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Polaris Industries’ Fearless Randy Hites Soaring High in the late 1960s!

Polaris Industries' Fearless Randy Hites Flying High! 1960s

Before Levi LaVallee! Before Chris Burandt! There was Randy Hites!

Randy Hites worked at Polaris Industries most of his life. Randy started as a welder at Polaris, did test riding, and was soon the first big-name racer driver for Polaris Industries. Randy won many races during his racing career. He was a daring man with no fear. His exhibitions of jumping the Polaris Mustang and Polaris Colt were known throughout the United States.

Please join us as we tell a “few” stories about:

Polaris Industries’ Fearless Randy Hites!


Polaris Industries' Fearless Randy Hites ~ 1965

In January 1965, several Polaris employees, Randy Hites, and Edson Brandt, traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, entering the 3-mile St. Paul Winter Carnival Second Annual Snowmobile Competition at Phalen Park. The Winter Carnival races at Phalen Park in St. Paul, Minnesota, would break trail for the Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 Cross Country Race.

Randy and Edson would be driving the newest Polaris model, the Mustang!

Polaris 1965 Mustang
An ad for the 1965 Polaris Sno-Traveler Mustang Series


Polaris Industries
The Winner's Circle at the St. Paul Winter Carnival held at Phalen Park with Polaris in the winner's circle. Left to right: unknown; The Winner, Randy Hites, Roseau; Runner-up Edson Brandt, Roseau; Jim Langley, Anoka, MN.
Map of the first Hodag run
The map of the 1965 Hodag

On February 6, 1965, the first Hodag 50 cross-country snowmobile race was organized. It was cross-country endurance marathon. A course was mapped out starting in downtown Rhinelander, going overland to Three Lakes, and from there to the finish line in Eagle River. This event had been planned as a test run for the marathon, but with 100 entries and 88 finishers it was a success. The winner took home a $200 prize.

A perfect testing course for the new Polaris Mustang model. Allan Hetteen, president of Polaris, along with two Polaris ‘test drivers”, Edson Brandt, and Randy Hites traveled to the first “Hodag” Cross-Country Snowmobile Marathon in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

The Roseau group participated in the Hodag Class 20, for 16.5 horsepower machines. Randy Hites won in 1:45.29!  Edson Brandt placed second. Where did the Polaris President place? Well … let’s tell you!

Rhinelander Hodag Cross Country race
The trail through the woods on the Hodag race.

Hetteen had crashed and was left stranded in the woods. After the race was completed, Mr. Hetteen was  pleased with Randy and Edson winning the top two places in their class. BUT one could say the company’s President was a little disappointed the two young men had raced right by him, instead of stopping to help him! 

Could “Racing Fever” distort perception …?

The Winter Festival Comes to Roseau ~ 1965

A two-day event in Roseau, MN called the Winter Festival-February 19-20, 1965, was organized. 

This was the first international snow-machine race in history. “Over fifty competitors were entered in the cross-country race Saturday to kick off the Winter Festival sponsored by the Roseau Lions.” according to an article in the Roseau Times-Region newspaper. 

The 1965 Roseau Winter Festival
In 1965 the first Roseau Winter Festival was held. Organized by the Roseau Lions Club, Allan Hetteen, David Johnson, Polaris Industries, Bob Foley would prove to be a successful event for several decades!

The above photo features the Slalom and Oval race winners on Sunday, February 20, 1965. Front row: Left to right: Robert Eastman, Gerry Reese, Louie Knochenmus; Second row: Marlys Brandt, Eleanor Johnson, Tim Hetteen, Greg Grahn, Rodney Johnson; Back row: Jean Grahn, Allan Hetteen, David Erickson, Roger Skime, Don Hedlund

Polaris Industries’ fearless Randy Hites was in another town, racing with his racing partners the Brandt Brothers, Edson and Clayton! 

In the first years of a Polaris racing group, besides Randy Hites included:  Marlys and Edson Brandt; Clayton Brandt; Dennis Olson; Eleanor, Mitchell, and Rodney Johnson; Jean, Greg, and Jimmy Grahn; Allan, Steve, and Timmy Hetteen; Clem Deschene; Bob Eastman; Gerry Reese; Frank McDaniels; and many others. This group would travel to various race venues throughout the Midwest participating at racing events.. The exposure to what the Polaris snowmobiles could do, as well as other manufactures, drew large crowds filling county fairground grandstands, watching racing along lakes, along highway ditches, and even farmers’ fields!

The racing frenzy could now be enjoyed in Roseau County even more!

Randy Hites with his special painted snowmobile after the race season ended
Randy had a successful season in the 1965 race season. David Johnson hired Donny Kofstad to paint the hood of Randy's sled with race results: two 1st place finishes; one 2nd place finish, and 3rd twice. The notable races he won was the St. Paul Winter Carnival race, and the 2nd Annual Snowmobile Derby, Eagle River, WI.

Polaris Industries' Fearless Randy Hites Flying High! 1966

Randy Hites 1966 Wisconsin International Snowmobile Marathon

A new snowmobile model, the Colt was a direct response to Polaris racing. The Mustang was a little too big overall for racing. A more compact machine with engine options would better meet the needs of the racing team. Randy spent many hours testing, racing, and promoting the new Polaris Colt model.

Polaris issued a brochure showing the various models the company made, including the new Colt model.

Do you recognize the man wearing sunglasses and a red jacket?

1966 Roseau Winter Festival Poster

In the following 1966 Second Annual Winter Festival in Roseau, MN. While Randy did not win the jumping event, he certainly thrilled the crowd!  David Johnson’s son Rodney won with a 300-Hirth engine.

Randy Hites 1966 2nd Annual Roseau Winter Festival
Randy Hites, 1966 2nd Annual Roseau Winter Festival
Marly and Edson Brandt seated on snowmobile Randy Hites behind

In 1966 at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, following Herb Howe’s first place finish and Edson Brandt’s second placing in the Winnipeg to St. Paul 458 mile race another derby was held. The derby was at Lake Phalen Park, Randy finished third in Open Class. He is the third man from the left in the back row. Marlys Brandt, seated on the snowmobile, scored a second in the Powder Puff! Edson Brandt placed third in the 14-horsepower class. All pictured in this photo won on a Polaris snowmobile! 

1966 Buffalo MN Randy Hites
In 1966 at Buffalo, Minnesota Randy won first in the modified class. Following the racing Randy thrilled the large crowd with exhibitions of jumping and acrobatics.!

Polaris Industries' Fearless Randy Hites Promoting Polaris Mustangs and Colts 1966-1967

Randy would participate in a variety of racing events, either oval, lemans, or cross-country. He was also known for his ability to jump the snowmobile high into the air. He would perform in exhibition shows at a number of winter festivals throughout the Midwest. Even after racing the course Randy would do acrobatics and jumping, thrilling the crowd in attendance. These antics on Sunday helped sell sleds on Monday!

1966 Polaris Race Results
1966 Polaris Race Results

Randy was asked to participate in several advertising campaigns for Polaris Industries. The advertisements were for magazines, newspapers, and television videos.

Polaris Industries' Fearless Randy Hites Videos

Randy Hites Was Fearless on More than Snowmobiles!

Randy had quite the sense of humor, could tell many stories, and many stories told of his antics!!

Jim Bernat, a long-time Polaris employee, and Hall of Fame legend in the racing world, tells of an incident around 1963.  “Polaris had moved to the new production facilities south of town. The company  had already expanded to the west, building an addition for the Wash and Paint Systems. I was a forklift driver, and had  a new forklift. Randy was driving a new forklift as well, as he was in the Maintenance Department. There was a lot of room on the new  concrete floors. Well, Randy and I decided to have a forklift race. It was like a mini-race course!  We had a great time turning and going back and forth trying to beat each other!  Afterwards, we noticed the new rubber tires on the forklifts had left big black marks all over the new concrete floors! We weren’t the only ones who noticed. Soon David Johnson came back to where we were working. He asked, “You guys been racing?” We both nodded yes. David replied, “You know something, I think you two better clean this up. I think tonight would be a good time to do it, and be back in the morning, on time!” Both Randy and I nodded sheepishly, replying, “Yes sir!” … and we did!”

The trophy
David Johnson presented the “forklift drivers” with this plaque years later. The plaque says, “Jim’s forklift racing career was short-lived. Jim’s snowmobile racing career fared much better!”

Greg Marier, an Engineer at Polaris in the 1970s recalls, “I remember Randy telling us one of his racing stories – he was in a cross country race in a big group of racers right after the start. The snow dust was awful, everyone was jockeying for position when all of a sudden the group in front of him split up and gave him a great chance to move up! He powered thru right into a huge hole that sent him flying!! Randy laughed and said those guys in front really didn’t do him any favors!

Randy Hites Was Fearless On Snowmobiles! The Video is Proof!

Randy rode his sled with vengeance, full-steam ahead,  over ice, drifts, snow, road crossings in any race he competed in on cross-country races. The video below shows the style of his riding/driving fearlessly. In this video he is in the St. Paul Winter Carnival  Winnipeg to St. Paul I-500 race.

Randy would have won it.. but he was so hard on the machine that he broke the chain case while in sight of the finish line!

Randy Hites Recognized as Polaris' Longest-term Employee in 2000

Randy was a fearless man who had a strong work ethic. He also took great risks to prove the durability of fast snowmobiles and fast cars!

He attended school in Badger, MN and later served in the United States Air Force for four years. David Johnson hired the young teenager to work on the welding line as a welder at Hetteen Hoist and Derrick. After his racing day and exhibition shows were gone by, Randy worked in the Production/Maintenance area for many years. Randy was David Johnson’s right-hand man at Polaris Industries.

David Johnson in his suit jacket
David Johnson, Vice-President of Polaris Industries; Plant and Facilities Here he is pictured in his office in the 1970s.

Randy was married for 32 years to Mariannette “Tootsie”  Wysocki for 32 years and lived in Roseau, MN, where they raised their four children: Terry, Tammy, Todd, and Teresa.  

Randy passed away February 17, 2005, at the age of 68 years old.

Researched and written by: Carmen Przekwas

Digital Creator: Sinnamon Krings, Roseau Promotions Director: All Rights Reserved: Carmen Przekwas

References: Aaron Johnson; Mike Hetteen; Roseau County Historical Society, Warriors of Winter; Polaris Pioneers; Polaris Industries archives, Roseau Times Region, Starfire Kids, Snow Goer,   

Photos: Hetteen Archives, Roseau County Historical Society, Aaron Johnson