The Vintage World Championship may not have the large crowds on the hill and in the VIP booths like the late-model World Championship in Eagle River, Wisconsin, but in terms of racing action and quantity of race entries, it’s the ultimate competition.
What started out as a showcase and reunion of sorts of classic snowmobiling equipment has now become extremely competitive – as the 21rst annual event January 6-9 in Eagle River had more than 900 total entries, with action in dozens of classes. Victory in any one of those classes was a huge accomplishment, but like regular the Derby in Eagle River, there is one true World Champion for Vintage weekend, and he/she is crowned in the 440 Super Mod class.
The trend was set on Thursday, January 6, when 53 sleds took time trial runs in the class. The very fastest run was put down by Matt Goede of Mayer, Minnesota, on his 1973 Starfire. He and that sled have been the one to beat for several years, and he again set the fast time. He was immediately followed, though, by a literal who’s who of vintage racing – and a bunch of guys whose names would be at the top in racing throughout the weekend. Ryan Spencer set the second fastest time, follow by Paul Diefenthaler, last year’s winner Curtis Pederson, AJ Lang, Brice Pretzel, Joey Burch, Spencer Hassevoort and Nathan Feucht, with enduro legend Troy DeWald wrapping up the top 10.
The sleds returned Friday for a full round of racing which including a Friday night run for the top spot on the front row in Sunday’s final. Goede once again set the pace, winning his heat races and pacing the field in the final. Curtis Pederson of Fargo, North Dakota, ran second, with Brice Pretzel of Belding, Michigan, third, Joey Burch of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, fourth and Ryan Spencer (winner of two heat races himself) of Flint, Michigan, fifth. Goede would collect the big check from Woody’s and wouldn’t have to race any more until Sunday, while the rest of the field still had plenty of qualifying left to do to earn their run at the Championship.
Saturday brought the warmest weather of the weekend to the Derby track, and some of the hottest action, as the big field of riders had to be paired down to 10 front row starters (including the already qualified Goede) for Sunday’s 10-lap final.
Spencer, Diefenthaler, DeWald, Lange and Pretzel again set themselves apart with round one victories in the first set of heat races. Cody Storro of Priest River, Idaho, won the sixth heat.
Those who had yet to advance to the semi-finals based on round one qualifying races competed in C main events, where Mason Schuette, Chad Knaus and Eric Kranz took victories. The B Main races would then determine Sunday’s front row, with the top three advancing to the big dance. Alec Nesbit of Princeton, Minnesota, won heat one to earn his spot, with Ryan Spencer and Mason Schuette also advancing. Troy DeWald won heat two with second-place Jeffrey Stoxen and third-place Brandon Grendzinski also advancing. Heat three went to Curtis Pederson, followed by Brice Pretzel and Paul Diefenthaler.
The remaining racers would have one more shot Sunday morning for a second-row starting position. Jeff Watson won that race and advanced along with second place Lucan Nast. After all of that racing, the field that was 53 drivers deep on Thursday was down to the top 12 for the Sunday afternoon final.
Run For The Title
After the usual Derby ceremonies, the classic iron was lined up on the front stretch for the 10-lap vintage championship event. The first time the green flag came off the starter’s boot, defending champ Curtis Pederson grabbed the holeshot on his No. 52X Yamaha but Geode came out of turn two on the gas and immediately moved to the front on his white-hooded Polaris.
Troy DeWald was also on the pipe, and was running beside Goede partway down the backstretch when his inside ski popped into the air, dumping the I-500 legend on the ice in front of all the other sleds. All the other racers managed to avoid the twisting and turning rider as he scrubbed off the speed, and the race was red flagged.
On the restart, Goede left no doubt, firing off the line in front, zipping through the first set of turns and then opening about an eight sled length lead on the back stretch headed into turn three. Behind him the battle was fierce, as the next four sleds entered turn three virtually side-by-side-by-side-by-side. Out of that group, Brandon Grendzinski was able to get back on the throttle on his No. 67 Arctic Cat between turns three and four and zipped into second, while Mason Schutte then tried to dive beneath him when the sleds came back down the front stretch. DeWald grabbed fourth momentarily on the next lap and Brice Pretzel also started moving forward.
On the third lap, DeWald’s body found the ice surface again as he tried a low line in turns three and four and came together with Pretzel, who entered turn three higher but then was cutting lower through turn four – likely not knowing DeWald was there. The race was red-flagged again as DeWald was again on foot walking back to his sled, which had skidded up to the hay bales.
On the next restart – this one with a staggered lineup based on where the sleds were previously running – Goede again showed his dominance by pulling away early. But from the middle of the pack, Curtis Pederson made a charge forward, moving into third quickly and then a lap later passing Grendzinski for second. Diefenthaler ran fourth with Schuette fifth.
Some of the top runners, like Grendzinski, would suffer from mechanical problems, but up front Goede was never seriously challenged. He re-earned the top price in vintage racing – a title he last won two years ago, and he was leading last year’s event when he blew a belt on the third lap. This year, defending champ Pederson was second, and the consistent Pretzel rounded out the podium. Diefenthaler was next, followed by DeWald, Schuette, Nast, Nesbit, Stoxen, Grendzinski, Watson and Spencer.
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