Special Editorial by Mark Lester
The phone rang in the fall of 1983 at Kent’s and my automotive business in Hamilton, Ontario. Someone claiming to be CJ Ramstad was on the line. I laughed at the caller and asked: “Who is this, really?” I suspected a friend who had heard about my invitation to snowmobile legend, CJ Ramstad, to come for a ride in Haliburton County, was kidding me. The caller persisted. After picking myself up off the floor I realized it really was the guy I respected… even revered. It was CJ Ramstad.
“So, you’re gonna take me snowmobiling in Haliburton County this winter?” The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I replied: “You bet!” It was the stuff dreams are made of. This icon of the sport was going to travel from Minnesota to Ontario, Canada and ride my snowmobile club’s trails for two days.
This was all in advance of a feature CJ wrote and published showcasing Haliburton County in Snowmobile Magazine back in 1984. After that initial contact I stayed in touch with CJ and we became acquaintances. I would call him a couple of times a year to ask his opinions on new sleds, insights on the sport and generally do what readers do to me now: pick my brain for interesting secrets about new sleds.
One time, I asked him this prying question, the answer to which would tangibly affect my life: “If you tell the truth… tell it like it is as a journalist, will you ultimately succeed?”
As the years rolled on Kent and I were able to fulfill our dream of being involved in the snowmobile publishing business with our then relatively small, Canadian based Supertrax Magazine. When the time came for Supertrax to spread its wings and become Supertrax International, entering the US marketplace, a call went out to CJ and a partnership and friendship soon began. It endured until last Sunday afternoon.
Working with CJ in the early years I remember his answer to my question about telling the truth, snowmobile politics and the sport. His answer? “Yes, tell the truth. Don’t side step it and it’ll come back good to you. You’ll succeed if you give readers what they want – the truth.”
Together, success followed. As a team, Supertrax rose to the top of the snowmobile publishing business in both the US and Canada.
Last Sunday, when CJ lost his life, he was the most experienced, fully active and involved snowmobile journalist in the industry. His years of editorializing and covering the sport span the entire modern era of snowmobiling from the late 60’s until today.
His ability to interpret “new ideas” was amazing, if not comical. He liked to remind us at Supertrax the best stories are not about snowmobiles but about people. And CJ knew people. A friend of industry icons like Edgar Hetteen, Roger Skime, Ralph Plaisted, Ed Skomoroh, Ole Tweet, the list goes on and on. Without a doubt, CJ told great stories about great people he knew well.
CJ mentored an incredible number of protégés over his illustrious career. I’ve spoken with many of them this week, sharing personal stories of Clifford-John. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve been moved by the scope of his ability to teach, mentor and instruct.
When it comes to protégés, no one served under CJ longer than me. I’ve dug-in on the side of a hundred mountains next to CJ shooting pics of flying sleds at 19 annual new snowmobile intros in as many high altitude, crazy places as you can imagine.
I’ve written hundreds of columns and stories and reluctantly – even as late as last week – submitted them all to CJ for his exacting edits and critiques. Honestly, if I’ve penned anything decent in this biz it’s been by the grace of God while under the watchful eye of the master of sno-mo-journalism himself.
It seems to me, in light of this tragic loss, through the tears and heartache, nothing is as meaningful as the memory of having had CJ around us, commenting, criticizing, exposing, photographing and discerning truth, as it relates to powersports journalism.
CJ was the definitive snowmobile journalist. He didn’t take pictures; he took history. When I’d had enough of clicking the shutter – often peeling off 500 or more photos in a single day – many times he wanted to stay with the new sleds and photograph some interesting new technology; something he had seen and knew would endure.
Honestly, when I couldn’t muster the energy to keep at it, CJ, always intent on gleaning something innovative, would be in the back of a race trailer or a semi clicking off tech photos of a new skid, a new engine, a new front-end. There was never and likely won’t be again, another journalist with this kind of intensity.
Auto racing still has Chris Economaki. Automotive journalism still has Brock Yates and David E. Davis Jr.
Up until last Sunday, snowmobiling had CJ Ramstad.