Wausau, Wisconsin played host to International Watercross Association’s last race of the season over the August 29th weekend. Although weather was close to miserable on Saturday it didn’t stop the IWA from putting on an awesome show which included an intense race for the Pro Open Points Championship, a mechanics race and even attracted a visit from the Food and Travel Networks Andrew Zimmern.
The major buzz throughout the pits over the weekend was whether or not Ski-Doo’s Chad Maki would become the youngest driver in the history of watercross racing to win the Pro Open Points Championship. Now eighteen-year-old Maki began his watercross racing career at the age of thirteen. Since that time he has gone on to win a points championship every season. Aside from the expectations that come with the family name, (in case you haven’t heard of Mark Maki) all he had to do in order to make history was finish at least third in the Pro Open feature on Sunday.
It was smooth cruising for him through qualifying, before he had to beat Howie Steenberg and Dale Lindbeck in a tiebreaker in order to continue. Once he overcame that obstacle, he was just a few races away from the title. Maki worked his way up from third to the top position in the feature after the race leader Brian McCurdy Jr. and Andy Busse made contact. He crossed the checkered and with that, locked in the title of Pro Open Points Champion.
Despite the weekend Maki was having, he wasn’t able to get around veteran watercrosser, Howie Steenberg for the win in the Pro Stock feature. Aboard the Ski-Doo he had set up for Zack Zakowski, Steenberg was unbeatable through Quarter and Semi finals on Sunday and continued on to win the feature. Zakowski, a first time racer, finished fourth on the same sled in the Semi Pro Stock feature.
Also winning a feature and points championship for himself at this event was Kyle Carpenter, of Stacy, MN. Carpenter joined the sport of watercross last year after buying his Polaris from current IWA President, Mike Benoy. Thanking the IWA community for their help and support, Carpenter went undefeated in the Semi Pro Open class the entire weekend and as a result won his first points championship.
David Fischer, another relatively new driver, took the win on his Ski-Doo in the Semi Pro Stock feature. With multi time points champion Jeff Fischer as his Father, it only makes sense that sixteen-year-old David would show such talent in his second year of racing. Going undefeated through qualifying rounds on Sunday, Fischer had no problem beating his older competitors in the feature. He also finished the weekend with a second place finish behind Dan Dombrowsky in the 800 Drag feature.
Setting an example for his son, Jeff Fischer won the Mod Drag feature on his Ski-Doo with Andy Busse and Chad Maki finishing behind him. Ryan Keith was the winner of the 600 Drag feature.
Once all of the features were completed, the track was put to use by who some would call brave and others crazy, for the Mechanics Race. The first ever Mechanics Race was organized to raise money for the Injured Drivers Fund, a fund that will collect money to be distributed to an injured driver in a time of need. The race was split into two groups; the “First Timers”, for those who have never attempted to complete an oval and the “Experienced” group, for entrants who have raced before.
14 “First Timers”, myself included, hopped on borrowed sleds, wearing borrowed gear, to take our shot at a two-lap heat race. Having watched television’s Andrew Zimmern, who was there filming the event for his new Travel Network show, complete a seemingly perfect lap earlier in the afternoon, I think all of we “First Timers” felt a little more at ease than earlier in the day.
Marvin Podgorski, of Merrill, WI put all of the “First Timers” to shame as he glided around the oval like a pro…up until taking the checkered. Excited over his Mechanics Race win, Podgorski waved at the cheering crowd as he made his way back to shore, only to lose control of his Yamaha and sink seconds thereafter. Finishing second in the Mechanic’s Race was Jake Schulze. The other two competitors sank before completion.
Also among the “First Timers” were Pro ice oval racer’s Nick and Beau Van Strydonk. Both took the challenge to try another form of oval racing but found that turning right, as opposed to the left hand turns made in oval racing, was more difficult than it looked. Nick sunk early in the race while trying to make a corner, while Beau completed the race but not the journey back to shore. Both agreed that they would stick to racing ovals on the ice.
My personal experience: Like I mentioned before, watching Andrew Zimmern make it look easy, I felt a little better about the endeavor I had volunteered myself for. However, after watching two heats of “First Timers” go out before me, I had mixed feelings. Despite my over the top excitement and optimism, my gut told me that sinking was probably inevitable. Nonetheless, I pulled my goggles down, strapped the tether on, took a deep breath and pinned it. The following 15 seconds went as so: “Whoa! I’m actually doing this, I’m on a snowmobile, on the water!! Oh crap, I’m drifting over…I’m gonna hit Dad, quick, evasive maneuver! What’s going on?! This thing is crazy! Where is it taking me! Wait, don’t slow down! Am I sinking already? Yes, I’m sinking. Really, already?” Once my 25 or so foot skip had come to an end and I watched my Dad, Doug Fontaine and Jason Houle race on without me, I came to terms with the fact the I wouldn’t be the winner of the Mechanic’s Race…not this time at least. Thanks to that opportunity, I am now determined to watercross again and complete an oval.
That awesome opportunity would not have been possible if it weren’t for Derek McPheeter’s graciously borrowing me his Polaris, Brian McCurdy, Jr. for letting me use his helmet, goggles and life jacket, Matt Ledin for literally changing out of his race pants in a minute to let me use them at the last second, and everyone else who gave me pointers and support.
Besides Grantsburg, this was my first watercross race and I cannot say how thankful I am to have been welcomed in such a friendly way. The way the watercross community functions is more like a huge family than a group of people competing against each other, something which can only be said for a few forms of racing. So once again, thank you so much for being an awesome group of people. See you next year!