Thirty years ago – at the 30th running of the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, Wisconsin – upstart racer Al Fenhaus sprinted away to a shocking World Champion victory on a twin-tracked Ski-Doo in front of a start of a star-studded field. With the 60th running of the Derby just two weeks away as this story is being posted, it seems like a great time to look back at that race, through the eyes of the dearly departed Snow Week magazine. What follows are the details on the Championship-based Formula I class, and the text from the first couple of pages of 13-pages of coverage of the race in Snow Week at the time.
We’ll be back again this year, covering the blow by blow action for SnowGoer.com and presenting the Snow Goer Cup to the winner. In the meantime, enjoy the flashback.
World Championship Cinderella Story For Fenhaus
Staff Report January 14-17, 1993, Eagle River, Wisconsin
Thirty years ago, a 13-year-old boy by the name of Stanley Hayes was tapped to race a top-running Polaris in the first-ever World Championship Derby when his sled broke down before the event.
Hayes, a seemingly unlikely winner because of his tender age, was nevertheless declared the winner at the end of the day’s racing in what became a Cinderella story.
Thirty years later, Al Fenhaus of Wausau, Wisconsin, made, and repeated, history when he crossed the finish line as the 1993 World Champion.
In the 25-lap final, Fenhaus piloted his Goodwin Racing twin-tracker to what was a shocking victory for both himself and the rest of the 12-racer field. Finished second to Fenhaus was his new teammate Greg Goodwin of Zion, Illinois, the 1991 World Champion.
“I really never believed I was going to win it,” Fenhaus said, two days after the race. “I really expected that either Greg (Goodwin), Dave Wahl or Gary Vessair would win. It’s still hard to believe that I won it. I just watched the video of it, and I was amazed at how far ahead I was, because I never did look back during the final.”
The half-lap lead the 28-year-old Fenhaus had at the finish line was the result of a nearly perfectly set up sled. Running second off the line to defending World Champion Gary Vessair, Fenhaus pulled alongside Vessair coming out of turn two, passed him down the back straight, and literally never looked back.
Goodwin passed Vessair coming out of turn four on the same lap and set off for Fenhaus, while Vessair had left to do battle with Dale Loritz, Kris Vandolder and Dave Wahl. Vandolder eventually passed Vessair and set his sights on Goodwin, but both racers began to tire at about the halfway point and remained second and third.
Wahl, who rode flawlessly all weekend long and was the pre-race favorite after having won the Can-Am final on Friday, was set up a little too soft for the rough Eagle River track, which by the final had developed a nearly moguled groove. Wahl eventually passed Loritz for fourth.
Chuck Decker finished a distant sixth on his Team Valvoline sled after starting from the back row, the result of making the final through the last-chance qualifier. Vessair held off Allen Decker, who looked to finish well after having posted the fastest qualifying time (36.937 seconds) on his Team Valvoline sled. Finishing ninth was 1989 World Champion Bruce Vessair, followed by Steve Scheuring, Dan Lilly and Scott Mondus.
While the pageantry of the 30th running of the World Championship was truly exciting, it was the amazing story of Fenwick that ruled the day.
A month prior to Eagle River, Jeff and Greg Goodwin were testing their new twin-trackers for the coming season when Jeff rebroke his arm. The arm had been cut in an accident 18 months before. With two sleds and sponsorship from Commercial Sewing/Goodwin Performance/Decker Enterprises/USI to account for, the Goodwins made a call to Fenhaus after Fenhaus had finished fourth at Brainerd on his independently sponsored sled.
Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Fenhaus had broken all the traditional rules his first season by winning a race. This year his goad was to race the entire Ski-Doo/Export “A” SPORT Series and perhaps finish well. When the call came from Goodwin, Fenhaus accepted the offer.
“When the deal came through with the Goodwins, I was really happy,” Fenhaus said. “What I’ve learned in three weeks would have otherwise taken me three years to learn.”
Looking for an extra edge for the final on Sunday, Greg Goodwin called his brother Jeff who was recuperating in the hospital after undergoing arm surgery. After describing how rough the track was, Jeff told his brother that revalving the shocks would prove worthwhile, then proceeded to give Greg the actual specifications to valve to. The advice paid off as Fenhaus’ sled, including his Decker Enterprises motor, was as close to perfect as possible throughout the race.
When Fenhaus crossed the finish line first, he became one of only a handful of racers who have won the World Championship on their first Championship final. With Goodwin second, it was the first time ever that teammates finished first and second.
In what was a very emotional moment, the entire Team Goodwin crowd overcame Fenhaus and Goodwin on the back straightaway when the two had stopped to congratulate each other. After finally reaching the victory podium, Greg dedicated the race to brother Jeff, who will be racing next season.
“I am actually more happy and emotional right now than I was after winning in 1991,” Greg Goodwin said after the race.
Like Hayes 30 years ago, Fenhaus was the Cinderella story that ruled what was and still is the most prestigious oval race in the world. But instead of just receiving a nice trophy for the win, Fenhaus will get to choose between $12,000 or a 1993 Ford Flairside truck. He also receives the all-new Snow Week cup.
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