Michigan-based Malcolm Chartier fought off a hard-charging Jordan Wahl on Sunday afternoon to win the 50th annual Amsoil Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, Wisconsin, in dramatic fashion. For the victory, he earned $60,000 in prize money, and a place in snowmobiling history.
Chartier led 29 of the 30 laps on his No. 33 Ski-Doo but never led by more than a couple of seconds on the high-banked iced oval. But late in the race, things got dicey, as Chartier tired on the rutted track while Jordan Wahl was dealing with fading brakes.
The two touched several times, Wahl took the lead briefly on his No. 747 Polaris before Chartier took it back. Then, on the final lap, Wahl hit Chartier hard coming out of turn four, slowing both sleds. It looked briefly like third-place Matt Schulz might be able to get past both sleds, but then the three all drag raced to the waving checkered flag. Chartier got there first — .094 seconds before Wahl, with Schulz .095 back in the closest three-sled finish in recent history.
After the race, Chartier was overjoyed – there were hugs, spraying champagne and even some tears when Chartier talked about what this victory means not just to him but to his entire team, and particularly his father.
The Run To Glory
After winning the Friday Night Thunder event, Chartier became a favorite for Sunday’s World Championship, but the field of racers in this 12-sled final was both strong and deep.
It featured four former champions – four-timer P.J. Wanderscheid, two-timer Gary Moyle, 2010 winner Matt Schulz and defending champion Nick Van Strydonk. There were three members of the always fast Wahl Bros. Racing Team – veterans Dustin Wahl and Brandon Johnson, plus second-year protégé Jordan Wahl. And there were several of the sport’s rising stars, including Ryan Kniskern, Cardell Potter, Travis MacDonald and Matt Ritchie. From top to bottom, this could have been the strongest fields since the 1990s.
The 30-lap final was set to run in a now-familiar format for the Derby: 10 fast laps, then a red flag. When the race was halted, the 12 drivers stopped their sleds on the front-stretch in front of a huge crowd, and their crews got 5 minutes to work on the sleds. Then the race went green again for the run to the roses.
It all seemed so simple, but things started rather rough.
On green the first time, the sleds all fired off the starting line and poured into turns 1 and 2, where carnage reigned and the sleds of MacDonald and Dustin Wahl got pitched off the track and into the infield snocross course. That brought out a red flag and the race was restarted.
On green the second time, Chartier grabbed the holeshot and blasted to the lead. Schulz locked into second, with Jordan Wahl third, Wanderscheid fourth, Nick Van Strydonk fifth and Ryan Kniskern sixth.
The top three stayed in that order, for awhile, although Chartier began to open a comfortable lead. Back in the field, Wanderscheid started to fade. The sport’s only four-time World Champion was racing with a broken ankle suffered two weeks ago at another race in Wisconsin, and an injured shoulder and dinged up ribs suffered in practice one week ago, when he was trying to practice racing with a casted ankle. It was a valiant effort, but the popular Cat racer from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, would never be a factor in this race.
By lap six, Chartier had a 2.5 second lead over Schuilz, with Jordan Wahl third and Van Strydonk lurking in fourth. They were followed by sleds in this order: Kniskern, Potter, Dustin Wahl, Wanderscheid, Moyle, Johnson, Ritchie and MacDonald.
At lap 10’s red flag, Chartier’s lead was 2.9 seconds, Dustin Wahl has worked past Kniskern and Potter to claim fifth and Moyle had moved past a fading Wanderscheid and Potter to claim seventh.
The pit stop was amazing, as teams swapped out carbide runners, made suspension adjustments and checked everything over. Five minutes later a horn was sounded and the pit crews had to walk away – it was time to turn the drivers loose to settle this thing.
On the restart, Schulz’s sled didn’t react well and Jordan Wahl grabbed second. But behind them was even bigger news: Van Strydonk’s hyper-fast No. 13 mod bogged mightily. Every other sled in the field roared past him while he jacked at the throttle to finally get his sled to come to life. The defending champion and a pre-race favorite of most people we talked to Sunday morning was suddenly in last place.
Up front Chartier started to open a gap once more, but the race was red-flagged again when Matt Ritchie dismounted high in turn four and his sled came to rest in the race line.
When the race went green, Moyle got a great launch and grabbed fifth away from Kniskern. Moyle was the fast qualifier on Thursday, but he had to come through Sunday morning’s last chance qualifier to even make the field – and then he had to start in a distant second row. Now all the way up to fifth, his power move was opening some eyes. Meanwhile, Van Strydonk started better this time and was blazing through traffic – at lap 15, he was back up to sixth, right behind Moyle.
At lap 22, the red flag waved again, due to a familiar situation. This time Ritchie stayed on his sled, but it shut down on him in turn four in a dangerous spot for other racers, so safety officials brought the race to a halt.
When the sleds lined back up on the front straight, all competitors knew there would now be a 8-lap dash for one of the biggest prizes in snowmobile racing history. The restart order was Chartier, Jordan Wahl, Schulz, Dustin Wahl, Van Strydonk, Moyle, Potter, Kniskern, Johnson, MacDonald, Wanderscheid and Ritchie, whose sled re-fired after the red flag.
They didn’t stay in that order long: Van Strydonk’s sled again bogged and almost shut down on the restart, and he was again anchored to the race track. Up front, meanwhile, Chartier didn’t get away this time – Jordan Wahl was right on his snowflap and Schulz was close as well. With five laps left, Jordan Wahl was clearly looking for a line for a pass – he bumped Chartier several times in turns one and two, where Chartier later admitted he was having problems with the bumps.
On lap 26 by our count, Jordan Wahl grabbed the lead exiting turn two, diving low and powering down the backstretch. He led for exactly one lap, when Jordan Wahl drifted high into the accumulated ice shavings in turn one and Chartier drove back into the lead.
Jordan Wahl got back on his horse, and was again all over Chartier, and there was more bumping in turn one in the remaining laps. As the sleds took the white flag, they were within a sled length of one another, with $60,000 on the line! They powered around the track, with Schulz in their wake looking for an opportunity and hoping the two might take each other out.
That almost happened in turn four. Chartier pinched down low, Jordan Wahl looked like he was trying to stuff it in even lower and he ran hard into the back and side of Chartier’s sled as the two sleds exited turn four. Both sleds slowed due to the impact, and Schulz swung around wide looking for a way to the front. They all pinned the throttle, but Chartier was first to the line – barely. As in .094 seconds of barely, with Wahl inching ahead of Schulz to hold second.
Behind them, Dustin Wahl claimed fourth, just .8 seconds back. There was then a gap to Moyle in fifth, with Potter sixth and Johnson seventh. Van Strydonk fought his sled back up to eight, with Wanderscheid limping home in ninth ahead of MacDonald. Kniskern had pulled off with sled gremlins with two laps left and was scored in 11th, with Ritchie 12th after pulling off with four laps left.
Celebration & Quotes
Chartier was loud and proud after the victory, yelling out several “WOO” comments as he lifted the Snow GoerCup, hugged family, friends and team members and posed for countless photos.
Chartier was unfazed after being bumped several times from behind by Jordan Wahl, saying he knows that the youngest racing Wahl family member doesn’t race dirty and then exclaiming, “Rubbing is racing, it ain’t no big deal. But I won today and I’m the World Champion!”
The Marine City, Michigan-based racer has two-time champion Mike Houle as his sled builder and a huge crew behind him. He said he really started to tire late in the race.
“I was struggling in turns one and two with some of the bumps, I could definitely feel it,” Chartier said. Then, when the sleds bumped hard in the last turn, he said one hand fell off the handlebar and he actually applied the throttle for a millisecond with his knee as he fought to regain control.
He said winning this race has been a dream for his entire family, and most particularly his father, who he hugged after the race. “My family, we’re so close, and we really think about this all year,” Chartier said. “This is something I think about when I eat lunch – like maybe I shouldn’t have so much because it might slow me down at Eagle River.”
Jordan Wahl was his usual mellow self after the final. The 18-year-old from Greenbush, Minnesota, has understated mannerisms like his former World Champion relatives Dahl Wahl and Terry Wahl.
“I didn’t really mean to hit him, but my brakes were really fading the last five laps or so,” Wahl said. Although only 18 and only racing the Pro Champ 440 class for the second season, the youngest Wahl was not satisfied with the runner up trophy. “We’re just here to win.”
Schulz was passed in the last turn last year by Van Strydonk; this year, for a second, it looked like the tables might turn when Chartier and Jordan Wahl tangled in front of him.
“I was thinking I just might be in the right place at the right time,” he said through a smile.
Martin Wins Pro Open Snocross
Ross Martin was the class of the field in the Pro Open Snocross field at the Eagle River Derby, but it wasn’t without a bit of controversy.
Martin won all of his heats except one and also claimed the Friday Night Thunder final. In the Sunday’s Pro Open Snocross finals, however, there was heavy contact between Martin’s Polaris and the No. 4 Ski-Doo of Robbie Malinoski in the extremely tight first turn. Malinoski get ejected off of the infield snocross course and onto the hard ice oval, blasting one of his knees on the landng. He writhed in pain while the race continued on the bumpy snow course.
Martin opened a sizable early lead, but as the race continued, Malinoski’s teammate and last year’s Pro Open Snocross winner at the Derby Tim Tremblay started closing the gap. By the time they got to the last turn, you could throw a blanket over the two rivals, but Martin won the race to the checkered.
All of the top snocrossers now head to Aspen for the ESPN X Games. Malinoski’s team owner Steve Schuering told us he thought (and prayed) that Malinoski would be OK to race the high profile event. “He’s a tough guy, he’ll be there.”
Jake Scott won the Pro Lite snocross final on Sunday.
A Future Female World Champ?
Many of today’s top Pro Champ racers worked their way through the ranks of the support classes – from Sprint to Formula 500 to Semi-Pro Champ. Well, if you’re looking for a future star from those ranks, you might be surprised by the winner of Sunday’s Semi-Pro Champ final.
Sabrina Blanchet from Quebec is a very serious up-and-coming oval racer. Brought to the derby by EPT Racing’s George Sampson, she has great equipment and a strong desire to win – even though she’s only 15-years-old.
Sunday she showed the boys a thing or two, winning a highly competitive Semi Pro Champ final. Except for the pony tail hanging out the back of her helmet and her relatively small stature, you’d never guess there was a teenage girl charging that hard through the corners. But Blanchet is very, very talented, and is aiming to be a future Eagle River World Champion. Given how well she controls her No. 79 Ski-Doo, we wouldn’t bet against that happening some day.