It was a hot weekend both in and out of the water for the 35th annual World Championship Watercross held in Grantsburg, WI on July 15th-17th. As temps soared beyond 90 degrees each day, the huge crowds gathered for what would turn out to be a great weekend of racing.
The weekend started with drag race qualifying on Friday afternoon. Over 75 entries battled through round robin qualifying heats, trying to earn a spot in the top 12 of each of the 3 racing classes, Stock 600, Stock 800, and Super Mod. With drivers from as far away as Ontario Canada, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Colorado all racing hard to make the Sunday finals, the intensity of the competition was second to none!
Following the drag qualifying on Friday afternoon, the spectators were treated to the Dan Hill Cup Challenge race. The Dan Hill Cup is an East vs. West challenge event that involves both right-handed and left-handed motos to determine an all around champion. Many of the racers that attend the World Championship Watercross normally compete at NYSWA (New York State Watercross Association) and EWA (Eastern Watercross Association) events that are held in the eastern United States. Both of those organizations run their oval races in the traditional left-hand direction. The IWA (International Watercross Association) which is based in Minnesota runs oval races in a right-handed direction. Each year, the Dan Hill Cup race alternates between an eastern venue and a western venue and has become a favorite of the Pro drivers who are competing as much for bragging rights as they are for the prize money!
This year, for the second year in a row, it was Kevin Hunter of Cheshire, Connecticut who came out on top when the waves cleared! This was Kevin’s first trip to the World Championship Watercross in Grantsburg. “This is one of the greatest racing events I’ve ever been to, we’ll be back again next year for sure”, Hunter said after taking the victory lap!
Saturday at the World Championship Watercross is an absolute meat grinder for the competitors who are trying to qualify for the oval finals to be held on Sunday afternoon. The Pro Open class (which is the class that competes for the actual ‘World Championship’ title) runs through a 4-round qualifying process consisting of 4-man heats of 5-laps. Drivers know that there is very little room for error if you want to make the top 12 to race for a World Championship on Sunday afternoon. In one of the early first round heats, former World Champion Andy Busse of Berlin, Wisconsin had a hard crash in the first corner that resulted in a 4th place finish for the heat. That put Busse behind the eight-ball, knowing that he would have to win at least 2 of his remaining 3 heats in order to have a chance to compete in the World Championship race on Sunday.
In the semi-pro classes, the sheer number of competitors makes qualifying for Sunday’s program very difficult. In the semi-pro stock class, there were 36 competitors competing for 12 spots. That means it’s go or go home time for those racers and the level of competition didn’t disappoint!
As the day began on Sunday morning, drivers and crew members prepared for what is traditionally the biggest day of the year for anyone who races snowmobile watercross. The 81 degree dew point and the 95+ degree heat were nothing compared to the heat of the racing action on Memory Lake.
The first order of the day was to complete the Drag finals. The top 12 drivers in each class run through elimination brackets, working down to the top 4 competitors for a final in each of the 3 classes. In the Stock 600 drags, Krystle Kulenkamp from Mora, MN took top honors aboard her Ski-Doo. This was the first win of her young career and her excitement was a treat for the whole crowd! In the Stock 800 drags, Brett Ilgen of Grantsburg took the win. Brett, who hadn’t raced watercross for over 20 years, made a triumphant return, taking World Championship gold home for his efforts! Brett was followed closely by David Fischer and last year’s World Champion in Stock 800, Krista Maki-Zurn. Krista lost control of her sled at about half track and took a nasty spill but was OK.
The Super Mod drag finals saw an early upset that knocked 3-time defending champion Jerry Rinker out of the running. As surprising as it was to see the #62 of Jerry Rinker bumped out of World Championship contention, it was even more surprising that it was actually his wife Cathy Rinker that delivered the shot! In a quarter final, Cathy nailed a perfect holeshot and was able to power her way down the track, in turn sending husband Jerry back to Canadensis, PA without the top honors for the first time since 2007. As the final began it was Kevin Hunter from Cheshire, CT , David Fischer from Eagan, MN, Cathy Rinker of Canadensis, PA, and Andy Busse from Berlin, WI lined up to run for the World Championship drag trophy. Hunter hit the water first and that was all he would need. A hard charging David Fischer was able to get within a ski length at the finish line, but just didn’t have enough race track left to catch Kevin Hunter.
The tension was high as the oval finals began on Sunday afternoon. The first final of the day saw Matt Podgorski taking the win in Semi-Pro Stock aboard his Yamaha. Matt made a late race pass on the #36 Ski Doo of David Fischer to take the win, his first at Grantsburg. Matt made the trip to Grantsburg from Merrill, WI and was thrilled with the victory. The Semi-Pro Open division was taken by another first time Grantsburg winner. JT Kosnitch of Cambridge, MN ran away from the field on his way to his 3rd win of the season. Kosnitch has dominated the Semi-Pro Open ranks in 2011 and will be moving into the Pro Open division next season.
In Pro Stock, #413 Chad Maki of Inver Grove Heights, MN took his 4th consecutive World Championship Title. The Maki Racing Ski-Doo was unstoppable all weekend long. Chad received a strong challenge from Dan Dombrowsky and Ryan DesJardins, but prevailed in the end. Chad’s stranglehold on the Pro Stock division has been very impressive over the past 4 seasons and oh, by the way, he’s only 20 years old. I can only imagine the career numbers that this young man will amass!
The Pro Open final at the World Championship Watercross is the single biggest race in this sport. As the drivers lined up, the 6-man field included #442 Brian McCurdy Jr from Lindstrom, MN. #413 Chad Maki from Inver Grove Heights, MN. #4 Andy Busse from Berlin, WI. #812 Dennis Rhyner from Merrill, WI. #26 Aaron Wallin from Wausau, WI. And #2 Jeff Fischer from Eagan, MN.
McCurdy Jr. grabbed the holeshot from lane one and led the first 4 laps of the final. Andy Busse on the #4 Ski Doo took the lead from McCurdy as the #442 machine went to the outside to complete the equalizer lap. #413 Chad Maki was charging hard on the inside and it quickly developed into a 3-man battle for the lead. Busse, who hadn’t raced at all prior to the World Championship, was out front and pushing hard for his 3rd World Championship Title. Although McCurdy and Maki were both giving their all, Busse held them off and claimed the World Championship Title. Busse, who sold his race sled and had been out of racing, actually borrowed his old sled from the new owner Clint Fjosne, and won his 3rd World Championship in what was a huge upset. Andy is an incredible driver and his talent and racing savvy make him a formidable contender in any race he enters.
Congratulations to all the competitors at the World Championship Watercross. If you would like more information about the event please visit www.grantsburgwatercross.com. If you are interested in the sport of snowmobile watercross, please check out the IWA website at www.iwausa.org.