Matt Goede took a victory lap after winning the 10-lap feature race on the famous ice oval.
Matt Goede took a victory lap after winning the 10-lap feature race on the famous ice oval.
Hundreds of snowmobile racers from across the United States and Canada converged on Eagle River last weekend for the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Derby.

In a pre­lude to the 57th World Championship Snowmobile Derby this weekend, the Vintage World Championships were held on the famous oval track in Eagle River.

Capturing the Vintage World Championship was Matt Goede of Mayer, Minn., who won the 10-lap feature race Sunday afternoon on a 1973 440 Polaris Starfire. 

A total of four states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa — and one Canadian province, Ontario, were represented in the 12-sled championship field.

Second place went to Troy Dewald of Au Gres, Mich., also on a 1974 Polaris Starfire. Third place went to Andrew Darraugh of Whitney, Ontario. He, too, piloted a 1973 Polaris Starfire.

The Vintage World Championship featured 12 racers on machines with a maximum 440cc engine. The field included old iron with the names of Polaris Starfire and Yamaha SR.

Goede, 31, who had been out of racing since 2017 after sustaining a serious injury in Ironwood, Mich., led the championship race from start to finish and was really never challenged. At the midway point in the race, through five laps, he led Dewald by a full 4 seconds. 

But in lap seven, Goede nearly lost control of the sled as he entered turn 3.

“I was definitely backing down on the pace a little bit and tried to get on the brake. I was flying over the top of the bumps and I just got too much weight too early on the left ski and the right ski jumped up and I just got off balance. I thought I was going to tip to the inside, but I was able to correct it and keep going,” said Goede.

“It was a scary moment. I’ve seen my brother lead this race and he gave it away a couple times at the end,” said Goede. “You have to build your sled to go through the rough if you want to win Eagle River.” 

Dewald said he knew it would be hard to catch Goede without a red flag in the race. 

“Obviously I was trying to catch him and he was stretching it out. So I decided to play it safe in case he would make a mistake,” said Dewald. “I heard Andrew (in third) once and then I didn’t hear him after that, so I knew I was safe. I just didn’t have enough for Matt.” 

Darraugh was thrilled with his third-place finish. Two years ago he also finished third and last year he was sixth.

“Last year I had some engine issues and this year I came back with vengeance,” said Darraugh. “There is a lot of competition out there and this track is rough. I was fine where I was. On the start, really close but then spread out running our lines. It was too rough to attempt a pass (of Dewald) so I just played it safe.”

For many racers, vintage snowmobile racing is a hobby, but winning at Eagle River is like winning the Daytona 500 of snowmobile racing. Dozens of racers attempted to qualify for the World Championship class during the Vintage Derby.

There were only 36 slots in the Vintage World Championship field, so the time trials just to get into the grid were very important.

“It is really competitive just to get into the title race,” said Derby Complex general manager and co-owner Russ Davis.

Over 700 entries

In addition to the Vintage World Championship, finals were run in nearly 50 other classes during the weekend, according to Davis.

“It was a real good Vintage Weekend,” said Davis. “Our number of entries were up about 20% from last year. It is a really popular sport because you can race in a number of classes and it’s not real expensive.”

Davis said race fans got their share of action on the ice oval as there were about 180 races run during the weekend, including 45 on Championship Sunday.

“We had racers and fans from across the country and Canada,” said Davis.

Davis said his staff was able to build an excellent ice track which held up well during the race weekend.

“It held up pretty well despite thousands of laps on the track over the weekend,” said Davis.

Davis said the Derby Track staff is now preparing for the 57th running of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby this weekend. He said the track will be in top shape for the Indianapolis 500 of snowmobile racing.

“The track will be ready,” said Davis “We will add some water this week and smooth it out the best we can, but there should be enough ice to hold up.”

Tourism boost

Another aspect of the Vintage weekend was bringing people to Eagle River to ride the area snowmobile trails.

“We helped fill the motels the weekend before the Derby and that is huge,” said Davis. “Some of the fans attend the vintage races and then attend the Derby this weekend. They ride the trails during the week. That’s a big deal for the area.”

Davis said the volunteer effort from the community was up about 10% during the Vintage weekend, which he said the new owners appreciate.

“It was a great way to kick off the 57th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby,” said Davis.