EAGLE RIVER — Connor Beissel feels right at home in the driver’s seat.
This time of year, that means bundling up and hopping on his Ski-Doo MXZ RS 600 cc snowmobile as a member of the Ski-Doo X-Team Racers.
Connor, 16, of the village of Winter, was among several dozen national and international snowmobile racers who recently traveled here to the northwoods of Vilas County for the 56th annual World Snowmobile Championships.
Throughout spring, summer and fall, he shifts gears and swaps the snowmobile seat for a spot atop a tractor or in one of the two combines at Beissel Farms, a cash crop operation owned by his parents, Dale and Missy.
Last year, the Beissels grew about 700 acres of corn, 700 acres of soybeans, 100 acres of oats and 100 acres of wheat. This year marks their 20th year of farming in Sawyer County.
Connor enjoys balancing his love for farming, snowmobile racing and tractor pulls.
“When it’s really cold out in the winter, sometimes I wish it was warmer like when I’m out in the fields,” Connor said. “But at the same time, when it’s blistering heat out there in the summer I wish it was winter time. I guess I’ve got stuff to keep me busy all year long, whether it’s farming or racing. So I really like that.”
These days, Connor’s focus is on attacking the snocross tracks, which means zipping alongside competitors around an oval course and launching off jumps — sometimes soaring 10 to 15 feet above the snow-packed surface.
“I love flying through the air,” he said. “If I get a rhythm section down really smooth, that makes me happy just knowing I’m improving more, getting faster. Every time I try something new and accomplish it, that makes me feel good. If I beat a guy who used to beat me, I know I’m getting better.”
Competing in the Junior 16-17 and Sport Lite classes, Connor kicks off the race season in November and wraps it up in March. He rides in two circuits, the Great Northern Sno-X Series and the International Series of Champions.
Connor began riding snowmobiles at the age of 3, following in the footsteps of his father, Dale, who began competing in the 1970s and still enjoys riding on a regular basis.
“Without my parents, there’s no way I’d be where I am with racing,” Connor said. “From my dad raising me up riding to helping me out financially with the sled and getting me ready and helping fix things … I’d never be here without him. And my mom is great too. She packs everything for my races, cleans all my race clothes, she puts up with a lot and is really supportive.”
Ski-Doo race director Carey Daku also has provided much-appreciated guidance, said Connor, who last year earned a Most Improved Racer honor.
Dale said his son’s physical and mental fitness are keys to his success.
“He’s in shape, which helps a lot, and he’s a farm kid,” Dale said. “When you have a farm kid, they work hard. And he works very hard.”
Dale started riding at about the age of 12, also following in the footsteps of his father, who took up the sport in the 1960s.
Dale remembers the rigors of competing in the 1977 International 500 snowmobile race from Winnipeg, Canada, to St. Paul, Minn.
“It was unbelievable — 500 miles of riding on snowmobiles back then that didn’t have suspensions and you didn’t know where you were going,” he said. “We did about 150 miles a day. It was a bumpy ride.
Seeing Connor compete, albeit in a different race format, “brings back memories of when I was younger,” Dale added.
The Beissels moved from Minnesota to Winter in 1999 when they bought the farm. Snowmobiling vacations in previous years often included trips to Sawyer County, so the family was familiar with the region.
Connor is a junior at Winter High School, where he also plays on the baseball team in spring. During summer, that competitive nature transfers to tractor pulls, as he powers down the track in a 1974 International 1066.
When he’s not competing in snowmobile races, tractor pulls or baseball games, Connor can be found handling various responsibilities on the farm.
“I do anything from picking rocks to planting corn to harvesting. I can do pretty much anything on the farm,” he said. “I like running the combine mainly, especially when it gets late at night. That’s one of my favorite things, having the lights going and being out there working. Harvest is probably my favorite time … assuming nothing breaks down.”
Connor intends to pursue a degree in agriculture and someday take over the family farm. He wants to keep cash cropping, thus keeping winters open for snowmobiling.
“I want to keep farming, and I want to keep riding,” he said. “If everything goes well I’ll keep doing both.”