Eagle River World Championship Preview: A Look At The Pro Champ 440 Competitors

We don’t care what the Weather Channel says: The weekend forecast for Eagle River, Wisconsin, is calling for gusting winds and blowing and drifting snowdust, created by fast-moving sleds competing for a place in history.

This is the weekend oval racers and their fans wait for all year, and the running of the 51st annual Amsoil Eagle River World Championship Derby promises to live up to the hype again this year. With a deep field of fast sleds, a real weather forecast calling for comfortable winter weather and big dollars on the line, it’s  bound to be a historic weekend of racing. At the end of the weekend, only one driver will have his (or her, this year) name inscribed on the fabled Snow Goer Cup traveling trophy.

Eagle River World Championship
Eagle River is about history, it’s about ceremony, and it’s about very fast race sleds. This was taken during the National Anthem before the 2013 World Championship, with eventual winner Malcolm Chartier’s sled front and center.

Some Snow Goer staffers are literally heading toward the track right now; another is going Friday morning. Check back all weekend for race results and updates here on snowgoer.com and on the Snow Goer Magazine Facebook page.

The Run For The Championship

There are many different classes of racing that compete at the famed Derby Track on championship weekend – including top-level snocross racing on the bumpy infield course — but the centerpiece of the show is the Pro Champ 440 final which occurs at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Between now and then, a field of more than 20 drivers will be paired to 12 – 10 in the front row who qualify for their positions with success on Friday and Saturday, and then two more drivers who gain a second-row starting position via the last chance qualifier race on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Gary Moyle Eagle River
Two-time World Champ Gary Moyle (#66) had to come through the last chance qualifier last year, but he’s back and expected to challenge for the title in 2014.

Racers and teams literally train, plan and wrench year-around for this one chance. Other oval races during the season are certainly exciting, interesting and worth attending, but there’s nothing like the World Championship on this high-banked track in an otherwise sleepy northern Wisconsin town.

The field is particularly interesting this year, with many young drivers  have worked their way up into veteran status can no longer be overlooked. Two past multi-time champions have announced in the last 10 days that they won’t be racing at the Derby this year: four-timer PJ Wanderscheid and his tight-knit team are taking the year off to focus on some health issues within their family, and three-timer Jacques Villeneuve is planning to oval race later this year but said he won’t be at Eagle River as he still recovers from a horrific accident last spring. Let’s take a quick glance at the field:

Sabrina Blanchet
Sabrina Blanchet will be the first woman to make a run for the World Championship in decades. This is her racing to a Semi-Pro Champ title last year at Eagle River.
  • Gavin Bihner, #777 – a Pro Champ novice from Minnesota who has won other classes at the Derby in the past.
  • Sabrina Blanchet, #79 – Young Quebec native was super fast when she waxed all the boys in Semi-Pro Champ 440 at the Derby last year. First woman in decades to make a run at the W.C. be a rising star.
  • Chris Broermann, #17 – Racer from Sauk Centre, Minnesota, finished seventh in Iowa in December. UPDATE: Not on list of sleds taking Time Trials on Thursday.
  • Malcolm Chartier, #33 – The defending World Champion and a winner at the opener at Beausejour plus last weekend at Ironwood, the Michigan driver goes in as one of the top favorites.
  • Ricky Connolly, #27 – A relative newcomer from Minnesota, claimed a sixth Sunday at Iowa.
  • Colt Dellandrea, #53 – Ontario-based Cat racer hasn’t competed yet this year, his status is unknown for this weekend.
  • Dan Fenhaus, #10 – Has had several podium finishes at the Derby in the past, his Wisconsin-based team is putting all of their marbles in on this one race this year. UPDATE: Not on list of sleds taking Time Trials on Thursday.
  • Joey Fjerstad, #16 – Strong and fast racer from Minnesota has a lot of experience, took a fifth and a sixth in two finals at Ironwood.
  • Trevor Fontaine, #3 – Strong racer from Wisconsin who is looking for a breakthrough win. UPDATE: Not on list of sleds taking Time Trials on Thursday.
  • Mike Haker, #44 – UPDATE: New Hampshire native was a surprise entry on the drivers list on Thursday afternoon.
  • Brandon Johnson, #22 – Fast Minnesota-based racer who won one final in Iowa, and took one second at Ironwood; the most veteran of the overdue Wahl Bros. team.
  • Ryan Kniskern, #616 – Former Semi-Pro Champ season winner who placed second Saturday at Ironwood, has great equipment running for Tommy Lipar Racing.
  • Mike Lehman, #001 – UPDATE: Popular local driver from Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin, is back for the 51st running at age 51.  
  • Travis MacDonald, #8 – Manitoba-based racer has championship pedigree team, and a lot of successful laps racing through the ranks. Second to Johnson in Iowa in Saturday final.
  • Jay Mittelstaedt, #297 – Has successfully raced vintage sleds here in the past, Wisconsin racer making run with a Champ sled this year.
  • Gary Moyle, #66 – Two-time former champ from the U.P. hasn’t showed a lot so far this year, but only a fool would overlook this quick and crafty veteran.
  • Brad Murkowski, #86 – Came through the ranks and has landed in Pro Champ for racing family from Wisconsin.
  • Cardell Potter, #58 – Multi-sport racer from Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, was third last weekend in Sunday final at Ironwood.
  • Joe Presta, #80 – Veteran driver from Dryden, Ontario, seeks spot in history before hanging it up. UPDATE: Not on list of sleds taking Time Trials on Thursday.
  • Lance Relf, #54 – No word (yet) on whether Relf is racing this year, though he was on some early season race lists. UPDATE: Not on list of sleds taking Time Trials on Thursday.
  • Matt Ritchie, #355 – Very fast local boy (Minocqua, Wisconsin); status unknown due to family tragedy this week.
  • Matt Schulz, #38 – The World Champ in 2010, second in 2012, third last year, winner this year at Iowa on Sunday, and always near the front. Truly a star.
  • Mike Soucy, #52 – Coming all the way from New Hampshire for a run for the roses.
  • Gunnar Sterne, #220 – Winner of multiple feeder classes in the past, Illinois driver seeks win on the biggest stage.
  • Mike Van Dolder, #999 – Veteran from Ontario may come south for another run for the Flying Dutchmen team.
  • Nick Van Strydonk, #13 – World Champ in 2012 is super fast again this year. Won Saturday final at Ironwood last weekend, pulled out of Sunday final after a crash to save his equipment.
  • Dustin Wahl, #74 – He’s been a favorite here many times in the past, and has won pretty much everywhere possible in the oval world except the Sunday final at Eagle River.
  • Jordan Wahl, #747 – Youngster was USSA Oval Driver Of The Year last year, and finished a close second at the Derby last year in exciting final. Had his brakes not faded last year, he might be the defending champ.
Gunnar Stern, Dan Fenhaus
Gunnar Sterne (#220) is seeking a breakthrough win while Dan Fenhaus (#10) will try to get a victory that has evaded him many times. This picture was shot during a heat race in 2013 at the Derby track.


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