DATE OF INDUCTION: February 7, 2015
CAREER SPAN: 1964 – 1987
BRANDS RACED: None
AGE AT INDUCTION: 86
Likely the first television personality to dedicate regular attention on snowmobile competition, Mark Zelich of Wausau, Wisconsin brought the captivating race images and stories of the Wisconsin North woods into the living rooms and imaginations of viewers. His weekly coverage of snowmobile racing helped grow the fledgling sport of snowmobile racing from local community contests in the mid-1960’s to nationally televised sports events like the Eagle River World Championships. It was Zelich himself who originated the idea of naming the Eagle River Derby the “World Championship.”
As sports director of WSAU television in Wausau, Zelich began covering cross-country competitions like the Rhinelander Hodag, using a single 16mm film camera with no sound to singlehandedly film and narrate 90-second segments as part of his nightly sports segment. As the sport progressed – in part due to the regional and national coverage that Zelich was responsible for he incorporated greater resources and production techniques that would culminate with 30-minute specials that were broadcast regionally, as well as syndicated segments that were distributed throughout North America.
While Zelich was impressed with the drama of snowmobile competition, he was most captivated by the racers themselves, whom he regarded as truly remarkable athletes coupling their competitive zeal with determination and courage in making the World Championship the preeminent event in snowmobiling. The world loves a champion, and Zelich gave them one in each of his regular sportscasts, helping to make household names of the first generation of racing heroes. Zelich objectively focused on racers who were most newsworthy, regardless of their home state or country, treating them the same as he would all professional sports athletes. He maintained his regular focus on snowmobile competition through the 1980’s, before retiring as News Director in 1994.