Hibbert and Morgan tied at the top
Blair Morgan and Tucker Hibbert were connected long before they ever competed against each other as professional snocross racers.
They shared the same idol, Kirk Hibbert, father of Tucker, who was the snowmobile racer in the 1990s. Morgan respected the man for his ability to win a grueling cross-country event one day and a snocross race the next. Tucker Hibbert admired his father for his tireless preparation toward racing and the work ethic he put into winning.
Before they squared off with each other in cities such as Duluth, Minn., Gaylord, Mich., and Lake Geneva, Wisc., Morgan was a 20-something motocross athlete learning how to race a snowmobile and Hibbert was a preteen prodigy, emulating his father. The pair ripped up the backyard in hours-long sessions that went until midnight, destroying Hibbert's mom's garden hoping one day to live up to the legacy the senior Hibbert had laid before them.
Eventually, Morgan and Tucker Hibbert would become most dominating athletes of their sport, combining for 12 of the 15 gold medals ever awarded in SnoCross in the Winter X Games. Morgan would also achieve the unthinkable: 84 professional snocross victories in his career.
On Friday, Hibbert will have a chance to eclipse his friend for the most wins in professional snocross history.
Although it's only symbolic because Morgan won't be racing, this weekend's race Shakopee, Minn., might be the last time this duo will be side by side in snocross competition. With Hibbert running a perfect season in Amsoil Championship Snocross after four rounds, the conversation in the snowmobile community carries on as if he has already done it. With 84 wins in 154 starts, it's hard to not think that. But the one month between events during which they've been tied at the top of the industry posts the rhetorical question that gets asked in every sport that ever had a rivalry: Who is the greatest of all time? ArcticInsider.com's John Sandberg watched both of these riders enter the sport but admits it's not an easily answered question.
"They are both once-in-a-generation racers whose generations happen to cross," he said.
There is nothing Morgan can do to stop Hibbert from passing him. He's been out of the sport since 2008, when a devastating spinal injury ended his career. But the dry-humored Morgan still likes to communicate with Hibbert in his fun, competitive way. For the wins record to be ratified, Morgan is calling on Hibbert to throw a Superman over the finish line of his next victory, the same trick Morgan used 15 years ago to earn his nickname "Superman." Hibbert laughed over the phone when he was informed of the requirement and admitted he wouldn't even know how to practice it.
"[Morgan] reminds me now that I have it too easy," Hibbert said. "He told me one time that all these wins don't count now. He doesn't let me off the hook easy."
While their dominance of snocross racing is nearly evenly split and shared, their paths to this point were very different. Blair Morgan was a Canadian motocross champion who found work in the winter racing snowmobiles. Tucker Hibbert was a snowmobile prodigy who once gave up snow to try winning dirt bike championships. For the past 16 years, they have been the best snocross racers in the sport, and for part of that, they reigned in tandem.
But to even attempt to answer the question of who's best is to realize that it's not only about numbers and statistics. In Morgan's case it's more about the ergonomic impact he made on a sport using a standup riding style never before seen on snowmobiles. Who did this guy think he was, and why did he think he could ride a snowmobile like it was a dirt bike? He caught flak from the other competitors for it as if he were the new guy in the office outworking his co-workers.
"When I first started, people were asking me, 'Why are you doing that [standing up]?'" Morgan said. "I didn't want to be too critical, but my thought was, 'Why wouldn't you do it? Why would you sit down? It hurts your back. Your legs are your best shock absorbers there is.'"
In his first six years as a professional snocross racer, Morgan won 67 finals, and not only did the majority of all the riders start standing when they saw it worked, but the entire geometry of snowmobile design changed. The seat became shorter, the back end became higher and riders were pitched over the handlebars.
"He was putting together double jumps that nobody else ever had," Sandberg said. "And he's able to do it because he's standing up. He's using his body to launch off of stuff and to pre-load and catch extra air so he can put together sequences of jumps that nobody else ever had, and it was mind blowing."
Hibbert was 12 when then-21-year-old Morgan signed up for the pro class in his very first snocross race, in Wyoming in March 1997, and introduced this riding style. But Morgan's aggressive, standup stance wasn't a surprise to Hibbert because the duo had been ripping up the Hibberts' backyard all winter by that point.
"I was a young kid, and he was all of a sudden the fastest snocross racer," Hibbert said. "To me, he was cool, and I was able to ride with him on the practice track way before we raced against each other. Three to four years later, we were on the racetrack together."
Hibbert feels his career would have been much different had he not had access to Morgan in the backyard brawls and then later as a young professional.
"Him and I racing together is something that has helped me get to where I am now," Hibbert said. "I learned a lot racing with him and he pushed me when I was younger, and without that I definitely wouldn't have been as successful as I am now. I have to give him some credit for my success."
It would have been nice to be the guy with the most wins but I couldn’t think of anyone better to beat me than Tucker. A lot people thought that we were big rivals and stuff but he’s probably one of my best friends in the snocross scene.Blair Morgan on Tucker Hibbert
Unlike Morgan, who was a complete unknown when he started racing professional snocross, Hibbert was expected to be the next big thing. When he was 15 and still racing semi-professional snocross, he went to X Games on a special exemption and annihilated the field, including the two men he looked up to the most: Morgan and his dad, Kirk, a 42-year-old father of four who impressively finished fifth.
With similar motocross-inspired riding styles, Hibbert and Morgan dominated the sport together for three consecutive seasons. In the 2000-01 season, they won all 22 finals -- Hibbert, 12, and Morgan, 10 -- and they split the Pro Stock and Pro Open championships.
"I kind of knew he was going to be an up-and-comer, but I didn't think about him being the guy I was going to be battling with in a couple of years," Morgan said.
By the time Hibbert took a sabbatical from snocross at the end of 2003, he had three national titles and 25 wins. In 2006, he returned to national snocross on a part-time schedule, and it wasn't until 2011 that he returned to snocross full time and laid the foundation for surpassing the all-time wins record.
Hibbert's contribution to the sport has been that of preparation and dominance. In 2006 he formed his own race team, and since his return to racing full time, he has worked to make sure he leaves no doubt that he tried the hardest to prepare to win, even if that means driving 900 miles one way in October to find enough snow to test.
"I think Tucker Hibbert has created a standard that all other racers should try to achieve who want to play at that level," Sandberg said.
Morgan was paralyzed after a crash at the Montreal Supercross in September 2008 severed his spinal cord, and he has not returned to the national snocross scene even as a spectator. He and Hibbert still chat on the phone and via text message. They reunited for the first time in five years last February when Morgan was inducted into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame. After the ceremony, they went trail riding together and passed each other and banged bars.
Neither Morgan nor Hibbert dwell on their wins records, which account for far more than 50 percent of the national snocross races run since 1997. Morgan said he didn't know how many he had until the end. Hibbert said he had no idea until 2008, when someone handed him a plaque to congratulate him on his 50th win. They both say they are too focused on winning gold medals and championships in the moment to have perspective on where they are in history. Record-keeping beyond these two riders is spotty, and the third-place spot is believed to be owned by Ross Martin at 29 wins. Today, Morgan is proud of what he accomplished in a sport he never expected to compete in. His bond with Hibbert is almost brotherly.
"It would have been nice to be the guy with the most wins, but I couldn't think of anyone better to beat me than Tucker," Morgan said. "A lot people thought that we were big rivals and stuff, but he's probably one of my best friends in the snocross scene."
Morgan still jokingly maintains that these race wins by Hibbert don't count. Neither do the X Games gold medals since 2009. He's debating on whether or not he will make the trip from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to Shakopee, Minn., to see Hibbert break his record. It would be the first race Morgan has attended since 2008.
Either way, he knows exactly what he wants to tell Hibbert before the start of the final: "Remember the Superman."