Ironwood Olympus Kicks Off USSA Season With A Bang

The USSA Pro Star oval sprint season got rolling in Ironwood, Michigan, on January 8-9, 2022… kind of.

     Mother Nature as usual has decided to throw some challenges at various race circuits and race events this season, and why should the historic Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus be any different? First, race officials had to undertake a MAJOR snow moving project, as back-to-back snowstorms dropped up to 28 inches of fresh snow in the area. Great news for trail riding, but a lot of work for those having to clear the track, the pits, the parking lots and more.

     The two-day event then kicked off with a “regular” round of USSA oval sprint racing on Saturday, January 8. In comfortable temperatures, racers competed in a number of classes on a smooth and thick ice surface on the half-mile oval.

Ironwood podium
The Saturday Pro Champ race at Ironwood was claimed by Gunnar Sterne (center) with John Henke (right) second and Justin Peterson (left) third. Sunday’s final, though, was cancelled due to poor visibility caused by hanging snowdust. Photo from Brad Malmgren of Frozen Oval Studios.

     Overnight, though, temperatures plummeted below zero, and it didn’t warm up at all on Sunday, when another day of USSA racing was to be held that would double as the second leg on the USSA ProStar Cup points series for folks chasing the North American championship of oval racing.

     As you’ll see in the press release directly below from the USSA, the low temperatures and still air resulting in mega snowdust conditions that made it unsafe to race some key finals.

     So here’s what we’ve got for you at this point: Directly below is the USSA ProStar Cup press release, which talks in broad terms about the points-paying races that were cancelled. Knowing that oval fans would want more full results of the events that were held, though, we’ve added a brief writeup on the Saturday and Sunday racing that was run below the USSA press release, so make sure to read all the way to the bottom. In the meantime, we’ll keep packing our gear for a trip to the Eagle River World Championship this weekend. See some of you there?

PRESS RELEASE: USSA ProStar Cup Tour Round 2

Ironwood, Snowmobile Olympus

There are a few things in life you simply can’t bargain with, can’t bribe, and can’t coerce. Old Man Winter is one of them. Apparently, the morning of January 9, 2022, Old Man Winter had decided to turn the thermostat down, clear the skies, and turn up the wind at the historic Ironwood track.

     The very first race of the day put six of the new F-III sleds on the ice for a heat race. Apparently not liking that much noise in the morning, Old Man Winter cranked the snow dust up to high causing the heat race to be red flagged. After a brief meeting, the decision was made to limit the majority of classes to a three-sled maximum with driver safety taking centerstage. Hoping the snow dust issue would resolve, racing moved forward.

     The ProStar Cup Tour’s Pro Champ class had 16 registered entries for the race day, but due to some Saturday attrition, a total of 14 started the three rounds of heats. With a big half-mile track like Ironwood and only three sleds per heat, heats were reduced to three laps. At the end of three laps, the heat winner, with the exception of a potential mechanical issue, was apparent. Nonetheless, all of the ProStar Cup Tour drivers benefited from the seat time during the three rounds of heats.

     With a few more mechanical gremlins in play, the Round 2 ProStar Cup Tour final was set with 11 sleds. After a silent moment with Old Man Winter asking him to play nice, tour race director Bob Richardson gathered the 11 drivers for a pre-race meeting. Safety being the number one concern, drivers were told that if the dust simply didn’t allow all drivers fair visibility and adequate safety, the race would red flagged. The Round 2 final would be run at the next USSA sanctioned race weekend in Wausau.

     The field lined up with 10 on the front row and one sled on the back row. The green flag lifted and 11 sleds roared into the first turn. When the field came out of turn four, there was already noticeable separation between first and 11th place. The drivers in places 9, 10, and 11 immediately turned into the infield and shut down. One of those drivers, #233 Matt Bennett, said, “I couldn’t see a thing. Nothing at all. I was dragging the brake and running the gas at the same time not knowing if I need to stop quick or keep going.”

     With visibility reduced to zero for sleds beyond 5th place, the USSA race team called a red flag on the field. With a few drivers and teams expressing their displeasure at the decision, director Richardson stated, “The correct call was made. All 11 drivers were able to load up their sled in one piece, get back in their own vehicle and head to the next race. If we would have had a visibility accident, that would not be the case.”

     The Round 2 final will be the first race of the day at the Wausau 525 facility on Saturday, January 22 at 9:30 am. The qualifying order and starting positions will remain the same as they were the moment the green flag was pulled at Ironwood.

     Round 3 of the 21-22 ProStar Cup Tour kicks off this Friday, January 14, as part of the Friday Program at the 59th World Championship Derby in Eagle River. The first two rounds of heat races will occur during the afternoon race session followed by Round 3, the B-Main, and the 15-lap ProStar Cup Tour final under the lights during Friday Night Thunder.

Saturday Results From Key Classes

The Pro Champ teams may not have been able to run their race to the end on Sunday, but there was still plenty of track time between Saturday’s regular USSA race plus Sunday’s qualifying that it helps set the field for the season ahead.

     Saturday’s Pro Champ field had eight entries – the field would be randomly chopped in half for three rounds of heat races before the big final. In round one, Gunnar Sterne and John Henke set the pace by each winning a heat race, and then they repeated with victories again in round two. Round three saw more of the same from the dominant Sterne, but Henke was relegated to second place by Fred Manke in heat two.

     In the 15-lap final, Sterne grabbed the lead on lap one and never looked back, leading all the way to the checkered flag and another victory on his Red Bull-sponsored No. 220 Ski-Doo. Henke ran a solid second and Justin Peterson grabbed the final podium spot, both on Houle-chassis Ski-Doos. Matt Bennett followed in fourth, with Manke the last sled running in fifth. Neither Griffin Lepak nor Thomas Olson made it through to the end of the race, and Tyler Beach was unable to start the race.

     On Saturdays at a regular USSA races, paying attention to the Pro-Lite class is a fine idea for about three reasons: First, the competition is usually pretty darn good. Second, this is where many of the future Pro drivers are coming from. Third, the “future” is pretty immediately, as many of the Pro-Lite drivers bump up to the Pro Champ class on Sunday of the same weekend, as their class runs essentially the same rules package and Pro Champ, and there’s no Pro Lite class on Sunday.

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Tony Ave was originally a second-generation snowmobile oval racer from Hurley, Wisconsin, who has since made his career in car racing. His hasn’t forgotten his roots, though, and put up $500 in bonus money for the Saturday Pro Champ winner at the Ironwood Olympus. Photo from Brad Malmgren of Frozen Oval Studios.

     The class of the field in Pro Lite at Ironwood were Sean Shively and Luke Olson. Shively won heat one on his No. 70X that was previously raced by Jeremy DuQuaine, with Olson second, and then Dylan Anagnoustopolous, Will Garceau and Brennan Sather. In heat two, Olson grabbed the win on the No. 04 sled that was previously raced by Gary Moyle and Matt Goede, with Shively second and the same third-fourth-and-fifth combo as earlier in the day. In the final, Shively of Shawano, Wisconsin, won the run to the checkered, with Olson not surprisingly in his wake. Sather moved up to third.

     The Formula III class that will run for the World Championship this year had just five entries on Saturday at Ironwood, meaning the same five sleds would face off four times – three times in heat races and once in the final. Tyler Beach of Dakota, Minnesota, had his No. 68 Polaris dialed in and was giving fits to some of the veteran drivers in the class. He won the first round heat, finished second to Gunnar Sterne in the second heat and then reclaimed the top spot in heat three. With the cheese on the line, though, the veteran Sterne charged to victory in the final on his Ski-Doo, followed by Beach and then Calvin Cook, with Thomas Olson and Jake Beres wrapping up the field.          

     One of the other featured classes Saturday at Ironwood was the Governor’s Cup, a historic event that has been revived in recent years by sponsor TJ Patrick and targeted at the Junior 2 Sprint class. The final featured a great battle between Gavin Peterson and Calvin Peterson. Calvin of Eden, Wisconsin, was holding off Gavin of Chisago Lakes, Minnesota, until the late going but then had a mechanical issue late and Gavin swept by and collected the victory.

     In other classes Saturday, Ronald Thuerauf claimed took the Outlaw class, with Jordan Graboski second and John Norris third. Will Garceau won F500 Sport with Randall Oliver and Ashten Christensen joining him on the podium. Gavin Peterson took Junior 1 and Junior 2 Sprint. F440 Fan went to Kyle Swiatnicki, and Will Rensenbrink won the F500/Sportsman 600 combo.

Sunday Results At Ironwood

As you likely saw in the press release above, with super-heavy snow dust hanging in the air and seriously affecting sight lines for the riders, the USSA tilted toward the side of safety and ended up postponing the featured Pro Champ final scheduled for Sunday at Ironwood until the USSA race in Wausau, Wisconsin, in two weeks.

     And, due to the snow dust, heat races were trimmed to three drivers going three laps. Still, it’s interesting to look at the heat races to see who had the fast sleds on a day that included Blaine Stephenson racing for the first time on the weekend plus some of the Pro-Lite guys helping to fill out the field.

     In round one of Pro Champ racing, Gunner Sterne of West Chicago, Illinois, won the first heat ahead of John Henke and Griffin Lepak; Luke Olson of Ishpeming, Michigan won heat two ahead of Sean Shively and Fred Manke; Blaine Stephenson of St. Cloud, Minnesota, bested teammate Thomas Olson plus Justin Peterson in heat three; and Will Garceau of Mishicot, Wisconsin, won heat four ahead of Dylan Anagnoustopolous and Calvin Cook.

     In round two, Stephenson was the only repeat winner – he bested Sterne and Henke in a start-studded heat 2. The first heat of the round was won by Thomas Olson ahead of Shively; heat three was won by Peterson ahead of Lepak and Matt Bennett; heat 4 went to Luke Olson ahead of Anagnoustopolous. Round three was more of the same for Stephenson, who bested Luke Olson and Henke. Sterne claimed heat two ahead of Bennett; Lepak broke through with a heat win in front of Shively and Anagnoustopolous; and Thomas Olson grabbed his second victory ahead of Peterson and Manke.

     In the final, Stephenson grabbed the top spot early but was being challenged for the lead by Sterne when the red flag flew.

     In the Formula III class that will be the World Championship class, Tyler Beach won heat one ahead of Gunnar Sterne and Thomas Olson; Blaine Stephenson took heat two ahead of Calvin Cook and Jake Beres.

     They were able to get in a Formula III final on Sunday, and Stephenson led the way on his #102 Polaris with Sterne and Cook filling out the podium. Olson was fourth ahead of Beach and Beres.

     In other classes, Jordan Grabowski won the Outlaw class ahead of Ronald Thuerauf and John Norris; Will Rensenbrink claimed F500 ahead of Calvin Peterson and Luke Olson; Rensenbrink also claimed Sportman 600 in front of Randall Oliver; Jazalyn Rathke claimed F500 women; and Junior 2 F500 went to Gavin Peterson. Todd Richter was the top dog in F400 Fan.

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