Bark River International celebrates 48 years

The Inside Line: Bark River International Off-Road Raceway

The Bark River International Off-Road Raceway is gearing up to celebrate 48 years of short-course off-road racing. The facility will host rounds 11 and 12 of the 2024 AMSOIL Championship Off-Road Tour, presented by the U.S. Air Force Tour. Owned by the Bark River Lions Club, the raceway has welcomed off-road racers across North America for nearly five decades, offering a unique experience to Midwest off-road racing enthusiasts. Furthermore, the profits generated by the facility are utilized to support various community groups.

In the 1970s, two off-road racers from the Bark River area, Ken Lanaville and Dave Vandermissen Sr., who were also members of the Lions Club, approached the club with the idea of creating a race similar to Crandon’s Brush Run. Lanaville and Vandermissen had witnessed firsthand the positive effects that an off-road race had on the economy of the town of Crandon, and they believed that a similar event could benefit the community in and around Bark River, Michigan.

In 1976, the Bark River Lions Club decided to hold its inaugural race. After some deliberation, local landowners generously donated their property for the weekend, while club members recruited additional volunteers to assist with the event. The Wolfshead Sportsman Club of Crandon also offered valuable guidance to the first-time race promoters. Although the first race encountered a few obstacles, the Bark River Lions Club remained determined to make it a success and provide an enjoyable weekend for the community.

Bark River Lion Club Members: Lanavile, Palmgren, Potvin 

The first year saw racers from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois trek to the UP for the area’s off-road race. The spectator turnout was less than expected, but those who did attend gave the Club important feedback. The first change was to shorten the 5-mile track so the spectators could see more of the racing. The final result is a 1.5-mile long off-road track visible from the spectator hill today.

Initially, the trail ran through a property that included dense woods, a gravel pit, a cattle field, and a mink farm. Along with rocks, boulders, and trees, cow patties were additional obstacles racers tried to avoid. Over the years, the club continually reinvested in the facility. “The first purchase was a 20’ x 50’ circus tent, which the club still uses,” remarked longtime Lion Club member Joe Potvin. “Gradually, the various parcels of land the track occupied were purchased. Today, the Bark River Lions Club owns the entire 230-acre facility and just recently added another 40 acres to expand the spectator parking area.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a significant number of racers from nearby communities. It wasn’t just Dad going out racing; it was a real family affair. Mom, Dad, and the kids were all there, helping Dad and volunteering to make the race possible. This created a strong bond with the area. Currently, many Upper Peninsula residents, including second-generation racers, continue to compete at the track and the Champ Off-Road Tour. When these hometown favorites are on the track, their supporters get loud.

“Much of expansion is geared towards our fan experience. The camping area seems to need more space. Our campground is very family-oriented. Friends and families gather at Bark River to enjoy racing during the day, then have a barbeque and sit around the campfire at night. It’s important that everyone enjoys their time at Bark River.” – noted Lions Club member Tom Lanaville.

As the number of attendees increased, Spectator Hill underwent several improvements. Grandstands were erected, product vendor areas expanded, and food and beverage service was enhanced. Most recently, a three-story Media/VIP building was constructed. Scott Palmgren states, “The new Media/VIP Suites for 2023 address several needs. We now have dedicated spaces for the track and broadcast announcers, the timing and scoring team, an entire level dedicated to VIP suites, and another level for handicapped fans. In addition, our very successful 50/50 raffle fundraiser has a dedicated space as well.”

The Bark River International Raceway owes its success to the unwavering support of more than 300 volunteers who dedicate their time and effort to make the event possible. Each year, a massive appreciation party is held for all the volunteers. During the get-together, the volunteer groups are presented with a stipend as a token of appreciation. The remaining profits are distributed among various Lions Club community, state, and international projects. The list of beneficiaries is extensive and includes organizations such as the Michigan Eye Bank, Bay Cliff Health Camp, the Bark River Township Sports Complex, and the Bark River-Harris Scholarship Fund.

The track has changed over the years in response to racers’ feedback to improve the racing experience for both competitors and spectators. To name a few, Ricky Johnson, Johnny Greaves, and Kyle LeDuc have contributed to the layout that some regard as one of the most challenging tracks in short course. During spring, the track crew plans to mix sand with dirt and clay in several areas to reduce slick blue groove conditions, aiming for results similar to ERX.

The Bark River International Raceway is preparing for the Upper Peninsula Off-Road Rumble. The Bark River Lions Club would like to take this opportunity to express their sincere gratitude to the racers, fans, families, and volunteers who have dedicated their time to the track over the past 47 years. They cordially invite everyone to join them in August to celebrate the track’s 48th anniversary.

AMSOIL Championship Off-Road, presented by the U.S. Air Force, is North America’s premier short-course racing series. Champ Off-Road competition features high-powered PRO4 and PRO2 trucks along with the best Side-by-Side and Sportsman racers in the sport. AMSOIL Championship Off-Road will be streamed on FloSports with television programming on FOX Sports.

About ISOC: AMSOIL Championship Off-Road and AMSOIL Championship Snocross are owned and operated by the International Series of Champions (ISOC) out of Albertville, Minn.  The 2024 Champ Off Road season will air on Fox Sports and live-streamed on  For more information on its events and schedules, visit or

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