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Watercross races a big success in Lake Linden

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Snowmobilers take part in an oval watercross race during the Jeff Moyle Memorial Watercross in Lake Linden Sunday.

LAKE LINDEN — Jeff Moyle grew up practicing watercross on Torch Lake with his brothers, taking off from their home, just across the peninsula from the Lake Linden campgrounds. 

“They gave the town a show for many, many years,” said his mother Denise Moyle. 

This weekend, International Watercross Association racers returned the favor with three days of races at the Jeff Moyle Memorial Water-X in Lake Linden, the first watercross event held in the Upper Peninsula since 1999. 

The idea came from James Marietta, a watercross racer and a member of the Lake Linden Fire Department. The department was looking for ideas for fundraisers. 

“There’s a group of 11 of us racing from around Lake Linden, and there’s two fire department members that race watercross,” he said. “It was a good way to raise funds.”

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette David Fisher won the Semi Pro Stock Oval race at the Jeff Moyle Memorial Water-X watercross competition in Lake Linden.

Riders on snowmobiles set off on either straight-line drag races or oval races, such as the ones going on Sunday afternoon leading up to the finals. With up to 200-horsepower engines, racers have to execute quick turns at speeds up to 70 mph, said Andrew Moyle, Jeff’s brother. 

There were semi-pro and pro racers, as well as a women’s division. 

Saturday’s action had seen 60 oval races and 28 drag races, Marietta said. 

“We had a pretty good turnout,” he said. 

The Moyle family has been part of IWA for years, said Jeff’s mother, Denise Moyle. He and his brothers raced the entire circuit. She remembered the championship Jeff won at Wild Rose, Wisconsin. 

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette Neil Marietta won the Semi Pro Open Oval race at the Jeff Moyle Memorial Water-X watercross competition in Lake Linden.

The family got out of active racing after Jeff’s death in 2008 after a parasailing accident. 

Moyle was honored with a ceremony Saturday night in which lanterns were sent off over the water.

Seeing each other on the circuit, the racers become another family, Denise said. Even many people who raced against Jeff 20 years ago came out to pay tribute to him, Denise said. 

“It was so emotional,” she said. “Everybody loved that kid. He had energy and he liked everybody. Everyone would bring certain things and we’d eat together … so it was like they lost part of their family when we lost our family.”

Jeff’s presence was felt on the water Sunday, too: after 20 years, his sleds were still being used. 

With the cyclical nature of racing — win one week, lose the next — racers look out for each other, the Moyles said. When promoter Neil Marietta’s sled sank during a practice run Sunday morning, the race was delayed until he could get it back up and running. 

“You’re not going to hang somebody out there just because it’s competition,” Andrew said. 

The same spirit let them pull together to make the event a success despite COVID-19, Marietta said.

Temperature checks were performed at the entrance; no one with a high temperature would have been allowed in. 

Spectators watched from several cordoned-off areas; racers had a separate spot. People in common areas, such as lines for food, were required to wear masks. 

This year’s event had been well-received by racers, who enjoyed the location, Marietta said. And having pulled it off successfully in the year of COVID-19, they’re looking to make it an annual event. 

The race brought out watercross fans, as well as people from the area who were curious.

“It’s very interesting, and there’s a really good turnout,” said Cale Huotari of Twin Lakes. “I think it’s a great thing for the town.”

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