years we have been able to run up front and lead some laps early on. I would say our race really started to get intense around the 400-lap mark when we were still running in second. This year was my nineth year in the I-500.”
“Winning the I-500 was my grandpa’s biggest dream. That dream was passed down to my dad and on to me. I remember being a young kid watching from the hill, ever since then I have dreamed of standing in front of that flag-stand he built holding that prestigious Trophy with the checkered flag. It still feels surreal to me that we have finally done it.”
“I know we didn’t win it on an Arctic Cat like my grandpa always wanted. But I feel like no matter what sled we were on he would be so proud of us all that we finally made his dream come true. The drivers and the crew all did a phenomenal job all day long, that is what kept us in contention. I do think my grandpa and Joe Burch were with us all day in spirit guiding us. They were also with Joey on those last few laps to help him pull off the closest win in the history of the I-500. I really have to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. Our whole team, owners, the crew and my co-drivers put all their heart and soul into this and made this forever dream a reality. Also thank you to all of our sponsors who come back year after year supporting this team. So glad to be able to share this with them as well. #KELLYSTRONG#” – Cody Bauer said.
You can bet his grandfather was and is still smiling in heaven yet today.
Their first ever pro enduro victory was in Caro, MI back in 2018 and later in the Eagle River World Championship Derby enduro in Eagle River, Wisconsin . This year at the ripe old age of ‘44 he qualified the teams Polaris and helped lead them to the victory of a lifetime.
“I don’t think there is any way to compare any of our wins to each other. Caro was certainly a special win because it was our first. Eagle River is special because it was at the World Championships and any win in Eagle River is special, but the I-500 is the I-500, the one every enduro team and driver dreams of. It the toughest race on every aspect of the team, from the drivers to the crew and certainly the sled. But the Soo holds a very special place in the hearts of all of us at Tommie Bauer Racing. The #19 team has been trying to conquer that place for 52 years and we’ve finally done it!”
“Our I-500 sled is very similar to the other sleds we’ve won with but with a few exceptions. We run a little longer track, a few more inches of suspension travel and a little different clutching and gearing in the Soo.”
“The race track was a lot better than I expected it would be this year the I-500 track crew did a fantastic job! Mother nature hasn’t been kind to winter sports this year but the crew up there still managed to build a nice track. It was really good, just the traditional bumps out of turn four and a little dirt but over-all it was a great all things considered.”
“We knew all day that we had a good shot at winning it but I have been snakebit so many times that it’s hard to let yourself think that it could really happen. I always believe that we can win it but a lot of things need to go right. I never let myself get too excited during the race because we’ve all been in a good position before. Even after the checkered flag I was still in disbelief of what just happened.”
“I don’t think it really has yet, it’s a lot to take in.”
“I will be with this team for as long as they will have me around. When the time come that I’m not on the sled anymore then hopefully I can be of help in another capacity. I have no desire to ever have a number other than the #19 on my back.”
This couldn’t happen without all of our wonderful sponsors. Axalta, Woody’s, Auto Owners, Ieuter insurance group, Gladwin metal processing, National pipeline services, Gladwin tank, Auto Solutions, there are so many great sponsors and we sure appreciate all of them. A huge thank you to all of our fans! We have the best group of supporters out there. My entire team for their dedication and hard work. And to all of our families that allow us to do what we love. We all need support at home, there is a lot of sacrifice to allow us to be gone. Thank you to everyone that allows it to happen. I personally have that at home, my better half Renee Thompson does all she can for me, right down to scrubbing the dirt out of my riding gear with a toothbrush. Thank you to everyone, it truly is the experience of a lifetime,” – Nickels explained.”
“Everyone on the team has and continues to praise Mike & Kelly Otto of Farwell, whose direction and support on every level has made the Tommie Bauer Racing one of the best teams in snowmobile competition both on and off the track. Through hard work and having the talent and desire to put together a quality crew and top drivers they have truly built something special.”
Started by a man who loved the I-500, auto, snowmobile racing with all his heart and gave everything he had to it, Tommie Bauer’s Legacy will live on for generations.
Congratulations Team 19, may you have many more victories in the months and years to come.
If you have not been to a pro-enduro or vintage snowmobile race get out, see one and support your area teams. The racing is Awesome!!!