Her auburn hair stuffed into a messy bun and sleeves rolled to reveal taut forearms, Betsy Steffl looked every bit the mechanic. The only thing unusual about the picture as Steffl climbed around a racing sled on Friday at Spirit Mountain was that there wasn’t another possibility to observe it.
“She’s one of the pioneers, for sure,” said Ethan Hanson, a fellow mechanic with Christian Brothers Racing out of Fertile, Minn. “She’s the only one in the pro ranks.”
A tour through the village of brightly decaled trucks and haulers revealed other roles for women at the 25th annual Amsoil Duluth National Snocross — female racers and sports journalists, notably — but Steffl was the only woman among the scene who would be employing an air riveter. She did so as she mounted a lap counter onto a brand-new Arctic Cat racing sled.
“It doesn’t really mean anything to me,” the 39-year-old Steffl said of the distinction. “I’m just doing my job.”
A lifelong grain farmer from Callaway, Minn., Steffl spends every November to April traveling the snocross circuit working as the private mechanic to pro racer Logan Christian.
“They’re like this,” said Logan’s father and team co-owner Dwight Christian as he crossed his fingers. “They communicate well together.”
The Christians were about to take a new sled into the weekend’s racing. It was the team’s first sled with electronic fuel injection, meaning Steffl wouldn’t have to pull the carburetor jets any longer. It makes it simpler on the mechanic, said Logan Christian, but it only leaves more time for everything else.
With the new season upon them, Steffl and the other mechanics — including specialists for suspension and clutches — have been putting in long hours, working deep in the night in the tight quarters of the hauler. There are competitive advantages to be found in the tuning of the engine, the studding pattern of the machine’s heavy rubber track and in the performance machine’s other components.
Steffl has spent more than 10 years wrenching on and getting the most out of racing sleds. She followed a racing cousin onto the team and stayed after he retired.
She’s the only mechanic the 24-year-old Logan Christian has known and he trusts her implicitly, using the word “faith” repeatedly as he described the connection between them.
“I don’t ever have to go to the line worrying about my sled,” he said. “She has faith I’m going to push the sled to its limits and I have faith she’s going to have all the bolts tightened.”
Christian is a rising talent capable of reaching the podium on any given day. After racing heats, Steffl gets out her flashlight, removes the machine’s outer skins and pores over every nook and cranny to make sure it’s held together for the next round.
She likes working with Logan, because “he’s tough,” she said.
“I cover the whole gamut for him,” she said.
Her ability to see a thing in its entirety came from growing up and working on the farm, she said. There, every day presents new challenges.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It changes day by day. Snocross is very similar. You’re up early and you go to bed late. You do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
With that, she returned to the sled, to which she pulled a factory representative’s attention under the hood.
Looking on, Logan said, “Betsy is one in a million.”