OK snowmobile racing fans – the Amsoil Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby has officially begun in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Over the next four days, there will be both high-speed racing on the banked oval and high-flying racing on the infield snocross track. As of this writing, we’re leaving the Snow Goer compound in a couple hours for the drive over to Eagle River for what promises to be another epic event in the 49-year history of the Derby. Can we promise to see another close battle in the World Championship class like last year? Maybe not. But then again, maybe.

Here, in no particular order, is our list of 10 things to watch for at the Derby track this weekend.

Who Will Be The World Champion — The reason for the (derby) season is Sunday’s 3 p.m. World Championship final on the oval. Last year saw P.J. Wanderscheid become the first four-time champion, but every year history is made. It all starts with time trials on Thursday, followed by the run for the pole position at the Friday Night Thunder program, the rest of the front row qualifying Saturday afternoon and then the last chance qualifier on Sunday at 1. By our count, there could be as many as 30 champ sleds at the track this weekend, but only 12 make the final, and only one will be driven by the 2012 World Champion.

New Outlaw 600 Class — A brand new class makes its way onto the famed Derby track this weekend – the cockpit-style Outlaw 600 class. Essentially a cross between a high-end go-kart and an oval racing sled, these low slung sleds should be a riot to see on the track. Plus, they have brought in some new blood while also bringing back some retired veterans, including track owner Chuck Decker.

Star-Studded Snocross Field — With snocross getting axed from the Winter X Games and no ISOC National this weekend, most of the biggest star in snocross will be at the Derby this weekend. Snocross has been a nice addition at Eagle River, but it’s drawn a rather limited field in recent years – usually 2-4 national pros and then a handful of regional racers. The limited field has also made heat races rather mundane, as everybody who enters makes the final. Not this year. With top drivers coming from Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo, just making the final will be a fete, and every time the sleds grace the track will be a full-on war for the sky pilots.

Will Jacques Show? — Perhaps the most popular driver in the sport, Jacques Villeneuve, has said on the Snow Goer Ovals message board that he may not be able to get his sled ready in time for the Derby. We’re holding out hope that the three-time past champ and hall-of-fame lock will be there when we look at the time trials results later today.

How cold will it be? — The weather forecast is calling for a very cold night Thursday night, and the famous Friday Night Thunder program will probably be run at right around 0 degree F., but by Friday Night Thunder standards, that’s rather tropical!! Sunday’s high is supposed to be in the mid to upper 20s – perfect for standing on a snow-covered hill watching the best snowmobile race of the year!

Pomp And Circumstance — From the Friday night fireworks program to the military flyover, the ultra-professional National Anthem to the touching of the Snow Goer Cup right before the final, the folks at the Derby know how to build a program that is entertaining and just feels like a big deal. We’ve been there a LOT over the years, yet every year we get goosebumps.

TLR Cup — The TLR Cup was an effort by businessman Tommy Lipar to create more buzz around snowmobile oval racing. Thanks to his incredible generosity, Champ drivers are competing for an added purse totaling more than $100,000 based on points gathered at six oval events this year – and new this year, one points round will be the Friday Night Thunder Champ 440 final. In previous years, this Champ final determined only the pollsitter for Sunday’s final, so some racers who maybe didn’t get a great holeshot would let up early in the race or pull off. Now, with the TLR Cup points on the line, the intensity of the Friday night race should double. Or triple.

The Jimmy John’s Girls! — Event sponsor Jimmy John’s has created quite a stir the last couple years by handing out the World Championship’s biggest checks, but also by bringing their “event marketing team,” for lack of a better name. It is dominated by young adult ladies who are typically quite fetching. When their crew shows up at any given bar on Saturday night in Eagle River, it immediately becomes a fun party. And don’t forget about the free Jimmy John’s sandwiches they typically throw out to the crowd midday on Sunday!

Oval Racing, Beyond Champ Sleds — Whether you’re into the classic iron, sprint chassis sleds, pure stock machines, juniors, 120s or super mods, there is a field of other classes competing on the Derby oval every year as well, and winners get to claim to be the World Champion in that particular class.

Snow Goer Tip Sheet — OK, this one may seem self-serving, but one thing to look for Sunday morning is the Snow Goer Tip Sheet, where we list facts about the drivers who have qualified for the World Championship race at that point – and then place fictional odds on each driver’s chance to bring home the big check and have their name inscribed on the Snow Goer Cup. It’s great fodder for side bets among friends!

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