The World Championship Snowmobile Derby has provided excitement to racing fans for nearly 60 years, and next weekend will be no different. —STAFF PHOTO
The World Championship Snowmobile Derby has provided excitement to racing fans for nearly 60 years, and next weekend will be no different. —STAFF PHOTO
Hundreds of snowmobile racers and thousands of fans will notice some changes as they flock to the World Championship Derby Complex (WCDC) in Eagle River this weekend for the 59th running of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby.

This year’s changes will help things run smoother both on and off the track for the world-famous event slated Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 13-16.

The biggest change that will affect the hundreds of riders is the resurfacing of the oval that took place last summer. Gone are the lumps, bumps and big, deep crevices of previous years, according to event coordinator Laura Campbell.

New WCDC General Manager Dan Peck said that the resurfacing project changed the grade of the whole oval — raising it in some areas and lowering it in others — which will create a whole new riding experience for racers, especially those who have raced at the Derby track for years.

“The track’s going to be more consistent than it’s ever been in the past,” said Peck. “For most racers that have been here for a long time, the track will be different for them so they will have to relearn some set up. Being more consistent, it’s really going to come down to the driver and machine set up more than it has in the past.”

Leading up to the events race organizers have been hard at work track preparations, and that hard work is paying off with Peck expressing confidence that this is going to be the best season yet.

For the fans, WCDC has implemented credit card processing for ticket and concession sales, as well as additional service lines so attendees can get in, get out and get back to enjoying the racing excitement.

Volunteers from the Eagle River Sno-Eagles Snowmobile Club will be on site throughout the weekend selling concessions as well as Groom to Ride raffle tickets for the chance to win a grand prize 2022 Ski-Doo 600 snowmobile donated by Track Side of Eagle River. The raffle is a major fundraiser for local snowmobile clubs to help keep trails in tip-top riding conditions.

Temperatures for the racing weekend are forecasted to be in the low 20s with nights falling into the teens, which should keep the ice in the Oval in decent shape for the weekend.

With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the large spike in active cases in the area and across the nation, Peck said the Derby Complex will again continue its Covid protocols in 2022.

Among Covid’s most visible impacts at the 2022 races at the Derby track will be a greatly winnowed slate of participating Canadian racers, with the Canadian government issuing a Dec. 15 global travel advisory to “avoid nonessential travel outside Canada due to the risk of the Omicron variant that causes Covid-19.” Last year, no Canadian drivers were in attendance, with all cross-border travel banned.

“It’s kind of like half the family that’s not going to be here for Christmas. That’s how we feel about it. We miss them and their presence is extremely valuable and important to us. They’re our brothers to the north, if you will,” said Peck.

Regarding Covid safety protocols, the Derby Complex will have some measures in place for fans.

“We’ll be practicing all the recommended state and local Covid practices — social distancing, etcetera,” he noted. “There won’t be a mask mandate, but masks will be encouraged in common areas. Covid has changed the scope of everything.”

This year’s races also will be available to view online at floracing.com

The schedule

Thursday will be a quiet day as the 250 to 300 racers arrive, get registered and tweak their machines for the big weekend. Paid practice will be open from noon to 3 p.m., and registration for the weekend will close at 5 p.m., except for Friday Night Thunder.

Registration for Friday Night Thunder also will be open Friday morning from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by an afternoon full of racing excitement.

Leading up to the opening ceremonies, the World Championship (WC) and Outlaw 600 time trials, Pro Champ USSA ProStar Cup races, F-440 and F-500 races, the F-500 Women’s race and more will all run throughout the afternoon.

Opening ceremonies for the ever-popular Friday Night Thunder will kick off at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, and racing will begin at 6:30 p.m. Ceremonies will feature the lighting of the Torch and Badger State Winter Games Caldron as part of the Badger State Winter Games Torch Ride.

The evening will feature races sponsored by IncredibleBank including the Pro Champ USSA ProStar Cup and F-500 races; and the F-440 FC sponsored by Marchbank Racing with a $300 added purse.

Friday Night Thunder’s big finale will be the Sweet 16 race sponsored by WCDC with a $1,500 added purse. The Sweet 16 will have heats of up to eight sleds and take the top four from each heat. The winner of the Sweet 16 will have pole position in the World Championship race.

The track closes Friday night after the final race, but the bar, Gift Garage and food concessions will remain open.

The track will open Saturday morning at 9 a.m. with racing going from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and featuring a Pro Champ, sponsored by Marchbank Racing; an F-500, sponsored by Wahl Brother’s Racing, an F-500 Sport, sponsored by Northern Parts & Recreation; and the WC Pro Enduro hot lap session, sponsored by Woody’s Traction Products.

A break in the action will be taken from 2 to 3 p.m. for track prep before resuming for the WC Oval qualifier. Also on the schedule are the WC Oval quarterfinals and semifinals, and the second World Championship Pro Enduro last chance qualifier sponsored by Woody’s Traction Products. The top two will advance to the WC Pro Enduro Final on Sunday.

The final day of action will start at 10:30 a.m. with the WC Last Chance Qualifier, the Outlaw 600 heat, and Pro Champ Final with a $500 added purse, both sponsored by Marchbank Racing. Also on the schedule is the F-500 Final sponsored by Wahl Brother’s Racing with an added $500 purse.

Track preparation and ceremonies will be held from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. ahead of the big event — the running of the 25-lap, World Championship Formula III Final at 1:30 p.m.

The final race will be 25 laps, straight through, with an added $10,000 purse. Following the big show, the second World Championship Pro Enduro Final 100-lap race will begin at 3:30 p.m. The Enduro is sponsored by Woody’s and has a $3,000 added purse.

The awards ceremony will take place inside the WCDC Expo Hall two hours after the final race. Trophies will be given for first, second and third places in all classes. Trophies and jackets must be picked up at the awards ceremonies — WCDC will not ship these items.

Race fans can get information on ticket sales, Hot Seats, full schedules and more by visiting derbycomplex.com or calling (715) 479-4424.