Large crowds surrounded the famous ice oval to watch a weekend packed with racing action despite temperatures hanging out in the mid-teens for much of the event. —STAFF PHOTO
Large crowds surrounded the famous ice oval to watch a weekend packed with racing action despite temperatures hanging out in the mid-teens for much of the event. —STAFF PHOTO
Another World Championship Snowmobile Derby and Vintage Championship is in the books, and organizers, volunteers and attendees all agreed that following both weekends of events, each had its shining moments.

The 59th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby took place Jan. 13-16 in Eagle River as racers and fans from across the country gathered for the 59th annual event. The culmination of the weekend came Sunday when Jay Mittelstaedt of La Valle, Wis. took home the prized title of world champion as he hoisted the SnowGoer Cup with his teammates and family.

“It’s overwhelming as we sit here Monday following the events, looking back at how it all unfolded,” said World Championship Derby Complex (WCDC) General Manager Dan Peck.

“We had a lot of relationships this year that again were important. Working with the city, the fire and police department and the school district. They were all so helpful. Then with the Great Lakes Medical Service. The director said it was his most favorite race he’s ever been to. He couldn’t say enough about the measures we put forth to help make things safe,” said Peck.

Despite a cold start to Friday Night Thunder, fans packed the stands and braved the temperatures that ended up hovering around zero degrees. Saturday was cold but sunny, and Sunday saw temperatures in the mid-teens for most of the day.

Peck said that everything ran about as smoothly as they could hope for.

“We identified what was sort of a weak link on the Friday leading into Vintage weekend which helped the World Championship weekend run much more smoothly. We had a lot of positive feedback on the parking, ticketing, concessions.”

Peck said that volunteers, once again, made the event what it was. That together with sponsors, both area sponsors and an influx of nation-wide brands such as Polaris who wrote a $5,000 check for the World Championship purse this year, made the 59th championships one for the record books.

“We had over 110 volunteers working across both weekends, and their dedication to the history of this event in the Snowmobile Capital of the World is what makes this whole thing work so well,” said Peck. “To see them show up every day, put their gloves on and go to work is something special. We owe them the most thanks of anyone.”

The final weekend saw thousands of spectators at the Derby Complex, most notably Friday night with sold-out hot seats and corporate suites to go along with hundreds more who braved the cold temperatures outside on the banks of the ice oval. Peck said that with the next event just weeks away, crews on the track were busy already Sunday night prepping the ice and getting things in order for the World Series of Snowmobile Racing set Feb. 5-6.

“We’ve already established the date for the 60th anniversary event with special logo and merchandise to highlight the event,” said Peck. “We’re already working with the Formula III class to have the largest purse ever in the history of the World Championship event.”

Booming business

Kim Emerson, executive director of the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, remarked that trails in the area and restaurants were both full throughout the weekend.

“People were definitely up here using our lodging, gas stations, eating out at our restaurants, and at the grocery stores. The Derby is always a great economic impact, especially when snowmobile trails are open as well,” she said.

The Sno-Eagles Snowmobile Club of Eagle River was on site all weekend selling concessions and raffle tickets at the Derby Expo Hall and a spokesperson for the club said that they saw the busiest-ever week of concessions.

“We sold over the course of two events a total of 2,249 burgers,” said Peck. “That number just baffles me.”

Between the number of people and the amount of food that was cooked, the Sno-Eagles said the numbers seemed up from previous years. The club also did well on ticket sales for its Groom to Ride raffle.

Mother Nature did not fully cooperate the week leading up to the championship leaving the track in semi rough shape for some of Saturday’s races, but the watering truck was out Saturday night ahead of the main racing event to add additional ice to the track to help smooth it out.

With more overall race entries than ever before according to WCDC Race Director Craig Marchbank, Peck said he received numerous positive comments regarding the ice surface and how it held up.

“Not only did they do a great job of keeping as much of the race surface as possible, and as smooth as possible, but they did so in as fast a pace as they’ve ever done it before,” said Peck. “To think of the thousands and thousands of laps that were run on that track over the course of those two weekends is just amazing.”

The date for the 60th annual World Championship event is set for Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 19-22, 2023.