Eagle River Derby History: A Look At Past Champions

1964 Champion Stan Hayes

Here’s a look back at the 57 racers who have been crowned World Champion at Eagle River, with a brief description of their journey.

  • 1964: Stan Hayes, Crandon, Wisconsin (Polaris) – Named the overall winner because organizers thought the 15-year-old class-winner’s story would most interest the assembled media.
  • 1965: George Gensler, Three Lakes, Wisconsin (Evinrude) – Crowned for his time on the cross-country section, Gensler was the first to have his name engraved on the Argosy Cup.
  • 1966: Steve Ave, Duluth, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Ave was the first to win the Eagle River title on an oval track, and he did so with an experimental Bombardier-provided engine. His margin of victory was less than a foot.
    Steve Ave, after winning his second title in 1968.
  • 1967: Duane Frandsen, Pembine, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – Credited with being one of the first drivers to “read” the track, Frandsen held the best line from green to checkered.
  • 1968: Steve Ave, Duluth, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – The first repeat World Champion won by a full straightaway this time.
  • 1969: Roger Janssen, Crookston, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – After being T-boned on the first lap and causing a restart, Janssen earned the first world title for Arctic Cat.
  • 1970: Yvon Duhamel, Valcourt, Quebec (Ski-Doo) – The crossover motorcycle racer was the first Canadian to win the title.
  • 1971: Mike Trapp, Woodruff, Wisconsin (Yamaha) – In what many consider the most thrilling Derby final ever, Trapp and Yvon Duhamel traded paint throughout the race.
  • 1972: Mike Trapp, Woodruff, Wisconsin (Yamaha) – Overcame early season crankshaft gremlins to become a surprise repeat champion.
  • Mike Trapp won back to back in 1971 and 1972.

    1973: Bob Eastman, Roseau, Minnesota (Polaris) – Legendary racer won after a controversial on-track, underhood adjustment before the final. It turned out to be just an exhaust spring install.

  • 1974: Gilles Villeneuve, Berthierville, Quebec (Alouette) – After parking his exotic twin-tracked cockpit sled, Villeneueve guided an underpowered single tracker to the title.
  • 1975: Jim Bernat, Roseau, Minnesota (Polaris) – Passed Don Omdahl with two laps left to win a thrilling championship for Polaris.
  • 1976: Ed Schubitzke, Duluth, Minnesota (Yamaha) – After dicing early with Bob Elsner, Schubitzke ran away with Yamaha’s third victory in six attempts.
    Steve Thorsen.
  • 1977: Steve Thorsen, Fergus Falls, Minnesota (Polaris) – After capitalizing on teammate Jerry Bunke’s near-crash on lap 13, Thorsen narrowly beat Bunke to the checkered flag.
  • 1978: Steve Thorsen, Fergus Falls, Minnesota (Polaris) – Defending champ won a battle of attrition, as only three sleds finished the race.
  • 1979: Bob Elsner, New London, Wisconsin (Arctic Cat) – Won by a half straightaway and averaged 94 mph, a new record at the time, on his Cat.
  • 1980: Jacques Villeneuve, St. Cuthbert, Quebec (Ski-Doo) – Jacques’ first win in dominating fashion was also the first utilizing the new 340cc Formula I rules.
  • 1981: Brad Hulings, Thief River Falls, Minnesota (Scorpion) – Despite parent company Arctic Enterprises grinding toward its closure back home, the undeterred Hulings won on a Scorpion.
  • 1982: Jacques Villeneuve, St. Cuthbert, Quebec (Ski-Doo) – The first victory of a twin-tracked snowmobile was Villeneueve’s second in three years.
  • 1983: Brad Hulings, Grand Rapids, Michigan (Ski-Doo) – Then on a factory-backed Ski-Doo, Hulings won by a wide margin in the first 25-lap championship race.
  • Jacques Villeneuve.

    1984: Jim Dimmerman, White Bear Lake, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – After being last off the start, Dimmerman passed the entire field during the race for a popular victory.

  • 1985: Michel Gingras, St. Giegoire, Quebec (Ski-Doo) – Utilizing a revolutionary engine with variable exhaust, Gingras displayed amazing power to win.
  • 1986: Jacques Villeneuve, St. Cuthbert, Quebec (Ski-Doo) – Back after two-year hiatus to go car racing, Villeneuve claimed his third title.
  • 1987: Chuck Decker, Eagle River, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – The youngest member of the track-owning Decker clan started fifth but moved forward for the victory.
  • 1988: Bobby Donahue, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – The popular Donahue barely held off a challenge by Allen Decker to claim the title.
    Dave Wahl in 1990.
  • 1989: Bruce Vessair, Honey Harbour, Ontario (Ski-Doo) – After a long three-way battle with Jacques Villeneuve and Dave Wahl, Vessair pulls away at the end.
  • 1990: Dave Wahl, Greenbush, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – After breaking the track record in qualifying and breaking his ankle in a race Friday, Wahl broke through with his first championship.
  • 1991: Greg Goodwin, Zion, Illinois (Ski-Doo) – After Dave Wahl crashed while leading, Goodwin barely held off a hard-charging Dale Loritz, despite fading brakes.
  • 1992: Gary Vessair, Honey Harbour, Ontario (Ski-Doo) – After dominant performance, Gary became the second Vessair brother to win World Champion honors.
  • 1993: Al Fenhaus, Wausau, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) — Subbing for the injured Jeff Goodwin, Fenhaus pulled a shocking upset on zebra-striped sled.
  • 1994: Dale Loritz, Green Bay, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – Dramatic pass coming out of turn four allowed the popular Loritz the title in his ninth try.
  • 1995: Dale Loritz, Green Bay, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – Dominant green-to-checkered victory made Loritz the first back-to-back champion since Thorsen in 1977 and 1978.
  • 1996: Dave Wahl, Greenbush, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Dubbed the Wahl-To-Wahl Action final, nephew Terry led early but crashed on lap 18. Uncle Dave led the lap that mattered.
  • 1997: Dave Wahl, Greenbush, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Fittingly, master chassis builder Dave Wahl won the last World Championship to feature the Formula I twin trackers.
  • 1998: Terry Wahl, Greenbush, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Dave’s nephew made sure the crown stayed in the family in the first year on Champ 440 sleds.
  • 1999: Mike Houle, Wyoming, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Longtime dominator in Formula III class won with ease in his second try for the World Championship.
  • 92 Champion Gary Vessair

    2000: Mike Houle, Wyoming, Minnesota (Ski-Doo) – Defending champ overcame injuries and ill-running snowmobile to earn back-to-back titles.

  • 2001: Jeremy Johnston, Arcola, Saskatchewan (Ski-Doo) – Only six sleds completed the race, and only three were on the lead lap. Johnston edged teammate Chris Hortness for the win.
  • 2002: P. J. Wanderscheid, Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – 18-year-old rookie on second-hand sled earns stunning victory, and first for Cat since 1984.
  • 2003: P. J. Wanderscheid, Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – Late pass on Phillip Moulton allowed Wanderscheid to prove that 2002 was not a fluke.
  • 2004: Larry Day, Lyman, Maine (Arctic Cat) – An epic battle between the Cats of Day and P.J. Wanderscheid wasn’t settled until the last lap.
  • 2005: Gary Moyle, Houghton, Michigan (Arctic Cat) – Moyle’s first victory was fourth in a row for master engine and chassis builder John Hooper.
  • 2006: P. J. Wanderscheid, Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – Wanderscheid caught leader Terry Wahl in lapped traffic, passed with two laps left and wins by two sled-lengths.
  • 2007: Gary Moyle, Houghton, Michigan (Arctic Cat) – After running second for the first 9 laps, Moyle grabbed the lead and ran away with second championship.
    The first four-timer: PJ Wanderscheid
  • 2008: Brian Bewcyk, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Ski-Doo) – A late red flag lets 43-year-old Bewcyk thaw his freezing hands, then hold off Gary Moyle.
  • 2009: Brian Bewcyk, Winnipeg, Manitoba (Ski-Doo) – Racing against a field of racers half his age, Bewcyk goes back-to-back with dominant victory.
  • 2010: Matt Schulz, Wausau, Wisconsin (Polaris) – The first Polaris victor since 1978 was Schulz on a sled dialed in by his uncle, ’93 champion Al Fenhaus.
  • 2011: P. J. Wanderscheid, Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Arctic Cat) – Wanderscheid and Gary Moyle battled side-by-side, lap-after-lap, but P.J. wins his record fourth title by .375 seconds.
  • 2012: Nick Van Strydonk, Tomahawk, Wisconsin (Polaris) – An amazingly-close battle between six fast sleds on the last couple of laps ended with Van Strydonk winning by a ski length.
  • 2013: Malcolm Chartier, Marine City, Michigan (Ski-Doo) – Chartier earned more than $60,000 in prize money at the 50th running of the World Championship, emerging from a last-corner scrap with two other drivers to win by less than a second. 
  • 2014: Malcolm Chartier, Marine City, Michigan (Ski-Doo) – Chartier defended his first championship by winning his second in dominating fashion, leading all 30 laps on his Houle-built mod. 
  • 2015: Cardell Potter, Camp Douglas, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – After starting in the back row, Potter took the lead with six laps left to claim victory at age 22. 
  • 2016: Matt Schulz, Wausau, Wisconsin (Ski-Doo) – He earned his second W.C. by leading every lap and being unphased by multiple restarts in a dominating and emotional victory.
  • 2017: Nick Van Strydonk, Tomahawk, Wisconsin (Polaris) – Van Strydonk emerged from a fascinating duel with his longtime friend Cardell Potter to earn his second World Championship title. 
  • 2018: Blaine Stephenson, Hutchinson, Minnesota (Polaris) – In one of the strangest, plot-twisting and heart-string pulling finals ever Stephenson weaved through last-lap carnage to score a stunning World Championship.
  • 2019: Blaine Stephenson, Hutchinson, Minnesota (Polaris) – Proving the previous year was no fluke, Stephenson led throughout the final and held off a mid-race challenge from Nick Van Strydonk to earn back-to-back World Championship honors. 
  • 2020: Blaine Stephenson, St. Cloud, Minnesota (Polaris) – Stephenson charged to the front twice: once early in the race before being involved in a crash while leading, and then again after having to start at the back after a restart. It didn’t take him long, though, to slice through traffic, pull away and become the first three-peat World Champ. 
  • 2021: Blaine Stephenson, St. Cloud, Minnesota (Polaris) – The three-time defending champion got the holeshot in the 25-lap final, won the sprint through the first set of turns, held off an early challenge from his main rival Gunnar Sterne and then stormed away to an incredible fourth straight W.C. title on his Champ sled. 
  • 2022: Jay Mittelstaedt, La Valle, Wisconsin (Polaris) – In a year when the World Championship switched from the Pro Champ to the Formula III class, this veteran racer pulled off a stunning victory by grabbing the lead after a restart and then holding off a couple of major challenges on a bumpy track. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t miss our related Derby History story.

 

 

 

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