The oval sprint racing world is about to kick into high gear, with the season-opening race on the USSA Pro Star Series this weekend in the form of the Ironwood Olympus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Jan. 5-6), a stop at the new Country Cat Snodown event at Buffalo River Raceway in Minnesota the next weekend (Jan. 11-12) and then the big daddy of them all – the 53rd annual Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Wisconsin, just a couple of weeks away (Jan. 18-20).
That makes this a perfect time to do the season’s first Pro Champ 440 Power Rankings. These are racers who are signed up at this point to run the World Championship class that wraps up every weekend of racing and which will be the most closely watched every weekend. It will also be the basis for the Fantasy Snowmobile Oval Sprint game here on SnowGoer.com. It’s easy to play, free and fun, and you can use the information below as your guide, if you wish.
The Power Rankings are based on recent history and knowledge of the racers and their race teams, and is a compilation of opinions from oval racing industry insiders. Seeing that there has only been one oval race weekend so far this season (in Manitoba in December) and considering the many retirements from the sport, the order is very preliminary at this point. And, if you’re a driver/team owner who feels like we’ve given you an unfair shake, use it as motivation to prove us wrong! Also, if you know of other Pro Champ 440 racers who will be competing this year for the World Championship, let us know.
- Gunnar Sterne, No. 220 Ski-Doo, from West Chicago, Illinois – The 25-year-old two-time defending TLR Cup points champion has won more races than anybody over the past couple of seasons, earning victories pretty much everywhere except at the Eagle River World Championship. He’s got great equipment and a great team behind him, again. The Red Bull-backed racer opened the season with two second-place finishes at Beausejour, Manitoba.
- Blaine Stephenson, No. 102 Polaris, from Hutchinson, Minnesota – The 22-year-old may have benefited from some luck en route to his World Championship victory last January at Eagle River, but he closed last season with two big victories, then opened this season by winning both finals at Beausejour in December. He’s an official Wahl Bros driver this year.
- Glen Hart, No. 51 Ski-Doo, from Winnipeg, Manitoba – The 36-year-old has only been racing in Pro Champ for a couple years, but he is an accomplished veteran of oval racing with many vintage class victories. He’s had fast sleds the last couple years – maybe this is the year he puts it all together? Ran third in both finals at Beausejour.
- Nick Van Strydonk, No. 13 Polaris, from Tomahawk, Wisconsin – Never count out this he two-time World Champion (2012, 2017) and personable fan favorite. His T&N Racing custom-built chassis is being combined with a new Hooper Racing-built engine this year. He ended last season on a high note with a victory at the Eagle River Last Dance event, but the team was still dialing in the sled and engine at Beausejour, where they finished fourth in each final.
- Nick LaGoy, No. 7NY Ski-Doo, from Morrisonville, New York – “Bad Boy” LaGoy has an all-new chassis and engine combination this year from super-tuner John Hooper, and we’re told that Nick says it’s the fastest equipment he’s ever driven. LaGoy is a strong driver who is coming into his own and could be a real force this year.
- Colt Dellandrea, No. 53 Ski-Doo from Sundridge, Ontario – With two-time champ Dale Loritz (1994-95) working with his team for the second straight year, Dellandrea is likely to build on last year’s momentum.
- Cardell Potter, No. 58 Ski-Doo, from Camp Douglas, Wisconsin – The 2015 World Champion has run a limited schedule in recent years and will again this year, and that’s the only thing that he’s this low on the ranking list. Remember, he was leading last year’s World Championship for quite a while.
- Travis MacDonald, No. 8 Ski-Doo, from Gonor, Manitoba – Another driver with a World Championship team behind him (Brian Bewcyk, 2008 & 2009), he’s a strong veteran who shines best on short tracks but struggled to find speed at the home track in Beausejour in December. He could easily move up the list as the season progresses.
- Cody Knutson, No. 98 Ski-Doo from Plover, Wisconsin – The 26-year-old former Pro-Lite champ now has some time under his belt on a full Champ sled, and it’s great to see the Top Tier Motorsports team for which he races back at the track.
- Tom Olson, No. 39 Polaris from Lodi, Wisconsin – Olson is new to Pro Champ, but his team most certainly is not. He steps into a Wahl Bros. Racing ride that has spawned multiple championships and builds chassis for about half of the field. Olson’s a bit of an unknown in the class, but he has been a highly successful Formula 500 and vintage racer.
Others to watch, in alphabetical order:
- Sabrina Blanchet, No. 79 Ski-Doo, from Quebec – Racing on a new Hooper chassis this year, she’s the lone female in a class that definitely takes some muscle at times, but she’s also fearless.
- Jeremy DuQuaine, No. 14x Ski-Doo, from Shawano, Wisconsin – A Pro Champ rookie who, like some others in the “others to watch” category, appears to be bumping up his Pro-Lite chassis to run against the higher-output sleds.
- Brandon Grendzinski, 7c Ski-Doo, from Weston, Wisconsin – Talented second-year Pro Champ driver has winning experience in Pro-Lite.
- John Henke, No. 157 Ski-Doo, from Amherst, Wisconsin – A quality driver who could use some additional funding to make a run at the pack.
- Danick Lambert, No. 3 Ski-Doo, from Sorel, Quebec – Competing for the historic Weatherill team that dates back to Formula I racing days.
- Steven Marquis, No. 37 Ski-Doo, from Cookshire, Quebec – Finished fifth last year at Eagle River and sixth at Valcourt on fast sleds; could easily be considered a top 10 racer.
- Andy Nordine, No. 17 Polaris, from New Prague, Minnesota – Talented second-generation driver who almost made last year’s World Championship on a Pro-Lite sled; he’ll try to do the same this year.
- Keith Wojciechowski, No. 84 Ski-Doo, from Greenbush, Minnesota – Affectionately known as “Wojo” he’s a veteran racer who’s as tough as nails, and will be entering Pro Champ with a Pro-Lite sled
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