The North American battle for snowmobile oval sprint racing supremacy came down to the last weekend of the season. The Saturday schedule at the Canadian Power Toboggan Championship at the big iced track in Beausejour, Manitoba, would be round seven in the USSA ProStar Cup Tour points series, and it came down to two rival racers.
Blaine Stephenson of St. Cloud, Minnesota, went into the final with a narrow, 10-point lead in the season points chance over rival Gunnar Sterne of West Chicago, Illinois. Sterne opened the season with a victory on this same track way back in December, with Stephenson in second. The next round – technically the Ironwood, Michigan, round though the final was moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, due to weather and driver safety concerns – was claimed by Stephenson with Sterns second. The next three rounds (Eagle River’s Friday program, the regular Wausau round and the Friday program at Weyauwega, Wisconsin) were all claimed by neither: Instead, Minnesotan Matt Goede swept those rounds, and Goede also then finished second behind Stephenson in the Saturday program at Weyauwega. Goede, though, wasn’t running the full season points chase, so the season points title would come down to Stephenson and Sterne at Beausejour.
As it turns out, Sterne won the battle at the CPTC facility – winning the Pro Champ final both days. But Stephenson won the season-long war by collecting the most points for the season. Below is the report from the USSA ProStar Series. Thanks to Brett Richter for sending out these interesting and complete reports, and full credit to Darryl Gerschman for the photos in this story.
Round 7 ProStar Cup Tour final
If you look up the word “border” in the Cambridge dictionary, it states, “the line that divides one place from another.”
With the 2021-2022 ProStar Cup Tour Championship on the line, both Gunnar Sterne and his #220 Ski-Doo Red Bull racing team and #102 Blaine Stephenson’s Wahl Brothers racing Polaris group crossed the border to Canada for the season-ending race in Beausejour, Manitoba. But from the start of practice on Friday, it was very apparent the weekend’s definition of border was much more than the line between the U.S. and Canada.
After nearly 20 heat races and six finals, the Tour Championship had come down to a mere 10-point difference with Stephenson holding 604 points and Sterne with 594 points.
On this championship Saturday, three rounds of heats and one final, would put a maximum of 130 points on the table for any one driver. A tie at the end of the season was also a possibility, which would have forced racers to follow the tie-break format. But when Saturday’s race order was released, it was easy to see the very first heat of the day played strongly into the season long outcome.
The first heat of the day found Sam Gloor, Travis MacDonald, Calvin Cook, Blaine Stephenson and Gunnar Sterne on the starting line. Even before leaving the paddock area, the tension was palpable. If people understood the point structure, they were aware that the finishing order of this one heat race had a lot to do with the potential outcome of the season long championship.
In the first attempt to line up on the starting line, Sterne found himself pinched up against the hay bales and asked to have the start re-set. Starter Riley Baker agreed and sent the five racers back to the fourth corner. Returning to the starting line, Sterne found himself with a bit more room, but still on the far outside. Baker staged the racers, but the #75 of Calvin Cook jumped the start. Riley sent them all back to turn four, with Cook now relegated to the back row. That placed Stephenson and Sterne next to each other for the start.
As they were called back to the line, Stephenson took his third spot well wide of MacDonald, who was starting P2. Once again, this pushed Sterne out close to the front stretch bales. This time, the green flag flew.
MacDonald, who has long been a highly competitive driver the Champ 440 class, beat both Stephenson and Sterne to the first corner followed by Gloor and Cook. In the first three laps, the top three sleds were virtually nose-to-tail. The initial race laps provided some of the best racing seen all year. It was obvious that all the racers understood the importance of this finish.
With three laps in and running in third place, Sterne searched for an opening around Stephenson, while Stephenson searched for an opening around MacDonald. At the exit of turn three there was contact between Sterne and Stephenson. The contact was just enough to bounce Sterne off the #220 Red Bull Ski-Doo. Stephenson continued, but the red flag was thrown. As Sterne got up and walked to his sled, the sight of a broken ski loop relegated him to a fifth-place finish and only six valuable points for the race.
As Sterne drove his sled back to the pit area passing by Stephenson, both drivers displayed their views of the incident to each other. It was apparent the border between the two had just gotten wider. Stephenson went on to win the heat race gathering 10 points for the win. The season long lead over Sterne was now 14 points.
Both Stephenson and Sterne won their respective heats in the next two rounds meaning the final simply came down to this. Stephenson needed to finish no worse than one spot behind Sterne to win the championship. Sterne simply had to put the hammer down, win the final and hope for the best. Everyone knew MacDonald could play a key role in outcome.
Without the drama of the 2021-2022 ProStar Cup Tour Championship on the line, the 15-lap final was relatively uneventful. Sterne got off to an early lead and never looked back. Stephenson kept Sterne in view and although pushed by MacDonald, was never really threatened for the spot. With Sterne gaining 100 points for the victory and Stephenson taking 90 for second, Stephenson secured the season long point total 724 to 720.
The round seven finishing order was #220 Gunnar Sterne; #102 Blaine Stephenson; #8 Travis MacDonald; #370 Matt Szalai; #3 Danick Lambert; #91 Sam Gloor; #29 Brad Harrison; #87 Madison Phillips; #75 Calvin Cook. The entire ProStar Cup Tour season points list will be released shortly.
In a season filled strong competition, challenging weather, outstanding racing, and contentious rivalries, the 2021-2022 USSA ProStar Cup Tour was one for the ages. Are the rivalry days of Polaris vs Ski-Doo returning? Are we seeing drivers bringing competition to a new level? Is there pending drama building for the next season? We will see shortly. But for now, it is time to let the ice melt.
The best ice oval racers in North America will be celebrated at the Tour banquet in April. The 2021-2022 USSA ProStar Cup Tour is proudly brought to you by IncredibleBank, Advanced Compressor Technology, Woody’s Traction, Polaris, Fly Racing Gear, Wahl Brothers Racing, 365 Powersports, and Scott’s Auto Body.