If you win one snowmobile World Championship at Eagle River, you make history. When you win two? You start to earn legend status, and that’s just what Matt Goede did Sunday.
The 35-year-old Ski-Doo rider from New Germany, Minnesota, was the fastest driver all weekend on the tight and challenging high-banked oval. From clean ice in Thursday’s time trials through rough conditions on Sunday, he was dominant.
That included Sunday’s 25-lap final, held in front of a hearty crowd under partly cloudy skies on a windy and cool day. In a field stacked with very fast sleds and top-notch professional riders, Goede and his black No. 28 grabbed the lead on the first lap, built a lead and won going away.
Run To Eagle River History
An impressive field of 26 high-output Formula III oval sleds representing Polaris, Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat and even Yamaha was narrowed through two days of qualifying races to the 12 fastest – 10 front-row-joes who earned their spots Friday and Saturday, plus two second-row starters who came through Sunday’s Last Chance Qualifier on the Eagle River oval.
Those sleds were displayed on the front stretch for the usual driver introductions and traditional Derby ceremonies, and then lined up for a run at history for 25 laps.
After one false start, Flagman Rico raised the flag off his boot to start the event and Goede got the slight jump on the field in the sprint to turn one. However, it was Ontario driver Mike Van Dolder on the No. 999 Ski-Doo who made it through the first set of turns and down the backstretch with the lead.
Goede rectified that situation coming out of turn four on that first lap, slicing past on the inside and leading the return to the front stretch. Halfway through the next lap, Goede had already opened a 10 sled-length lead over Van Dolder, who then lost second place to four-time past champ Blaine Stephenson on the No. 102 Polaris. Stephenson’s teammate, Tom Olson, locked into fourth, followed by Michigan racer Joey Burch. Then came Zach Dewald, Tyler Town and Gavin Peterson.
Stephenson had been Goede’s strongest challenger all weekend, and it appeared the event might be headed for another showdown between the two big dogs. Goede built a half-straight lead, but Stephenson kept him in sight while they pulled away from the rest of the field. Behind them, Van Dolder began to seriously fade, moving Olson to a solid third and Burch to fourth, with Dewald all over Burch looking for that spot.
Then a surprising red flag stopped the field on lap eight. Second-place Stephenson had crashed alone. He appeared to pitch his sled particularly hard into turn 1 in his pursuit of Goede, the front end grabbed and he got high-sided over the top, with the tumbling sled chasing him up the banking.
From the infield, we yelled out to Stephenson to see if he suffered a mechanical problem. He shook his head and then padded his chest twice, as if to say, “That was on me.” His day was done.
Restart To Checkers At Eagle River
Goede’s lead was erased when the sleds were lined up in this order for the restart with 17 laps to go: Matt Goede, Tom Olson, Joey Burch, Zach Dewald, Mike Van Dolder, Dakota Harris, Gavin Peterson, Tyler Town, Mason Schuette and Jesse Wergin, with Stephenson and Luke Olson (who started and parked at the beginning of the race due to an ankle injury suffered in a Pro Champ crash earlier in the day) in the pits.
When the sleds were released again, Goede powered away again but there was big action immediately behind him as Harris shot past Van Dolder, and Dewald challenged Burch. The latter pair traded paint in turn four when Dewald aggressively grabbed third place behind Olson.
Goede took the half-way crossed flags at lap 13 with a half-straight lead over Olson.
Olson started to close on Goede about the time Goede caught the Van Dolder and Town sleds at the tail of the field with six laps left. But once Goede cleared them, he re-opened his gap and Olson started to fade.
Behind Olson, a storm was coming in the body of Burch. He had passed Dewald with about eight laps left for third. Now he was in seriously hot pursuit of Olson, who appeared to be having handling problems. On the white-flag flap, Burch grabbed the runner up spot on his DL Racing 129.
The last few laps, Goede appeared to be fighting the handling on his sled a bit too, chugging through the bumps and washing out some in turns. But he was never seriously challenged. He cruised past the waving checkered flag in businesslike fashion, without even pumping his fist.
Burch claimed second narrowly ahead of Olson. There was then a gap to Dewald in fourth. Rookie Gavin Peterson ran a very impressive fifth, with Dakota Harris sixth. Wergin impressively drove his Pat’s Motorsports Yamaha four-stroke up to seventh, with Schuette eighth.
Words With Eagle River Champs
Immediately after the race, Goede called his weekend “Just about perfect, other than losing that Champ race on Friday night. I kind of screwed up and gave that one away, but other than that we pretty much went undefeated with the F-III, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
“This sled here has been unbelievable,” Goede continued, looking down at the same exact F-III Ski-Doo MXZx RS he used to win this event last year. He and his team had built a new sled for this season, but opted to keep running the 2023 winner. “We haven’t been beat in a final with it yet. This thing has been so good to us. We evidently should have gotten one of these a few years ago.”
A multi-time vintage racing champion, Goede later he expanded on that thought in a sidebar conversation with us when asked about being a two-time champion.
“I guess I should have started this modern racing a little bit younger in my career, but to be a two-time World Champion back-to-back is pretty unbelievable.” He clicked off names of other back-to-back World Champs like Mike Houle, PJ Wanderscheid and Blaine Stephenson. “To be named with those guys is pretty awesome.”
Recapping the race, Goede said, “I tried to stay out of the dirt [to conserve the sharpness of his carbide runners] but then also stay away from some of the huge bumps, too. It’s kind of a balancing act. But then honestly, once that snow [built-up ice shavings] gets so deep on the outside you’re more or less forced into that inside line right through the dirt. But it wasn’t too bad. I did start getting tight at the end there, I was plowing off the corners. But it was good for the first three-quarters of the race.”
Second-place Joey Burch – the winner of the closest Soo I-500 enduro race in history last February – said staying above the carbide-dulling dirt that was showing on the inside line of the track was key to his late charge.
“With my enduro background, I’ve known that you need to save your front end for later on in the race,” Burch told us. “A lot of guys like Zach [Dewald], he got around me by going down to the bottom a little bit more, through the dirt, and his front end ended up going away on him. I don’t know if that’s what happened to Tom [Olson] or not, but when I encroached on him it looked like he wasn’t turning as well as he was early-on.”
Burch is racing Formula III oval sprint racing for the first time this season, with his first race at Beausejour, Manitoba, in December. He finished second to Goede there as well.
“This is my first time running this race, and I was definitely just happy to make it in [the final], let alone to make it on the podium,” Burch said.
Tom Olson, meanwhile, confirmed Burch’s suspicions about his sled’s handling fading.
“We had a good start each time [at the beginning and after the red flag], Dave and Dustin [Wahl] always do a great job with the holeshots and then it’s kind of up to me at that point,” Olson said. “We were running a good race, getting into the groove. I was starting to catch Goede there a little bit but then we ended up losing carbide so then it gets hard to drive and tough to turn. It just kind of fell apart from there.
“But overall, we ran a good race and I just have to be thankful that it was better than nine other drivers, so I’ve got to be happy for that,” Olson said. He didn’t seem that happy, though – no competitor likes to lose a spot on the last lap. He confirmed that he’ll be coming back for more next year.
FINISHING ORDER: 1. Matt Goede (Ski-Doo); 2. Joseph Burch (Polaris); 3. Tom Olson (Polaris); 4. Zach Dewald (Polaris); 5. Gavin Peterson (Ski-Doo); 6. Dakota Harris (Polaris); 7. Jesse Wergin (Yamaha); 8. Mason Schuette (Polaris); 9. Tyler Town (Polaris); 10. Mike Van Dolder (Ski-Doo); 11. Blaine Stephenson (Polaris); 12. Luke Olson (Polaris).