Eagle River Preview: The Amazing FIII Field

Jay Mittelstaedt, Team Blu and other key people behind his World Championship victory after the race in 2022.

<Updated 1/18 with an additional name>

The 60th running of the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby is rapidly approaching. This year the crowd of racers competing for snowmobile racing’s most historic and coveted crown is perhaps the most varied in decades, with all four brands competing and competitors from varied backgrounds.  

       With the move to the Formula III class and away from the Pro Champ class for the World Championship crown, some of the oval sprint “regulars” that folks are used to seeing make a run the championship are missing. But a whole host of high-quality racers from other aspects of the sport – and most notably Michigan-based oval enduro racing and Minnesota-based cross-country racing – are making their own run at history. Two notable Canadians are returning, as is a high-profile Alaskan.

       With 29 “known” entries so far and a few more possible to trickle in, competition on Friday and Saturday, January 20-21, in qualifying races will be very fierce, as just making the 10-sled front row will be a major accomplishment. Then two other drivers will be added in a Sunday last-chance qualifier before the green flag waves at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, January 22, for a run for the roses on the banked, re-shaped half-mile iced oval.

       Snow Goer will be there all weekend, covering the action, making fictional “odds” on finalists on the Snow Goer Tip Sheet and then handing over the historic Snow Goer Cup traveling trophy to the winner.

       Let’s take a look at the field of expected entries, as of January 12. The names on this list were accumulated by an online Austin Leeck post and then confirmed/adapted through a combination of our work and the very diligent efforts of Doug Etten from the Vilas County Review in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

        We will have soon create a Fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game where people can make predictions on the results. But for now, let’s look at the field.  

The Oval Sprint Regulars

Blaine Stephenson
The Wahl Bros. team celebrates Blaine Stephenson’s fourpeat at Eagle River in 2021, when Blaine Stephenson won and Tom Olson finished second.

Four-time World Champ Blaine Stephenson and multi-time national points champion Gunner Sterne have been at the top of the oval heap for awhile now, and they go into Eagle River as undisputed top runners. Jay Mittelstaedt is the defending World Champion after his surprise victory last year, so you’ve got to figure he’ll be lightning fast again.

       But there are other strong racers in this field as well.

       Matt Goede makes his first run at Formula III racing after past Vintage World Championship titles plus a very strong season last year in Pro Champ. Tom Olson and John Henke has been an emerging racer the last couple of seasons – in fact, Olson finished second to Stephenson in 2021 and Henke has finished as high as fifth. Plus, the youngster Calvin Cook timed in very well last year.

       There are also two historic names from Ontario returning after a multi-year absence.

Colt Dellandrea has run some fast laps around this place, including finishing fourth in the W.C. race in 2020.

       The popular Colt Dellandrea has made the World Championship final five times on his No. 53, and has finished as high as fourth place in his last appearance in 2020.

       Meanwhile, the latest in a long line of racing VanDolders – now Mike – will bring the No. 999 Flying Dutchman team back to Eagle. Jake Beres has made three of the last four finals on his No. 23 Polaris, finishing as high as fifth.  

Tyler Beach, No. 68 Polaris, Dakota, Minnesota
Jake Beres, No. 23 Polaris, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Calvin Cook, No. 75 Polaris, Dayton, Minnesota
Colt Dellandrea; No. 53 Arctic Cat, Sundridge, Ontario
Matt Goede; No. 28 Ski-Doo, Mayer, Minnesota
John Henke, No. 157 Ski-Doo, Amherst, Wisconsin
Jay Mittelstaedt, No. 297 Polaris, La Valle, Wisconsin
Luke Olson, No. 04 Polaris, Ishpeming, Michigan
Tom Olson, No. 39 Polaris, Madison, Wisconsin
Blaine Stephenson, No. 102 Polaris, Hutchinson, Minnesota
Gunnar Sterne, No. 220 Ski-Doo, Chicago, Illinois
Mike VanDolder, No. 999 Ski-Doo, Barrie, Ontario

The Michigan Brigade!

Jake Gerow
Jake Gerow won a qualifying race and finished third at the Derby in 2022.

The switch to Formula III rules brought in a big crowd of Michigan racers, who run a very similar rules package on the MIRA race circuit. A lot of these guys also compete in long-distance enduro racing – you can often tell the MIRA regulars by their broad shoulders and tough demeaners! There are also some vintage/BEVRA crossovers in this group.

       Jake Gerow took the Karl  Schwartz Racing No. 72 to a surprise third-place finish at the Derby last year. He now is setting his sights a couple of steps higher on that podium. Matt Town finished fourth and Dakota Harris fifth in the same race – each put together strong races. Kevin Vermeersch is back with a new WV Racing Polaris after finishing eighth last year. Collin Henderson also made the final and finished 11th.

       The DeWald name has made some history at Eagle River, mainly in vintage, but the youngster Zach would be the first to inscribe it on the Snow Goer Cup. Eichenberg will try to earn the first Yamaha victory since Eddie Schubitzke in 1976, and there are other veteran racers in this crowd as well.

Zach DeWald, No. 29 Polaris, Au Gres, Michigan
Kris Eichenberg, No. 85 Yamaha, Hawkins, Michigan
Tyler Foster, No. 33t Polaris, Fairgrove, Michigan
Jake Gerow, No. 72 Polaris, Oscoda, Michigan
Dakota Harris, No. 23 Polaris, Morley, Michigan
Collin Henderson; No. 13 Arctic Cat, Big Rapids, Michigan
Scott Harris, No. 43 Polaris, Morley, Michigan
Austin Leeck, No. 67 Polaris, Hubbard Lake, Michigan
John Proctor, No. 686 Polaris, Trufant, Michigan
Andy Shoemaker, No. 42 Ski-Doo, Pinconning, Michigan
Matt Town, No. 2x Ski-Doo, Traverse City, Michigan
Stephen Town, No. 2 Ski-Doo, Traverse City, Michigan
Kevin Vermeersch, No. 44 Polaris, Akron, Michigan

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The Cross-Country Invaders

Zach Herfindahl has won the cross-country I-500 and Soo I-500, but he now returns to his hometown chasing another crown jewel.

The switch to Formula III has also attracted some elite cross-country racers to the big dance.

       By current standards and given his hometown, the names don’t get any bigger than Zach Herfindahl. He grew up in Eagle River, went to school in the building right behind the track and most recently even married into the Decker family that owned the track from 1985 to 2018. And he also happens to be the sport’s most winning cross-country racer in recent years, and has been part of Soo I-500 winning teams. If he could put together a victory on this track, the town might erupt!

       But some would argue that Chad Gueco’s appearance has the possibility of being just as historic. The Alaska native and veteran racer of many facets of the sport is returning to a track where he’s run a couple of times in the past, but he’s doing so at the behest of Pat’s Motorsports in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

       In fact, Pat’s Motorsports is the dealership that is putting in the Yamaha contingency money for that brand.

       Meanwhile, Ross Erdman is a veteran racer in both cross-country and enduro racing with many victories under his belt, and he’ll be competing for the DL Racing stable. Ben Langaas, meanwhile, is not only an accomplished Cat XC racer, he’s also a leading engineer and designer for the company. He raced at Eagle last year, made the final and finished sixth in the W.C.  

Zach Herfindahl, No. 312 Arctic Cat, Eagle River, Wisconsin
Ben Langaas, No. 231 Arctic Cat, Thief River Falls, Minnesota
Ross Erdman, No. 29 Polaris, Moorehead, Minnesota
Chad Gueco, No. 8 Yamaha, Anchorage, Alaska

A New Addition

Through an exchange on social media, we learned on January 18 that there will be at least one more entry in the World Championship class this weekend. Dustin Schwandt of Fox Lake, Wisconsin, is adding his name to the list. He’s got a post showing a Ski-Doo that has been built out into a F-III sled. He will be No. 326. He’s competed in both MIRA enduro and cross-country racing in the past, including some Semi-Pro Improved Stock wins on Cor Powersports’ circuit.

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One thought on “Eagle River Preview: The Amazing FIII Field

  • Avatar for mark resch

    Great article. This is the boost oval racing badly needed. The diversity and new stock looking equipment should certainly bring some fan interest. Thanks for the coverage

    Reply

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