Friday Night Thunder: Goede, Stephenson Shine In Eagle River

In what looks like one of the most talented and deep fields to run for a snowmobile World Championship in a long time, there are many potentially fascinating storylines this weekend. Could it be the first winner at the Eagle River, Wisconsin, event from Michigan since 2014? The first winner from Ontario since 1992? Perhaps a cross-over champion from another form of racing?

    All good stories indeed. But Friday night’s big showdowns on the high-banked paperclip iced oval were dominated by the only two past World Champions at the event.

     Defending champion Matt Goede claimed the highest profile event – the “Sweet 16” final in the World Championship Formula III class. That enabled the Minnesota-based driver of the No. 28 Ski-Doo to lock in the pole position for Sunday’s big World Championship event.

      Goede accomplished the task with a last lap pass of the other active ex-champ: Blaine Stephenson. Stephenson won the world title four times (2019-2022) and is always super fast on the Eagle River track. But Goede overcame a late restart to claim the top spot.

      It was Stephenson who won Friday night’s other high-profile final: the Pro Champ 440 final after he made a late pass riding his Wahl chassis Polaris mod sled past – you guessed it, Matt Goede.

     The temperatures hovered around 0 degrees Fahrenheit at the famed Derby track, though the winds calmed down as the night continued. That may have been a blessing for the thousands of fans, but for racers it left a cloud of snowdust hanging over the track. That obscured vision, creating yet another obstacle at the sport’s most challenging track.   

     Further qualifying will take place Saturday, before Sunday’s World Championship race.

Goede Sets The Pace In Formula III

Matt Goede said he and his team built a brand new Formula III sled for the 2023-24 race season, with intentions of running it to try to repeat as the World Champion. But then he returned this weekend with the exact sled he won on last year.

     “They’re both pretty much the same thing but this one’s had such a great track record it would feel like it would be bad karma to not keep racing it,” Goede said.

      Good call. Goede started the day by dominating the World Championship time trials, notching a two-lap time of 33.934 seconds, which was an amazing .74 seconds faster than second-place Mike VanDolder. VanDolder’s time raised a lot of eyebrows, though. Could this be the year the famed and longstanding Flying Dutchman team from Ontario gets their title?

     For Friday, though, we wouldn’t get to see much more of VanDolder thanks to a freak incident. His race transporter malfunctioned when he entered the track to run his first heat race in Formula III, so he was done for the night. What a silly way to lose a top competitor. We can’t wait to see him back out there tomorrow.

     Stephenson was the third fastest in time trials, followed by Gavin Peterson, Joe Burch, Mason Schuette, Calvin Cook, Gunnar Sterne, Tom Olson and Zach Dewald. Twenty six drivers timed in.

Goede’s Run To Friday Night Glory

Matt Goede
Defending World Champion Matt Goede had the green flag held above his head before the start, but won the race to the checkered flag at the end.

Goede continued his dominance in qualifying heat races for the Friday Night Sweet 16 race, running away with his heat and semifinal. Stephenson’s teammate Tom Olson also won a heat and a semi-final on his No. 39 Wahl Brothers Polaris.

     After a long night of other racing, the sleds that made it to the final lined up 10-abreast. When they were released, Stephenson burst into the lead as the drivers powered through the first set of turns and extended his lead down the backstretch. Unfortunately for him, his teammate Olson got blasted from behind in the heavy traffic between turns one and two and was stalled in the middle of the turn. That brought out a red flag and a complete restart.

     On the second start, Geode thrust his Ski-Doo to the front and immediately opened a gap on the field headed down the backstretch. A couple of laps into the 16-lap final, he already had a half-straightaway lead on Dakota Harris, who was running a strong second directly in front of Stephenson. Soon Gavin Peterson locked himself into fourth, with Mason Schuette (running the sled of 2022 champion Jay Mittelstaedt) fifth, and Gunnar Sterne sixth.

     It took Stephenson a couple of laps to get past Harris, but by then Goede was far, far ahead in the intense snowdust. The two eventually started working through lapped traffic, notching one fast lap after another despite the conditions. The fact that the 16-lap race was incident free until the white flag was already in the air was also shocking given the limited visibility.

     But then Schuette (who was running fifth at the time) became disconnected from his sled entering turn one. His slid up the banking toward the haybales but his sled was right in the middle of the race line on corner-entry but barely visible in the dense snow fog. The race was red flagged, and Geode’s 6.1-second, otherwise insurmountable lead was erased.

     The restart was somewhat reminiscent of last year’s World Championship final. After the sleds were lined up in their running order on the front stretch, Goede got a poor holeshot and that allowed Stephenson to jump into the lead entering turn one – just as Geode did to him in last year’s W.C. This time, though, Goede was able to get a good launch out of turn two on the last lap, power past Stephenson on the inside entering turn three and out-sprint him to the waving checkered flag.


     Goede was followed by Stephenson, Peterson, Harris, Tyler Town and Dewald. Sterne finished seventh, with Nick Wickerham eighth – the last running sled. Schuette and Olson were scored as DNFs.

     “I was definitely worried when he beat me to the corner there,” Goede said. “But the sled has been so good we just kept digging and got a good run on him up in two turn [on the last lap] and we drag raced into [corners] three and four and I was able to beat him to the line.”

     Goede said his team worked on his front suspension geometry a bit in the off-season, “and I think it’s working a little bit better than it did last year.”

Stephenson was disappointed to let this one slip away.

     “I screwed up [turns] one and two on that last lap,” Stephenson said. “I tried to really rail that outside line and when I got to the middle it just didn’t bite like I thought.”

     Asked about the restart’s similarity to last year’s World Championship final, Stephenson said, “Even though we would have been the beneficiary this time, I hate when you’ve already seen the white flag and then you have a re-start. It’s just dumb. But, [laughs] I was still going to be happy to take it!”  

Stephenson Wins The Pro Champ Final

Blaine Stephenson got to carry the checkered flag after the Pro Champ final.

Prior to 2022, the Pro Champ class was the World Championship class at Eagle River but now fan of the high-powered mods sometimes feel somewhat slighted at the Derby event. But recently, track co-owner and race director Craig Marchbank announced he had secured $10,000 in added purse thanks to his friend at Michigan-based World Tek Industries. That brought some more intrigue – and sleds – to the class in the Friday night showdown.

     A couple of rounds of heat races and semi finals narrowed the field of racers from 21 to 12. They would make a run for the cash.

     On green, it was the strong independent racer Justin Peterson of Campbellsport, Wisconsin, who surged into the lead on his No. 39 Houle chassis Ski-Doo. Stephenson and Goede were immediately chasing his snowflap.

     They stayed in that order until Tanner Foss got separated from No. 111 sled in turn 2 and caused a red flag and a restart. Peterson held off his higher-profile challengers again on the restart, with Goede moving past Stephenson into second, but then the race was red flagged again, after Foss again spun in turn 2.

     This time on the restart, Peterson’s sled didn’t react well and both Goede and Stephenson surged past him. Goede held the lead running a lower line through the turns than Stephenson, but after the race Stephenson told us that his chosen line was on purpose.   

     “I just tried to stay up above the dirt, even when Goede got by me and he was running that line, I thought, ‘Well, let him,’ especially when we got to halfway and I knew we still had all sorts of time,” Stephenson said.

     That paid off with four laps to go, when Goede sled washed out in turn two – likely the result of dulled carbides – and both Stephenson and Peterson zipped beneath him.

     Stephenson got the win, with Peterson second and Goede third. The No. 54 of Calvin Peterson of Eden, Wisconsin, grabbed fourth, with Gunnar Sterne fifth. Marc Donahue, Tom Olson, Luke Olson, Gavin Peterson and Fred Manke wrapped up the top 10.

     Racing continues throughout the weekend. will have the sport’s most complete coverage, including our front row fictional odds from the Snow Goer Tip Sheet. Here’s a link to last year’s tip sheet.

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