The recent polar vortex blast of subzero arctic air has laid the groundwork for a near picture-perfect ice oval base for the upcoming World Series of Snowmobile Racing this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 20-21, and the Arctic Derby Dash Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27.

“Right now we have more ice made than we had for the Derby,” said World Championship Derby Complex President and General Manager Russ Davis. “We’re probably pushing 10 inches right now, but look at the difference in the weather now as opposed to before the Derby. The Derby was warm weather. We sometimes went two, three days without making any ice because it never got below freezing at night. The track now is in as good of shape as we’ve seen it in a long time. We’re in really, really good shape on our track conditions.”



Rising to the challenge

Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing and evolving global COVID-19 pandemic, the show is going on at the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River, which is preparing to host its 14th World Series and second Arctic Derby Dash.

The 58th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby was held as planned Jan. 14-17, with the Vintage Weekend races held the weekend prior.

“It’s a big deal — never been postponed, never been canceled,” Davis said. “That’s why we needed to do it, just for that reason. We didn’t want to spoil the record.”

Given a variety of high-profile event cancellations due to the pandemic, including the Jan. 1-3 Snow­mobile Olympus at Ironwood, Mich., and the Jan. 30-31 Fire & Ice event at Weyau­wega, Davis said the Eagle River ice oval is one of the few venues hosting races this winter.

“The amount of money the Derby events bring into the area is unbelievable,” Davis noted. “You’re talking millions of dollars that get turned over in the community. These (the World Series and Derby Dash) aren’t as big as the Derby, but everything helps from a restaurant standpoint, from a motel standpoint certainly, the gas stations. The economy can use this boost in February, believe me.”

The health and safety of participating racers, crew members and Derby track employees, volunteers and attendees are of paramount concern, with a variety of health and safety protocols put in place.

“We’ve taken every precaution regarding the COVID situation,” Davis said. “We’re trying to abide by the governor’s mandates with the COVID situation still hanging around.?We’ve done everything imaginable we can do to abide by the governor’s standards. We had two very successful weekends with the World Championship Snowmobile Derby and the Vintage Weekend races before that and, knock on wood, everybody was pretty satisfied. We didn’t hear of anybody having any real problems. The fact that 90% of what we do is outdoors helps.”

One hopeful sign, Davis noted, are declining COVID case numbers in both Wisconsin and the nation at large, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reporting Feb. 9 that the state’s seven-day average of daily new confirmed COVID cases fell below 1,000 for the first time since Sept. 9.

“It’s getting optimistic,” Davis said. “The numbers are going downward somewhat, which is helping everybody.”

Continued closure of the United States-Canada border due to the pandemic continues to bar Canadian competitors from participating in Eagle River racing action, with Davis estimating an 8% to 10% impact on the normal numbers of entries. 

“We won’t have any Canadian drivers here because the border is still closed,” Davis said. “We can’t get up there. They can’t get down here.”

Despite the lingering challenges, Davis is feeling positive heading into the upcoming World Series and Derby Dash weekends.

“Entries are coming in strong for both events,”?Davis said. “We are the World Championship track. Everyone likes to win an eagle trophy.”



World Series weekend

This Saturday and Sunday’s World Series of Snowmobile Racing, known in past years as the Last Chance Race, is shaping up well, according to Davis, who is anticipating a field of 250 entries and “a couple of thousand” spectators.

“It’s a mixture of everything where the guys can really shoot it out one more time to see who are the champions for the year,”?he said. “That’s why we call it the World Series. It’s kind of the final race. In the Champ Class, the majority of the World Championship drivers will be here again to compete for the final race on Sunday afternoon, just like at the Derby.?There’s going to be some good racing.”

Races begin at 1 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The Derby Track bar, gift shop and food concessions will remain open after racing ends on the track both days. A complete World Series schedule is available online at derbycomplex.com.



Arctic Derby Dash

Davis predicts the Sua­mico-based SXS Sports’ LeMans-type Arctic Derby Dash for side-by-side UTVs is going to be big, estimating between 100 to 125 entries and from 2,500 to 3,000 spectators Friday and Saturday.

“The ice circuit for side-by-sides is getting bigger because the guys are building race units, race cars — side-by-sides but they call them cars — and they want somewhere to run ’em,” Davis said, noting some drivers are coming to Eagle River from as far afield as California, Kansas and Utah for the chance to drive on the Derby ice oval. “That’s encouraging.”

Indeed, side-by-side and ATV racing is hot, and growing exponentially by the day.

“That’s the hottest motor sports business in the world right now, it’s huge — side-by-sides and ATVs,” Davis said. “And you can quote me on that, because it’s in every sport magazine there is. Polaris is up already for this quarter, and BRP, some 23%, 24% this year just in those two categories: ATVs and UTVs.”

Presented by SXS Sports and billed as “the ultimate frozen rush,” the Arctic Derby?Dash is one of the ultimate side-by-side vehicle challenges and the first event in the new Monster Energy King of the Elements Series.

Drivers will take to the Derby ice oval with studded tires, sliding 90 degrees at speeds of 80 mph-plus in freezing temperatures.

Johnny Greaves, a four-time off-road world champion from Abrams is running the King of the Elements Series, including the Arctic Derby Dash. Greaves will be assisted at Arctic Derby Dash by his son, noted off-road racer Colton “C.J.” Greaves, also of Abrams.

Johnny and C.J. are fresh off of running in the King of the Hammers off-road desert race held Jan. 31-Feb. 9 on Means Dry Lake in Johnson Valley, Calif., near Yucca Valley.

“King of the Hammers is kind of like the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in the circles of off-road racing,” Davis said. “King of the Hammer is probably the toughest off-road race in the world. That’s a big, big event.”

While in Eagle River, Johnny Greaves will make a special appearance for the gathered crowd, driving his Pro 4 off-road truck on the oval for a couple of demo laps.

“He’ll make a couple of laps for sure,” Davis said of Greaves. “Just the noise and to see him go around and see those rooster tails, the ice flying, is pretty exciting stuff. Side-by-sides and off-road trucks are the biggest. You’ve even got the stock car NASCAR guys getting into it now in the wintertime because it’s fun. They can beat the s--- out of the equipment.”

Davis noted former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon and a partner have teamed up to build a new side-by-side racing model.

“They’re specializing in race units,”?Davis noted. “If you want to go off-road racing in a side-by-side, they’ll build it for you and sell it to you. It doesn’t even go to the dealership. They’re building them from scratch.”

Competing classes at the 2021 Arctic Derby Dash include SXS mini (ages 5-12), 570 SXS (ages 12-16), Pro Mod SXS, Pro Stock SXS and Sportsman SXS. Registration for the Arctic Derby Dash closes at noon on Thursday, Feb. 25.

For a race schedule and more information, visit sxssportsracing.com.



Tickets available

General admission and Hot Seat tickets for both the World Series of Snowmobile Racing and the Arctic Derby Dash are available by contacting the Derby Track at (715) 479-4424 or info@derbycomplex.com.

For the latest information on the World Championship Derby Complex’s evolving 2021 event schedule, visit derbycomplex.com or call (715) 479-4424.



Livestreaming


Both the World Series of Snowmobile Racing and the side-by-side Arctic Derby Dash will be livestreamed at derbycomplex.com.

Davis said livestreamed racing action from Eagle River’s famed ice oval is really putting Eagle River on the map, not only in the United States but around the world, noting a strong international livestream viewership all across Canada and as far afield as Sweden.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” he noted of the livestream audience.