The Sweet 16 pole position race will headline the Friday Night Thunder program at the 58th annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby.

Thousands of spectators are expected this Friday, Jan. 15, for the popular 17-race event under the lights, with opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. and racing at 6:30 p.m.

Russ Davis, president and general manager of the Derby Complex, said in addition to the important Woody’s Challenge Sweet 16 pole position race, fans will watch motorcycles on the ice, the Outlaw final and finals in seven other Oval classes.

“Fans will get a little of everything Friday night, from the fast Pro Champ 440 sleds to motorcycles on ice,” said Davis. “I’m sure it will be a really big night at the track.”

The big bore motorcycles feature studded tires to handle the challenging banked ice oval.

Davis said fans always enjoy seeing the bikes with studded tires out on the banked ice oval.

“The bikes will be back,” he said. “They always put on a great show.”

There also will be additional snowmobile races on the oval, including the Outlaw 600 class featuring cockpit-style snowmobiles. There also will be 7-lap finals in Formula III, Pro Lite, Vintage Super Stock 340 and Mod Stock 340, F-500/Sportsman 600 Combo and F-500 Sport classes.

“The Outlaw 600 class is growing in popularity for both the racers and the fans,” said Davis, noting drivers sit in the cockpit-style machines with a steering wheel. “All in all, it should be a great night of racing. I’m expecting some really good racing as the track will be in awesome shape.”

There will be no Sno-Cross racing at the Derby Track in 2021, according to Davis.

The weather forecast is calling for high temperatures in the low 20s Friday. Davis said fans should plan on arriving at the track early for the Friday Night Thunder opening ceremonies, which will include introductions, the national anthem and a fireworks display. 

“We want to avoid long lines at the ticket booths at 6 p.m.,” said Davis. “If you don’t want to miss any of the pageantry and racing, get here early.”

Another highlight of the opening ceremony will be the lighting of the Badger State Winter Games  cauldron inside the Derby Track oval following a two-day snowmobile Torch Ride from Wausau to Eagle River (see related story).

“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,” said Davis.



Sweet 16 race

The most anticipated racing event for fans and racers at Friday Night Thunder is the Woody’s Challenge Sweet 16 pole position race, which features head-to-head competition between the 16 fastest ice oval racers in the world in the Pro Champ 440 class as they compete for early qualification in Sunday’s title race and the pole position.

The 16 racers will be selected based on their time trials Friday morning.

Now in its 14th year, the Sweet 16 event will begin with two heats of eight racers battling for seven laps. There will then be two 7-lap semi-final races. The best 10 competitors will move on to the 16-lap final, and the winner of that race will hold the pole position in Sunday’s World Championship event and receive $1,500 added purse from Woody’s.

“The winner of the Sweet 16 final is going to decide the pole position for Sunday, so it’s an important race,” said Davis.

Last year’s Sweet 16 spectators witnessed Blaine Stephenson of Hutch­inson, Minn., pass Nick Van Stryondonk of Tomahawk to win the race on his Polaris. Stephenson went on to win the World Championship title race on Sunday, his third straight.

“The pole position race is significant as the winner gets to sit out of Saturday’s grueling elimination heats,” said Davis. “The victor also has a chance at a hole shot in Sunday’s final race.”



Battle for title

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.

“Many say it is the best racing of the weekend, as about more than 20 Pro Champ 440 racers will compete for Sunday’s title race,” said Davis. 

Davis said 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 58th annual World Championship at 2 p.m. — an hour earlier than past years — for an added purse of $10,000.

For ticket information, fans can visit derbycomplex.com.