The truncated version of the 2021 USSA Pro Star oval racing circuit kicked off in grand style January 23-24, in Wausau, Wisconsin, with the Wausau 525 Snowmobile Championship. It ended with a familiar winner.
In Sunday’s featured Pro Champ 440 final, three-time defending Wausau winner Gunnar Sterne of West Chicago, Illinois, drove his Ski-Doo-powered mod to the front in the first turn and never looked back. If Sterne would have, however, he would have, he would have seen a whole lot of Saturday’s winner Matt Goede, especially toward the end of the race!
The Sterne win was the culmination of the excellent weekend at the popular Wausau track – which returned to the USSA schedule after a one-year hiatus.
The flat and fast ice oval at Wausau was in fine shape, and a pleasant weekend of weather greeted fans and racers alike – though a cold and still start on Saturday let the snow dust hang around more than some would have liked.
Overall, it was an exciting and safe weekend of racing in multiple classes – with particularly in F500 and the new F440 class – though as usual the Pro Champ 440 class was the headline stealer.
Saturday: Goede Runs Away
The two-day Wausau event got started under bright skies. Through three rounds of round-robin heats in Pro Champ 440, the trend witnessed at Eagle River, Wisconsin, the previous weekend continued – with four drivers clearly at the top of the field, and then a bit of a gap to a pack of up-and-comers.
Gunnar Sterne and Matt Goede won the first set of heats, but then they finished behind Blaine Stephenson in round two, with Stephenson’s teammate Tom Olson taking the other round-two heat. The third and final round was a repeat of round one – Sterne won heat one, Goede claimed heat two.
In the final, Goede got out front quickly and expanded on his lead as the race continued, outgunning the field by a wide margin for his first Pro Champ victory of the young season on his No. 28 Ski-Doo. Four-time Eagle River repeat champ Stephenson got off to a slow start but worked his way up to second ahead of Wahl Bros. Polaris teammate Tom Olson, with Sterne trailing in fourth on his Ski-Doo.
John Henke proved to be the best of the rest on Saturday ahead of the emerging Justin Peterson, then came Fred Manke, Matt Bennett, Griffin Lepak and Dalton Fredrickson.
The most coveted final, though, would be Sunday, and for that day the field in the Pro Champ class would be expanded because the Pro Lite racers would join them on the track.
Sunday: All Stern, All The Time
In recent years, Gunnar Sterne has found himself increasingly frustrated at the Eagle River World Championships on the third weekend of January, but then proved to be completely unbeatable on the fourth Sunday when the attention of the oval racing world turns to the flat oval at Wausau, Wisconsin.
Sterne’s domination on the brilliant Red Bull sled started early when he swept through qualifying in high fashion. He and Stephenson each won heat races in round one ahead of Olson and Goede, respectively. Goede and Sterne won round two heats with Olson and Henke immediately in tow. Round three was more of the same for Sterne, who had Henke behind him in heat one, while Olson edged Stephenson in heat two.
All of this heat action would make Sterne the top qualifier when 14 sleds lined up for the 15-lap final – 10 in the front row and four in the back. That’s certainly a crowded field for the tight track, so Sterne left nothing to chance early on – launching off the starting line and grabbing the early lead with Goede directly behind him while Peterson and Olson battled for third and Stephenson was buried in the pack.
Sterne started to open an impressive lead and looked to go unchallenged until he got held up a couple of times in lapped traffic, which allowed Goede to close the gap. On the very last lap, the two actually traded paint in turns one and two, but Sterne held the position and sprinted toward the waving checkered flag, with Goede a close second and then a gap to Stephenson, who fought past his teammate Olson for the final spot on the podium.
Olson held onto fourth, with Henke and Peterson again emerging from the field for impressive fifth and sixth place finished. Matt Bennett took seventh on this day ahead of Dalton Fredrickson, with Calvin Cook and Jon Wunderlich rounding out the top 10.
Special thanks to USSA’s Brett Richter for shooting video and sharing details on the race events, and to Brad Malmgren Photography for the awesome images of the racing action.
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