Mike Houle closed out the 20th century and then started the 21st by winning back-to-back World Championship victories at the Eagle River Derby in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Although already a highly respected, dominating oval racer, with many crowns in Formula III, Mod and Stock classes, Houle didn’t move to the World Championship class until after it switched away from Formula I to Champ 440. He not only won two as a driver, he later became a machine builder who designed winning sleds for other drivers.
Below are the opening paragraphs of an extensive, eight-page story from the February 8, 1999, issue of Snow Week magazine when Houle captured his first W.C. The issue containing the feature is now on sale at the SnowGoerStore.com website, though only four issues remain.
Houle, Ewing, Ramesh Make History At The Derby
January 21-24, 1999/Eagle River, Wisconsin/Story and Photos by Blake Stranz and John T. Prusak
Good things come to those who wait.
For 1997 Snow Week Racer of the Year Mike Houle, the waiting paid of. Houle made four finals in the four classes he entered at the 1999 World Championship Snowmobile Derby, but he only walked away with one victory.
Fortunately for Houle, that win came in the last race of the weekend at the famed Derby oval – and his victory earned him the World Championship crown and the coveted Snow Week Cup.
Until the World Championship final, Houle would have probably called his trip to Eagle River disappointing. After coming in second in the Stock 500 final to Ski-Doo brandmate Chad Ramesh, Houle was unable to start the Mod 500 final. He had a great chance to top Ramesh in the Pro Stock final on Sunday but his engine burned down on the second-to-last lap and he was forced to shut down his Rotax-powered sled.
His only chance at salvaging the weekend was in the Champ 440 World Championship final, where he would race against world-class racers and former champs like Terry Wahl, Jacques Villeneuve, Dale Loritz and Bruce Vessair.
In front of a weekend crowd of about 25,000 and a live local television audience, Houle expertly guided his machine around the half-mile Derby oval for 25 laps, all of them in the lead.
Even though New Hampshire’s Larry Day got the holeshot on his red-hot Arctic Cat, it was Houle who exited turn two in front and never looked back. Day and defending champion Terry Wahl tried to stick with Houle, but ultimately the Wyoming, Minnesota, veteran and five-time Formula III champ at the Derby ran a near-perfect race. When Terry Wahl crashed in lap six and Day introduced himself to the hay bales outside of turn one on the 18th lap, Houle was too far ahead for second-place finisher Dale Loritz and third-place Villeneuve to ever post much of a threat, though Loritz did try to make it interesting.
The race was preceded by a light note when the racers gathered to touch the Snow Week Cup. As the drivers huddled around the trophy, each extending a hand to touch it, flagman Ted Otto briefed them and offered a short prayer for everyone’s safety. Just before the group dispersed, the tense silence was broken by Villeneuve, who joked, “Now we all kiss each other!”
Elsewhere, Chad Ramesh claimed four titles at the World Championship event, winning Pro Stock, Stock 500, Stock 600 and Mod 440 on his Ski-Doos. He also won a specialty race in the Friday Night Thunder program.
Darcy Ewing, meanwhile, made a little history of his own by claiming his fifth consecutive Sprint title at the Derby. No other driver in Derby history has claimed the same class for five consecutive years.
The snocross portion of the event was claimed by Team Amsoi, with Chris Vincent winning two classes and teammate Tim Maki winning one aboard their black Ski-Doos.
The event was held in blizzard conditions Friday and Saturday, as 14 inches of snow fell in two day in north-central Wisconsin. Sunday started out sunny but faded to overcast by 1 p.m.