Minocqua resident Mike Trapp has celebrated back-to-back 50th sledding anniversaries, last year for his historic 1971 first-ever World Championship Snowmobile Derby win for fledgling sled-maker Yamaha and this year for making history in 1972 as the Derby’s first back-to-back ice oval champion. Trapp holds several commemorative items from last year’s celebration, including a certificate of commendation from Gov. Tony Evers for his contributions to the sport of snowmobiling. —Staff Photo By ERIC JOHNSON
Minocqua resident Mike Trapp has celebrated back-to-back 50th sledding anniversaries, last year for his historic 1971 first-ever World Championship Snowmobile Derby win for fledgling sled-maker Yamaha and this year for making history in 1972 as the Derby’s first back-to-back ice oval champion. Trapp holds several commemorative items from last year’s celebration, including a certificate of commendation from Gov. Tony Evers for his contributions to the sport of snowmobiling. —Staff Photo By ERIC JOHNSON
It’s the rare person who can observe back-to-back 50th anniversary celebrations. Minocqua resident and lifelong snowmobiling enthusiast Mike Trapp, 75, is one of the lucky few who can lay claim to such record-making fame.

Last year, charter 1988 Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductee Trapp marked the 50th anniversary of his historic surprise 1971 World Championship Snowmobile Derby title at Eagle River’s famed Derby Track ice oval, earning the checkered flag and hoisting the trophy cup as the standard-bearer for fledgling snowmobile manufacturer Yamaha in its first championship win.

This month, meanwhile, marks the golden jubilee of Trapp’s record-setting 1972 World Championship Snowmobile Derby title as the first back-to-back champion in Derby Track history.

A sledding enthusiast from childhood, Trapp was active in professional oval and cross-country snowmobile racing on Scorpion, Yamaha and Ski-Doo sleds from 1965-’77, supported by a variety of sponsors over the years including Mama Chiolino’s Supper Club in Minocqua and sled manufacturers Yamaha and Ski-Doo.

The nationally-televised 1971 Derby finale, hailed by many as the “greatest snowmobile championship race in history,” was a nail-biting 15-lap nip-and-tuck race featuring no less than 13 lead changes heading into the final lap.

The iconic race for the ages pitted 24-year-old local favorite Trapp and his underdog, alcohol-fueled SR433 Yamaha against a high-powered 800cc field that included Gaston Freeland, Lucien Lamoureux, Mike Baker, Jim Bernat, Paul Eggebraaten and four future Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductees — cousin Wayne Trapp, Steve Ave, Bob Eastman and defending 1970 Derby champion Yvon Duhamel.

Trapp would earn upstart sled maker Yamaha its first championship, with Wayne Trapp giving Yamaha a second place finish. Reigning French-Canadian Derby champion Duhamel, who passed away in Montreal on Aug. 17 at 81, finished third after his 797 Ski-Doo Blizzard spun out in the final lap.

Trapp called Duhamel’s death a personal “setback.”

“We’re all getting up there in age,” Trapp said of the sport’s winnowing ranks of early professional racers.

Last year’s celebration of Trapp’s history-making Derby win included a variety of celebratory recognitions, including a special ceremony at the 2021 World Championship Snowmobile Derby that included an iconic return ride on the ice oval for Trapp on his famed SR433 Yamaha, owned and restored by Trapp fan and Yamaha sled enthusiast Leon Koch of Crivitz, owner of vintage snowmobile restoration shop Koch’s Performance LLC.

“It was a great time,” Trapp said of the Derby Complex’s hospitality. “They treated us very well.”

Admittedly, Trapp’s retro-nostalgic lap around the Derby Track was a far cry from his hotly-contested duel with Duhamel for the checkered flag.

“I suppose a younger guy, certainly not me, could’ve given ‘er a crack and see if it could’ve gone around the corner, but I wasn’t in the mood for (crashing into) hay bales anymore,” Trapp laughed, noting that it was still “fun” and “a great time” to once again be out on the ice oval with his historic old sled, calling it “a neat deal.”

Other special anniversary events included a frigid sub-zero Mike Trapp 50th World Championship Anniversary Ride last Feb. 12, a sell-out guided celebrity trail ride that raised more than $43,000 in support of the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River and the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River.

Trapp, a 1985 founder of the Snowmobile Hall of Fame alongside C. J. Ramstad, Loren Anderson and Larry Bosacki, called the “totally amazing” turnout and success of the fundraiser in support of the two sled museums a “tear-jerker” moment.

After a Cinderella season in 1971 for third-year sled manufacturer Yamaha — “we went out and kicked everybody’s butt and the next thing you know there’s a team” — Trapp recalled that his history-making back-to-back Derby win for Yamaha in 1972 by a comfortable margin was anything but a done deal.

In the wake of his dark horse 1971 win, alcohol was banned as a racing fuel for the 1972 season.

“I’d been getting away with it all year,” Trapp recalled. “I was kind of the institute guy for making the fuel go away. After the 440 beat the 800s, then they said no more alcohol at all. I was the bad guy for awhile.”

But larger hurdles loomed for Trapp heading into the ’72 Derby.

“We were having quite a bit of engine problems when we first started,” he said of the 1971-’72 sled racing season, which began poorly at Yellowstone and Ironwood, Mich. with his higher-powered Yamaha SR643. “They made a real bad batch of crankshafts — not real good metal to ‘em. The cranks were actually bending and the cases, of course, cracked. There wasn’t a real big glimmer of hope that we were going to do anything. It wasn’t looking good, really. I knew I was going to race, but I certainly didn’t expect to win it a second time.”

The odds of Trapp winning were pegged at just 10% by oddsmakers.

A saving grace at the 1972 Derby, Trapp said, was that he didn’t have to qualify for pole placement for the championship race as the reigning ice oval winner.

“The previous winner automatically was on the pole, so that was one advantage,” he recalled. “I didn’t have to run or qualify. Running the Yamaha was real risky with the engine problem that we had.”

As it was, a 25-year-old Trapp wasn’t sure he was going to even have a sled to race in 1972, his Yamaha being feverishly worked on at the eleventh hour in the lead-up to the race. A makeshift brace was fabricated to secure the crank and secondary shaft in place in the hopes of avoiding another broken crankshaft and case.

“There was so much stuff going on behind the scenes that sometimes even I didn’t catch the scope of what was going on,” Trapp said in retrospect. “The mechanics got together and ran the sled over to Minneapolis to put this plate in-between the clutch and the chain case and everything. Obviously, that did do the trick for me to win two in a row. But our next race was out in Washington and I’ll be darned if I didn’t blow that goldanged engine up after two laps around.”

Unlike the close competition with Duhamel in the 1971 race, Trapp recalls the 1972 race had a different tenor.

“There was a little bit of close competition going on with Jim Adema, the Sno-Jet guy, but once I got into the groove of cornering and straightaway speed, I beat all those guys by at least half a lap,” he said, noting no film survives of the ’72 Derby championship race. “It really didn’t get to be too much of a race at all, maybe four, five, six laps into it. It certainly wasn’t like that first one (1971).”

Competitor Adema was a posthumous charter Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductee in 1988.

Though making history as the Derby Track’s first back-to-back champion, Trapp said there wasn’t really much time to savor “being the hometown hero.”

“You don’t have a real long time to celebrate,” he recalled. “We were off to Washington for the next week’s race.”

Sandy Trapp remembers her husband’s championship professional racing days — chock full of competitive sledding action, cross-country travel, and networking with sled racing sponsors like Yamaha, Stihl Oil, NGK Spark Plugs and Quaker State Oil — as being an “exciting” time.

“It was just a whirlwind — everything about it was fun and exciting,” she said.

After winning his last trophy on a Ski-Doo at Lake Forest, Minn. in 1977, Arbor Vitae born-and-raised Trapp retired from the admittedly “really risky” world of racing sleds “flying around at 70, 80, 90 mph with no protection anywhere” to focus on raising his growing family and tend to his stewardship of the multi-generational family business, Trapp Brothers, Inc., a concrete, excavation and septic services company that Trapp still serves as president.

And as the fledgling sport grew, matured and evolved, competition for slots on teams became increasingly intense.

“Somebody’s constantly knocking on your door to get on that team,” Trapp said, knocking on a table in his sled shop for emphasis. “You had better show your stuff. After awhile, it gets in your head . . .”

While he stepped away from professional racing 45 years ago, Trapp remains an avid recreational snowmobiler with his children, grandchildren and wide circle of friends.

Along the way, he got back into sled racing for a time serving as a mentor, mechanical helper and “pointers” consultant for family-run, Ski-Doo affiliated Trapp Racing — son Ryan, brother Brian and nephew Randy — during its run from the mid-’80s to 1997, an era he fondly recalls as “a great family time.”

“It definitely helped out my situation getting into it right away at a young age,” said Ryan Trapp, who whet his own interest in sled racing at a young age watching video footage of his dad’s iconic 1971 Derby finale and listening to lively stories of professional snowmobile racing’s formative years.

To mark the 50th anniversary of his back-to-back 1972 Derby championship, Mike Trapp said a private 20-sled round-trip overnight ride with kids, grandkids and friends is planned for Feb. 4-5 to Whitecap Mountains Resort at Upson in Iron County, southwest of Hurley.