Underdogs are fun to root for in racing, especially when it's the backyard mechanic taking on the better-funded professionals and winning on his home track.
Robert Loire of Forest Lake pulled off one such upset in July at the Amsoil Off-Road Championship in Elk River. Racing his Polaris RZR ProXP in the Pro Turbo SxS category, he beat professional drivers running Can-Am, Yamaha and other Polaris machines.
In racing circles, he is referred to as a "privateer," a racer who is not directly sponsored or supported by a manufacturer.
But Loire has one advantage over most amateur racers: He is a senior systems engineer at Polaris Off-Road during the week.
"This is more of a hobby of mine, not my full-time job," Loire said.
Loire has been racing since he was 4 years old. He grew up in southeast Wisconsin in a racing family and became a professional motocross rider at 14 before injuries led him to switch to competing internationally in professional supermoto racing.
He left professional racing behind when he enrolled at Kettering University in Flint, Mich. Once owned by General Motors, the school has a long history of developing technical and management talent for the automotive industry.
After graduation, he got a job with Polaris in Roseau, Minn., working on snowmobiles and did some snowmobile racing before he transferred to Polaris' Wyoming, Minn., testing and research and development facility and moved over to the off-road team about five years ago.
While Polaris does not sponsor Loire, it does sponsor two other teams in Loire's circuit.
Loire does get an employee discount. Plus, his engineer colleagues are more than willing to answer questions or lend a hand during the week and sometimes on race weekends.
But Loire stresses that unlike his teen years, he's very much a weekend racer competing against racers with bigger budgets, bigger teams and more timethey can dedicate to the sport.
Loire's wife, Kasia, also comes from a racing family. She helps out in the garage and at the track. The two travel with their 18-month-old daughter on race weekends and both sets of grandparents follow to help with babysitting duties.
The Amsoil race series holds six events over the summer across the Midwest and Loire had podium finishes in previous seasons. The mid-July race at his home track in Elk River was his first win in the Pro Turbo SxS category.
"That first win kind of proved to ourselves and everyone else, we weren't the small guy or small team," Loire said. "We definitely have the equipment, the speed, all the right tools to be able to be up front with those other full-factory racers."
That first win propelled Loire through the rest of the season. "We were able to back it up two more times with two wins at two other events later on in the series and a few more podium finishes," Loire said.
There is a long history of racing innovations making it from the race track to production vehicles. And there's been a long history of snowmobile racing at Polaris dating to the 1960s and '70s.
Loire said the racing culture remains strong throughout Polaris in Roseau and in Wyoming.
"I really noticed that when I moved to Roseau," Loire said. "Everybody was all into racing."