Eagle River Derby Preview: A Run For History

Eagle river world championship
The World Championship class may have changed, but many of the top racers are in the new Formula III class – including Blaine Stephenson (102), Gunnar Sterne (220) and Thomas Olson (39) pictured here last year on their Pro Champ machines. So the rivalries will be the same, and the speeds will be fast!

The 59th running of the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile is now just days away, as the best oval sprint and enduro racers in the world have already gathered in tiny and historic Eagle River, Wisconsin, to try to put their names into snowmobiling lore.

     There’s a change in the class that will run for the overall World Championship title this year, as it will now be based on the Formula III class, but there is all sorts of exciting racing on the agenda for the January 13-16 event. Yes, the Pro Champ sleds will definitely be back, with their USSA Pro Star points event being a star attraction on Friday night. Plus, for the second straight year, the top enduro racers will run on the Derby track after the regular World Championship Sunday afternoon.

     Add in a whole bunch of other oval sprint races – from Juniors to F500 to the exotic Outlaw class buggies – plus everything from motorcycle on ice, a couple of vintage classes and a whole lot of history, and you’ve got a true World Championship event.

At The Track

We caught up with Derby Track co-owner and race director Craig Marchbank Wednesday afternoon while he was walking the track – checking hay bales and enduring the facility was ready for the fast-paced action to begin again.

Last weekend’s Vintage World Championship attracted more than 900 entries – an amazing total – and that put some stresses on the workers and the facility, but everybody and everything is getting dialed-in for this weekend, he said.

“After we finished Sunday with the Vintage race, when I was doing the awards, the track guys were already grinding the track and started shaving the surface” in preparation for the racing this coming weekend, Marchbank said. “We then dumped water on the track on Sunday night, and again on Monday, and then on Tuesday. We’ve dumped 30 loads since Sunday night, and the track looks really nice again. Everything is filled in.”

And, Marchbank pledged, more water will go on tonight and potentially through the weekend, weather permitting.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is, it’s not just the temperature that’s important [to efficiently making ice] it’s also the humidity,” he said. Sometimes, at very comparable temperatures, it can take 90 minutes for the water to turn to fresh ice on top of the race surface, and other times it’ll virtually freeze right behind the truck that is dumping it, he said, defending on the moisture that’s in the air.

There were other improvements made around the Derby track over the summer and fall – from grading the surface that is now below that ice to replacing windows and much more.

To The Racing

Practice on the famed Derby Complex grounds begins on Thursday before active racing starts on Friday, January 14. During the day Friday there will be qualifying in a number of classes, as fields are set for the highly entertaining Friday Night Thunder program, which will include racing in most classes going all the way to finals.

  This may be the best Pro Champ racing of the weekend, as the biggest star in the sport go shoulder to shoulder in the 15-lap USSA Pro Star Cup event that includes $5,000 in added purse from sponsor IncredibleBank. There will also be the Sweet 16 format for the Formula III world Championship class, with the winner advancing right to Sunday’s final.

Saturday, racing starts at 10 a.m. There will be a whole bunch of Juniors and Factory 600 classes that are run all the way to finals before the track is eventually turned over to World Championship qualifying races starting at 3 p.m. This is where the front row for Sunday’s big race will be set.

Sunday is then Championship day, with a few qualifying racing early and then nothing but finals. There will be finals in 11 classes on the day – Pro Lite, Vintage Super Stock 440, Outlaw, Pro Champ, F-500, F-440FC, Junior I F-500, Junior II F-500, F-500 Sport, and the F-500/Sportsman 600 Combo. All of this, of course, is aside from all of the highly competitive “Kitty Cat” and 120 racing that goes on elsewhere on the Derby Complex grounds.

Run For The Snow Goer Cup

Then, after many traditional ceremonies and celebration of history, the 59th running of the World Championship will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Formula III sleds will run 25 laps on the Derby track, and only one driver will emerge as the champion and have or her name engraved on the Snow Goer Cup traveling trophy.

Will Blaine Stephenson win his fifth straight title, in a different class than before? Will Gunnar Sterne finally break through and win his first? Will this new rules package usher in the first Michigan native to win this highly coveted title since Malcolm Chartier in 2014? Only time will tell.

Typically Sunday’s program wraps up with the World Championship final, but a new tradition was initiated last year. True race fans will want to stick around because the Pro Enduro drivers will take to the track next. These hard-core warriors will run 100 laps on the banked half-mile for the title of World Champion of Pro Enduro.

Check back on SnowGoer.com throughout the weekend for race results and more.

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