Racing events for the 59th annual running of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby get underway this week as a full slate of action begins with the highly-anticipated Friday Night Thunder event set for the evening of Jan. 14 at the World Championship Derby Complex (WCDC).

Gates will open at the complex Friday morning with tickets available through the north entrance of the Derby Complex. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the high-teens, and weather conditions for the night are calling for a chance of snow beginning in the morning and extending through the night.

Labeled a true fan-fare event, thousands of spectators and race fans alike will once again flood the gates at the Derby Complex for the pageantry and racing action with opening ceremonies set at 6 p.m. Racing will follow at 6:30.

The lighting of the Badger State Winter Games torch (see related story) will again signal the start to the events, followed by over 25 action-packed races to take place on the famed ice oval. Highlighting the night will be the WCDC Sweet 16 Final which will determine the pole position for the 59th running of the World Championship race, Sunday. Along with that will be the sanctioned Pro Champ USSA ProStar Cup Tour events which includes an added bonus of $5,000 to the winner through Incredible Bank.

Round three of the 2021-’22 ProStar Cup Tour includes the first two rounds of seven-lap heat races to take place Friday night, followed by the five-lap main race and 15-lap ProStar Cup Tour final held under the lights as one of the main events during Friday Night Thunder.

Following that, in its 15th year, the Sweet 16 event will be a Formula-III race this year and begin with two heats of eight racers battling for seven laps. There will then be two seven-lap semi-final races. The best 10 competitors will move on to the 16-lap final with the winner of that race taking hold of the coveted pole position in Sunday’s World Championship event. There is also an added bonus of $1,500 added to the purse from Woody’s.

The biggest change to events this year will be the rise of the Formula-III class to the World Championship designation. After years of high-dollar Pro-Champ class machines, the move to the more affordable racing equipment is one WCDC Race Director Craig Marchbank said was needed.

“Pro Champ is a stock engine package with a 440-cc motor, many of which haven’t been in production from the manufacturer since 2007,” said Marchbank. “It’s a custom chassis with twin exhaust. A more exotic type snowmobile.”

“The Formula III is a factory chassis where teams can manipulate the front and rear suspension, but they are running the stock engine base 600-cc motor just like it comes from the factory.”

Marchank said the change is why the sport is seeing many of the snowmobile manufacturers putting money back into their race programs, like they used to years ago in the ice oval sport.

“This is why we started looking at this three years ago as we knew, and were hearing from teams that parts for the 440 engines were drying up,” said Marchbank. “A lot of the racers wanted a premier class, so we sat down with ISR to get the rules package together, last year chose to hold off one more year because of COVID, but this year are full-force into it and couldn’t be happier.”

Both the Pro Champ and F-III classes will be must-see events during the evening Friday. Last year’s Sweet 16 spectators witnessed an unusual format with head-to-head bracket style racing. In addition to feature heat races, fans will watch the Big Bikes motorcycles on the ice as well. There also will be additional snowmobile races on the oval, including the Outlaw 600 class featuring cockpit-style snowmobiles. There also will be finals with additional purse money available in the F-500 and F-440 Fan Cooled divisions. Pro Lite, Vintage Super Stock 340 and Mod Stock 340 and Sportsman 600 classes will also be featured.

“The Sweet 16 event is unlike any other,” said Marchbank. “Along with the big races we’ve got a lot of qualifying runs across the night. Spectators can come to find all sorts of food, exhibits in the expo hall, our gift shop will be open. It’s more than just racing, it’s a true fan experience for those of any interest.”

One thing Marchbank said he is most excited about is getting the youth classes involved in the Friday night activities with the running of the 206 Pro/Semi-Pro circuit and the WKSRA Junior I & Junior II Stock classes to start the night.

“It’s very cool for me to see the kids out there because that is the lifeline of the track,” said Marchbank. “We love to get the kids out on the track. You wouldn’t believe how many drivers we get when those kids come off the track in the pits, giving high-fives and what not. These kids see these drivers and look up to them like heroes, so to have that interaction on Friday night is pretty darn cool.”

Marchbank stressed to fans coming to the ticket gates Friday to get there early.

“We want to avoid long lines at the ticket booths at 6 p.m.,” said Marchbank. “If you don’t want to miss any of the pageantry and racing, get here early. Our goal for Friday Night Thunder is to start the racing by 6:30 p.m. so we can be done early enough that spectators can patronize our local businesses.”

Battle for title

The Sweet 16 race set for Friday night will determine who gets the pole position for Sunday’s World Championship. The rest of the front row for Sunday’s 25-lap World Championship will be determined through the traditional heats, quarterfinals and semifinals Saturday afternoon starting at 2 p.m.

Sunday is Championship Day at the Derby and will feature finals in the competitive Oval classes starting at 8:30 a.m. The top races Sunday will be a last-chance qualifier for the World Championship class at approximately 11 a.m., followed by more Oval finals and the 59th annual World Championship at 1:30 p.m. for an added purse of $10,000.

For ticket information, fans can visit derbycomplex.com.