Hundreds of snowmobile racers from across the United States converged on Eagle River last weekend for the World Championship Vintage Snowmobile Derby.

In a pre­lude to the 58th 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 Curtis Pederson of Fargo, N.D., who won the 10-lap feature race Sunday afternoon on a 1973 440 Yamaha. A total of five states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and New Hampshire — were represented in the 12-sled championship field. There were no Canadian racers at the event this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Second place went to Joe Burch of Gobles, Mich., on a Polaris Starfire. Third place went to Paul Diefenthaler of Manitowoc on a 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, Yamaha SR and Arctic Cat.

Last year, Matt Goede of Mayer, Minn., won the Vintage World Championship on a Polaris. Goede again led the race Sunday afternoon, but his engine failed on the third lap in turns three and four and he was done for the day. On the restart, Troy Dewald of Au Gres, Mich., grabbed the lead, but he crashed into the bails in turn one on fifth lap of the race.

On the restart with five laps to go, Burch took the lead with Pederson close behind. They were neck and neck the next four laps, but Pederson made his pass in turns one and two on lap 10 and held on for the two-sled-length victory.

It was the second Vintage World Championship for the 32-year-old Pederson, who also won the race in 2017. It was the fourth time he qualified for the World Championship in six attempts.

“I won it again from the corner,” said a smiling Pederson after the win Sunday afternoon.

Pederson said it was tight race in the final lap against Burch.

“I drove in kind of deep on one and we both had the same speed on the back straightaway,” said Pederson. “On three and four, I had the inside groove and it prevailed all the way through I guess. “

Pederson said his 1973 SR 443 Yamaha is actually owned by the same person who owns Burch’s Polaris Starfire.

“So Team Hazard Racing took first and second,” said Pederson. “Nothing wrong with that.”

Entries on par

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.

In addition to the Vintage World Championship, finals were run in nearly 50 other classes during the weekend, according to Tom Anderson, co-owner of the Derby Complex.

“It was a great Vintage Weekend,” said Anderson. “We had great weather out here. A little foggy at times, but it wasn’t 20 below and we had a great crowd. Never seen a Vintage crowd like this, even on Friday night.

“Our number of entries were about on par with last year (when there were over 700 entries) and that’s without the racers from Canada. We were parking trailers on Thursday from the states of Washington, Pennsylvania and Maine,” said Anderson. “We had racers and fans from across the country,”

Anderson 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.

Anderson 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 Anderson. “Ted and Tom, our track crew guys, did a great job of putting it together for us.”

Anderson noted the Vintage racers are capable and safe drivers as not one sled went into the hay bales on Friday. He said there were no major injuries during the weekend.

Anderson said the Derby Track staff is now preparing for the 58th 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 Anderson. “We will add some water this week and smooth it out the best we can, but there should be enough ice to hold up.”

Anderson said there will be no Sno-Cross races this weekend due to several reasons.

Tourism boost

Another aspect of the Vintage weekend was bringing people to Eagle River in January.

“We helped the motels the weekend before the Derby and that is huge,” said Anderson. “Some of the fans attend the Vintage races and then attend the Derby this weekend.”

Anderson said the volunteer effort from the community was vital during the Vintage weekend.

“We appreciate all the volunteers, especially during these difficult times,” said Anderson.

He said everything went well Vintage weekend, and having mild weather helped. 

“It was a great way to kick off the 58th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby,” said Anderson.