It’s here… it’s finally here!
My very favorite winter competition – the Amsoil World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River – is happening this weekend in a tiny little resort town in far northern Wisconsin, and snowmobile oval sprint fans like me are jacked up!
The Eagle River W.C. is about speed, and it’s about handling. It’s about history, and it’s about pageantry. It’s about fierce competition, yet it’s also about unique brotherhood, bonding and really good times. The racing is thrilling, the local snowmobile riding is tremendous and the fun and excitement (and maybe some of the nightlife?) of the weekend is beyond compare for the already converted.
The forecast is calling for a warm weekend in Eagle River, with highs approaching the low 40s. Long-term, that won’t do many favors to the local snowpack. But riders in the area say there is about two feet of snow on the ground, so it should hold through this weekend. Beyond that, those watching the race will be able to do so in supreme comfort – this is the year to leave the shakes and shivers at home and come enjoy great racing action in moderate conditions. Forget about the football games, this is Derby weekend – come enjoy the fun!
Initial qualifying races start on Thursday the famed Derby track and the excitement builds throughout the weekend to a 3 p.m. crescendo on Sunday with the World Championship race. If you can’t be there for Sunday’s final, though, the next best show is the annual Friday Night Thunder program, with racing in the top classes, a TLR Cup final for the Pro Champ 440 racers and a great fireworks show.
There will be racing in many classes on the high-banked ice oval – from the popular Pro Lite Hooper and F500 classes to the car-like Outlaw 600s and the ultimate Pro Champ sleds. There will also be a lot of action on the infield snocross course, with a bunch of different races of various levels for traditional snowmobiles plus snow bike racing this year.
For most fans, though, the World Championship race is the highlight. And, if early-season events on the TLR Cup series are any indication, it’s bound to be very competitive. That said, there haven’t been a lot of races this year due to weather and other conditions, plus an major crash that took out two of the early-season top dogs.
Here’s a quick look at some of the favorites to watch who have raced on the TLR Cup series so far this year, though others are bound to show up and compete as well. Also, remember to check back on SnowGoer.com over the weekend, including Saturday night when we post the Snow Goer Tip Sheet with fictional odds on the 10 racers who earned front-row starting positions. Plus, get your picks in by Saturday night to play the fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game – it’s easy, fun and free and you can enter by clicking here.
- Cardell Potter, #58, from Camp Douglas, Wisconsin – The 2015 World Champ won one of the only two finals run this year in Pro Champ and won all three of his heat races at Ironwood two weeks ago before the final was called off due to fading light. He leads TLR Cup points.
- Matt Schulz, #38, from Wausau, Wisconsin – The defending and two-time champion is always fast at Eagle River, sits third in TLR Cup points and had two seconds and one first-place finish in his heats at Ironwood.
- Nick Van Strydonk, #13, from Tomahawk, Wisconsin – The popular 2012 World Champ won the other final on the TLR Cup season, is fourth in points and made a dramatic run up to second place in last year’s W.C. And, like Potter, he swept through his heat races two weeks ago.
- Colt Dellandrea, #53, from Sundridge, Ontario – After Matt Goede’s season ended in a scary crash at Ironwood (and we’re still sending our prayers out to both him and Blaine Stephenson, who are recovering from their injuries), the surprising Dellandrea is the fastest Cat-powered sled on the track and sits fifth in points. Due to some rough breaks he’s only made one W.C. race, but he’s got fast equipment this year.
- Gunnar Sterne, #220, from Chicago, Illinois – On Houle-built Ski-Doo equipment, Stern became a podium regular last season and finished fourth in the W.C. Plus he won two heat races two weeks ago at Ironwood. A young star who is rising.
- Dustin Wahl, #74, from Greenbush, Minnesota – The Wahl team has been snakebit at Eagle River for almost 20 years, but Dustin is fast again and is tough to discount. He’s eighth in TLR Cup points and collected a second and two thirds at Ironwood.
- Travis MacDonald, #8, from Gonor, Manitoba – The pole sitter at last year’s Derby hasn’t shown much this season, but he’s got a Championship-winning team behind him and has been a very fast here before. He’s ninth in points.
- Jordan Wahl, #747, from Greenbush, Minnesota – Young Jordan has had some tough trips through the hay bales and into the wall at Eagle, but he’s also had flashes of greatness, including a second place finish in 2013. He sits 10th in TLR Cup points.
- The Rest of the Field: Matt Ritchie (#355) is the fastest of the racers not yet mentioned and has made three of the four most recent W.C. finals; tough guy Joey Fjerstad (#16) is a popular crowd pleaser who – if his shoulder holds up – could definitely be worth watching; Beau Van Strydonk (#61) has fast equipment and is learning to harness it; Sabrina Blanchet (#79) got plenty of track time last weekend at the Vintage World Championship and is completely fearless; Ryan Murkowski (#14) showed some splashes of speed at Ironwood, as did Cody Knutson (#98) and eastern racers Nick LaGoy (#7NY) from New York and Mike Hakey (#44) from New Hampshire. Like some others, Dominick Antonucci (#824) has found success in vintage snowmobile racing and is trying to parlay that into World Championship level success.
- 2016 Matt Schulz (Ski-Doo)
- 2015 Cardell Potter (Ski-Doo)
- 2014 Malcolm Chartier (Ski-Doo)
- 2013 Malcolm Chartier (Ski-Doo)
- 2012 Nick Van Strydonk (Polaris)
- 2011 PJ Wanderscheid (Arctic Cat)
- 2010 Matt Schulz (Polaris)
- 2009 Brian Bewcyk (Ski-Doo)
- 2008 Brian Bewcyk (Ski-Doo)
- 2007 Gary Moyle (Arctic Cat)
- 2006 P. J. Wanderscheid (Arctic Cat)
- 2005 Gary Moyle (Arctic Cat)
- 2004 Larry Day (Arctic Cat)
- 2003 P. J. Wanderscheid (Arctic Cat)
- 2002 P. J. Wanderscheid (Arctic Cat)
- 2001 Jeremy Johnston (Ski-Doo)
- 2000 Mike Houle (Ski-Doo)
- 1999 Mike Houle (Ski-Doo)
- 1998 Terry Wahl (Ski-Doo)
- 1997 Dave Wahl (Ski-Doo)
- 1996 Dave Wahl (Ski-Doo)
- 1995 Dale Loritz (Ski-Doo)
- 1994 Dale Loritz (Ski-Doo)
- 1993 Al Fenhaus (Ski-Doo)
- 1992 Gary Vessair (Ski-Doo)
- 1991 Greg Goodwin (Ski-Doo)
- 1990 Dave Wahl (Ski-Doo)
- 1989 Bruce Vessair (Ski-Doo)
- 1988 Bobby Donahue (Ski-Doo)
- 1987 Chuck Decker (Ski-Doo)
- 1986 Jacques Villeneuve (Ski-Doo)
- 1985 Michael Gingras (Ski-Doo)
- 1984 Jim Dimmerman (Arctic Cat)
- 1983 Brad Hulings (Ski-Doo)
- 1982 Jacques Villeneuve (Ski-Doo)
- 1981 Brad Hulings (Scorpion)
- 1980 Jacques Villeneuve (Ski-Doo)
- 1979 Bobby Elsner (Arctic Cat)
- 1978 Steve Thorsen (Polaris)
- 1977 Steve Thorsen (Polaris)
- 1976 Ed Schubitzke (Yamaha)
- 1975 Jim Bernat (Polaris)
- 1974 Gilles Villeneuve (Alouette)
- 1973 Bob Eastman (Polaris)
- 1972 Mike Trapp (Yamaha)
- 1971 Mike Trapp (Yamaha)
- 1970 Yvon Duhamel (Ski-Doo)
- 1969 Roger Janssen (Arctic Cat)
- 1968 Steve Ave (Ski-doo)
- 1967 Duane Frandsen (Ski-Doo)
- 1966 Steve Ave (Ski-Doo)
- 1965 George Gensler (Evinrude)
- 1964 Stan Hayes (Polaris)