PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — On the sidelines, fans dress in winter layers to combat the crisp January air. Crackling engines echo across the track as riders mentally prepare for the race. Once the checkered flag waves, number 68 makes his way to the front of the pack, riding with rhythm and maneuvering a 500-pound snowmobile like it's physically attached to him.
Behind the scenes, 33-year-old snocross rider Tucker Hibbert races mountain and dirt bikes in summer and lifts weights and hits the test track in winter to prepare. And by gosh it has paid off.
True to his Midwestern roots, Hibbert is humble but his success isn't easily hidden; his 134 ISOC Snocross National Tour wins and three ESPY Best Male Sports Athlete nominations speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, this year he didn't have the chance to pick up his 15th X Games medal at because Snocross was eliminated.
"X Games has been a huge part of my career and where I kickstarted my professional racing career," Hibbert says. "I'm obviously bummed out."
In 2000, at just 15 years old, Hibbert matched up against his dad, Kirk, for his first pro X Games race — the only father-son duo to compete in X Games. Kirk took fifth place while Tucker took gold, pegging him as the youngest medalist in history at the time.
This year, instead of competing at X Games, Hibbert used the break to prepare for his next ISOC National Snocross Tour race Feb. 16-17 in New York.
A family sport
Then a professional rider himself, Hibbert's dad entered his son in his first race at just 2 years old.
"I grew up with him going to the races, watching and trying to help him — but probably just being in the way," Hibbert says, laughing. "It was just kind of in my blood."
Though his days of competing have ended, today Hibbert's dad helps run his team, Team Monster Energy / Arctic Cat / Ram Truck, established in 2006.
"He's in charge of all my snowmobiles' mechanical work, engineering and suspension," Hibbert says. "With all his past race experience and knowledge, he's also an engineer in Arctic Cat; it's a great combination to have him helping me with my racing now."
Hibbert's best friend, Robby Dahlen, a Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM) alum and former rider, acts as his brand manager, designing vehicle wraps, graphics and team merchandise among other duties.
"Once you stop racing, you find ways to be involved with it still," Hibbert says. "It seems like it's hard to get that out of your blood. That's definitely the way my team is: just a bunch of racers."
With a degree in broadcast journalism from MSUM, Hibbert's wife, Mandi, serves as his marketing and media relations manager. Handling sponsorships, managing travel logistics, acting as a chef and being Tucker's nurse when he's injured are among Mandi's endless job duties.
"(Racing) is definitely a full-time job and for us to be able to figure out how to do it together and enjoy it together has been really awesome," Hibbert says.
Mandi can't imagine life any other way.
"It's an absolute dream to work side-by-side with the person you love most in the world," she says. "There are challenges, obviously. The line between work and just being together blurs but, at the same time, we're chasing the same goals and we have the same work ethic. We get to do it together."
The key lies in balance — finding ways to separate themselves from work.
"Mountain biking, for instance, is something we've found we can do together and we both love to do. Mandi rides and races also," Hibbert says. "We really don't have a ton of interests or things that we don't do together anyway."
Practice in powder
When he's not racing, Hibbert is busy preparing.
"There's a lot that goes into it aside from what people see just on the race track," he says. "For me as an athlete, it's definitely a lot of training and preparation before the season and during the season."
Switching between motocross and snocross throughout the seasons (and his career)
has proved beneficial.
"I think the two sports complement each other a lot," he says. "I feel like my experience racing motorcycles from a young age helped me to be a better snowmobile racer and vice versa."
Extreme sports also require a healthy heart and body, maintained through cardio training and weight lifting.
"Snowmobiles are about 450 to 500 pounds and really powerful so it's a lot of energy to hang on to it ... and also to go really fast," he says. "All of the other racers are working hard so that means to be up front you have to work even harder."
Hibbert hits a practice track in Fertile, Minnesota, and lives in Pelican Rapids, but during the season, he's often on the road.
"Our race shop is based out of Thief River Falls which is also the hometown of Arctic Cat, so it's a great location for us to collaborate with Arctic Cat and their engineering group. It's also the town I grew up in, so it's kind of like being at home," he says.
Midwest roots take hold
Tucker credits perseverance and hard work to his success.
"When I was really young I grew up on a farm. My dad and his brothers worked on a big family farm in Idaho, so I kind of learned at a young age that you have to work hard," he says. "That's been my mentality my whole life: if you want something, you just got to work hard and go get it."
Though according to his stats, Hibbert is arguably one of the best snocross riders in history, he's still not quite satisfied.
"You just want to keep getting better and better. I don't feel like I'm the best at a certain time," he says.
So what does the future have in the books for Hibbert?
"It's not anything set in stone by any means, but I'm not planning on racing for a long time still," he says. "I'm definitely getting near the end of my career, I would say. It's not easy to know when to stop but I also don't want to keep racing to race and not be successful."
But success is just one aspect of Hibbert's fulfilling career. At the end of the day, it's not about the medals — it's about the memories made.
"I think the biggest thing for me is all the good times we've had together that go along with racing," he says.
When the National Tour comes to an end in mid-March, Hibbert hopes to find a place for his next trophy ... and rest.
"I love racing and traveling and going all over, but my favorite thing ever is just being at home," he says. "I love Minnesota, all the people and the seasons and everything, so I'm really happy right now, having fun racing but looking forward to a little slower pace in the future, enjoying Minnesota."
Success beyond the snow
Though he doesn't (yet) have children of his own, Hibbert shares some advice for small-town kids much like himself looking to achieve lofty goals.
"Work hard. I know it sounds kind of cliche — but if you work hard enough, you can do whatever you're wanting to do," he says. "At the same time, it's understanding it's not all going to be perfect. I think it's easy for people to get discouraged if they don't have success right away or all the time. It's something you gotta be committed to or working hard at."
Having the right group of people to support you is also imperative.
"It's not something usually you can just do on your own. It takes a group of people and a plan," Hibbert says.