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Empire snowmobile race honors local snowmobiling legend

The 7th annual Roy Taghon memorial snowmobile race will take place Saturday, January 29th in Empire.
Kourtney Gundersen
The 7th annual Roy Taghon memorial snowmobile race will take place Saturday, January 29th in Empire.

Soni Alysworth remembers watching snowmobile races at the Empire airport as a kid.

“I remember just standing there and being like, wow! I cannot wait until I’m old enough to be able to race.”

Soni says the airport has always been the spot in Empire where snowmobilers would meet.

“On Sundays, we–after church– we’d go up to the airport, and we would sit there and literally wait for other snowmobiles to show up– and Roy was always there.”

Roy Taghon was about 15 years older than Aylsworth. Roy would open his garage in Empire to let the snowmobile enthusiasts tinker on their sleds. But it was the airport where they would be put to the test.

“We’d race each other and sit around and talk and joke and wait for other snowmobiles to come,” says Soni. “If other snowmobiles showed up, we’d all get our helmets on and get ready to race.”

Roy was good on a snowmobile. He was always the leader on trails and on the racetrack.

“To watch Roy ride– I mean, he was part of the machine,” says Soni. “Everybody thinks that you just sit on a snowmobile and lollygag around. No, that's not how true snowmobile riders [actually] ride. When we ride, you use almost every muscle in your body in order to control the machine.”

Roy also promoted safety on snowmobiles, keeping his sled in pristine condition and wearing the best safety gear. Roy was the first person in Empire to wear chest protection during races, says Soni.

“He would suggest to others, ‘You need a tech vest’ or ‘That helmet is 10 years old! You need a new DOT helmet!’”

But that protection didn’t prevent Roy’s death on a snowmobile in 2008.

“Normally, Roy would always stand up on his snowmobile and he taught me to do the same thing. You always stand up. You look around. You make sure that everything is good to hit the throttle. He didn’t do that that day.”

When Roy sped off on his snowmobile, he didn’t know that a mound of snow and ice was in his path. It threw him off his machine.

Over time, the snowmobile races happened less frequently at the Empire airport until they stopped.

Then, six years after Roys passing, Soni created a snowmobile drag race in his honor.

Now, almost no one is too young to race, with a division for kids as young as 2.

“These kids- it's great,” says Soni. “They’re mimicking their fathers. They're checking out their snowmobiles and making sure they are all straight and everything. They get in the stance and they hit the throttle and it's like, they’re not even moving!”

Soni Aylsworth went on to become an auto engineer, partly inspired from the days Roy Taghon would teach him about engines.

He’s been in charge of the race in Roy’s honor for seven years

It raises money for a scholarship fund in Roy’s name, but Soni says he also does it for himself.

“It’s also helped me with life in general. Really helping [me] remember Roy. I didn’t do this selfishly at all. But now, looking at [the 7th race], it's like, ‘Yeah, this is a little selfish,’ because it's helping me remember Roy.”

The 7th annual Roy Taghon memorial snowmobile race will take place Saturday, January 29th in Empire.

Kendra Carr joined IPR as the All Things Considered host in 2019. She previously worked at WMOM in Ludington as the News Director. In 2017, WMOM received the Michigan Association of Broadcasters "Station of the Year" award.