Fast track to success

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 4, 1999

Fans of the Albert Lea demolition derby still recognize Jolene Bute as the queen of the powder puff division.

Sunday, April 4, 1999

Fans of the Albert Lea demolition derby still recognize Jolene Bute as the queen of the powder puff division.

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&uot;I’ll write a check out at Hy-Vee and people still ask me about it,&uot; said Bute, who won the event several times in the 1990s. &uot;I tell them, ‘Well, I haven’t done it for a few years.’&uot;

These days, she’s the princess of the snowmobile racing circuit.

Bute, of rural Freeborn, won the Women’s 440 Pro Division in the prestigious Warroad I-500 in February and finished second and third in the season-ending point standings in her first full season of competition.

The switch from demo derbies to snowmobile racing wasn’t exactly a planned one, according to Bute’s husband and mechanic, Pat.

&uot;Her younger brother got into stock car racing and I got real involved in that,&uot; said Pat Bute. &uot;Then she got into snowmobile racing in the winter.

&uot;We just didn’t have the time to build the cars. We might get into derbying again. We still have a spare car or two laying around.&uot;

The plan for now, though, is to remain heavily involved with winter racing, which has turned into a family activity for the Butes. Two of Jolene’s brothers, Jon and Jeff Ignaszewski, also race and the Butes’ 3-year-old son Jordan is a constant companion.

The racing itself is demanding and so is the schedule.

Bute competes on the World Snowmobiling Association regional and national levels in both the Cross Country and Sno-Cross Divisions, which calls for racing almost every weekend from Thanksgiving through the second week in March. Sno-Cross is similar to moto-cross motorcycle racing, with riders competing on a short track filled with jumps. Cross Country is just what it sounds like, longer races in which drivers can reach speeds of up to 100 mph.

The Butes traveled to regional Sno-Cross races in Grand Rapids, Brainerd, St. Cloud and New Richmond, Wis. National races were held in Duluth, Hinckley, Crandon, Wis., Deadwood, S.D., Shakopee and Lake Geneva, Wis. She was second for the season in the regional races and third in the national point standings.

On the weekends she wasn’t racing Sno-Cross, Bute competed in Cross Country races which included the Ironman 250. Engine problems prevented her from finishing that one.

Bute’s biggest win of the year came in the biggest race, the Warroad 500, which she called a true test of man and machine. The three-day, three-leg event began on a Friday morning and ended Sunday afternoon and included racing on rough road ditches, rivers, logging roads, woods and on Lake of the Woods.

Bute had the fastest time all three days with her Arctic Cat, finishing with an overall time of 8:08:22. Her brother, Jeff, finished fifth in the 440 Fan Division in his first try at the race. Pat Bute served as pit man for his wife and both her brothers.

It was the third year in the Warroad 500 for Bute, who finished third the last two years.

Both she and her husband are proud of the trophy and the title.

&uot;The 500 is the biggest win of our career, bigger than all the demos and races combined,&uot; said Pat Bute. &uot;Just because of all the factors involved.&uot;

Pat Bute said 50 percent of the drivers are fortunate just to finish because of crashes or machine malfunctions.

Last year, the Butes figured they had a good chance to win it and felt they had the fastest sled in the Women’s 440 Division, but a first-day breakdown prevented it. A belt blew at 100 mph, locking the track and flipping the machine.

&uot;My boots and my glove fell off, but I wasn’t hurt,&uot; said Bute. &uot;But it set us back 20 minutes. &uot;I had to change everything myself, then drive 65 miles with a broken shock. Most people at that point would have just quit.&uot;

But that’s not in Bute’s nature.

In high school, she said her mom – Jan Ignaszewski of Wells – wanted her to be a cheerleader. She would have no part of that, choosing instead to participate in sports. She went on to compete in volleyball and softball at Bethany College in Mankato before transferring to St. Cloud state to earn her four-year degree.

The competitiveness and camaraderie are what draws Bute to snowmobile racing.

&uot;It’s kind of gotten to be a family thing too,&uot; she said. &uot;Jordan walks around the infield of the tracks with tools. Everyone knows who he is. He is a little scared of me racing, and he doesn’t like it when I crash.&uot;

And there have been some rather scary crashes.

&uot;One time I was going for first place and there were two of us together at the finish line,&uot; she said. &uot;I ended up flying over the top of my hood. It’s more of a fear of who’s coming up behind you. I’ve been fortunate not to get injured.&uot;

Part of the reason for that could be that she prepares well, running and lifting weights to stay in shape.

&uot;It’s really more of a physical sport than most people realize,&uot; said Bute. &uot;The plan now is for us to build a race track and buy a dirt bike, so I can stay in shape in the summer.&uot;

There are no plans to race dirt bikes at this time. But, knowing Jolene Bute, you never know.