The roar of engines and high speed excitement returns for the 57th World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River this Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 16-19.

With plenty of snow on the local snowmobile trails and new offerings on the track, this year’s Derby is expected to attract thousands of fans and hundreds of racers.

The Derby Track and World Championship title were sold to a group of snowmobile-minded businessmen last year who rebranded the facility as the World Championship Derby Complex. The new owners said they are looking forward to their second Derby.

The 30-plus-acre property on Eagle River’s north side has hosted World Championship Snowmobile races for more than 50 years and is considered a vital contributor to winter tourism of the greater Eagle River area.

Race organizers say they expect to host nearly 20,000 spectators over the four-day event that begins Thursday with practice sessions.

Drivers on the ice oval will have their aspirations set on coveted trophies, prizes and thousands of dollars in cash awards, but most of all, they will compete for the prestige of winning at the mecca of ice oval racing, Eagle River.

“Everyone comes to Eagle River to be crowned a World Champion,” said Russ Davis, complex president and general manager. “It’s a special venue and a special weekend for a lot of racers.”

Davis said this championship will feature the new Pro Champ 440 and Formula III classes on the Oval, as well as the introduction of Pro UTV Side-by-Side races on the Derby Track. 

After much discussion among race officials, the new Pro Champ 440 class will be the sleds competing for the title of World Champion. This newly formed class replaces the old Champ 440 class for the World Champion title, according to Craig Marchbank, race director for the famed Eagle River Derby Track.

Also new is the Fomula III class which will be featured in all future events due to its lower equipment cost which results in increased participation on the track and increased safety for the drivers, said Marchbank.

“We are committed to bringing exciting and very competitive racing action to our fans,” he said. “This will offer the teams and drivers a chance to develop their new Pro Champ 440 and Formula III sleds. We anticipate a much larger entry field for both these classes.”

Another new event for fans at the track will be the Pro Stock and Pro Mod (Turbos) UTV Side-by-Side races.

“We want to bring new offerings for the fans each year,” said Davis.

For fans on the bank, temperatures for the weekend are predicted to be in the low- to mid-teens all four days. From a track maintenance standpoint, the colder temperatures are perfect for making ice.

“The track is awesome and will be getting better this week,” said Davis. “There are about 10 inches of ice on the straights and 8 inches on the corners.” 

The schedule

Track officials noted there are some changes in the race schedule.

Thursday, Jan. 16, will be a practice day from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for drivers to fine-tune their machines before qualifying heats. Time trials for the World Championship class will begin at 5 p.m. Admission is free for all fans on Thursday.

Following Thursday, Davis said fans can witness three days of action-packed racing.

Oval racers will take to the ice track starting at 10 a.m. Friday and Sno-Cross practices will begin at 1:30 p.m. Heat racing in Sno-Cross will begin at 4 p.m., with all on-track activity ending at 5:15 p.m. for Friday Night Thunder track preparations.

Opening ceremonies for Friday Night Thunder begin at 6 p.m with introductions, the national anthem and fireworks. Racing will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Featured events will include the Sweet Sixteen Pole Position event in which the winner of the new Pro Champ 440 race will be awarded the pole position for Sunday’s World Championship. There will be two 10-lap heats before the final 16-lap feature. Also scheduled is the UTV Side-by-Side Shoot­out 15-lap final and the Marchbank Racing Pro/Am Sno-Cross heat race and final.

“The pros on the Sno-Cross course can fly high and they take a lot of chances,” Davis said. “They are a ton of fun to watch for the spectators.”

Saturday a full day of events kicks off at 8 a.m. with round one of Sno-Cross events running until 10 a.m. Qualifying heats on the oval will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., followed by round two of Sno-Cross from approximately 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sno-Cross Finals will then be held from about 3:30 to 5:15 p.m. Any Sno-Cross events not completed by that time will be run at the conclusion of the Saturday Oval events.

Qualifying for Sunday’s World Championship will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday evening with heat races, quarterfinals and semifinals. Many fans believe Saturday is some of the best racing of the weekend on the demanding ice oval.

“If they don’t make it through Saturday, they won’t be racing Sunday so it’s a different type of anxiety for drivers on Saturday,” said Davis. “The top three from each 5-lap semifinal advance to the WC on Sunday.”

The Pro/Am Sno-Cross World Championship and Pro UTV finals are planned Saturday night. The public is invited to attend the Pro/Am Sno-Cross and UTV Side-by-Side awards ceremony inside the Expo Hall following racing on Saturday night.

Championship Sunday will begin at 9 a.m. with finals in 20 Oval classes, including junior classes, several Vintage classes, and heats in the Outlaw class.

The last chance qualifier for the World Championship is set for noon, followed by a series of finals on the oval, including the 10-lap Outlaw final and Formula III Final.

That will set the stage for the 57th running of the Pro Champ World Championship at 3 p.m.

“This year’s race will be a 25-lap, no-stop feature,” said Davis, noting that the championship had a split race format in recent years.

Blaine Stephenson of Hutchinson, Minn., comes into Eagle River as the two-time returning World Champion, winning the $10,000 purse in both 2017 and 2018 on a Polaris. 

“I understand there is a pretty good field vying for the championship,” said Davis. “With the new Pro Champ class, we are expecting at least two dozen racers in the class, which is pretty good.”

Davis said the winner of the World Championship will receive a $10,000 prize, a huge “Eagle” trophy and a Fly Racing jacket. All World Champs in other classes will receive cash payouts based on entry fees and special added cash purses by sponsors, Fly Racing jackets and “Eagle” trophies.

Fan features

Thursday is a free day for those wanting to come and check out practice sessions or World Championship time trials Thursday evening.

The cost is $35 for Friday (including Friday Night Thunder), $35 for Saturday and Saturday evening, and $35 for Sunday. An advance super ticket for $100 includes entrance to the entire weekend’s events. It is available at the Derby office starting Thursday. Indoor hot seats are also available by calling the Derby Complex office at (715) 479-4424. 

“We also have expanded the kids races on the Derby Complex grounds with a larger track and more racers expected through the Badger State Winter Games,” Davis. “The Badger State Games Torch Tour will start in Wausau Thursday and will end at the Derby Track with the lighting of the cauldron Friday night.”

Reigning over the festivities this week will be Derby Queen Tatum Campbell of Eagle River, who is a senior at Northland Pines High School. Joining Campbell as Derby royalty will be Derby princess Kylee Swendson, a sophomore at Northland Pines High School.

The Derby Royalty will be seen throughout the Derby grounds all four days, talking to spectators and handing out trophies in the Ultimax Winner’s Circle.

Vendor displays will be offered inside the Derby Expo Hall. Vendors will feature everything from snowmobile accessories to clothing, according to Davis.

Also on display is the Eliason Snowmobile Toboggan, created by snowmobile inventor Carl Eliason of Sayner.

Numerous giveaways also will be offered this year, as event sponsors have contributed many prizes, according to track officials.

A popular nonracing activity in Eagle River is the annual Derby hockey game Saturday night at the Eagle River Sports Arena, where the Eagle River Falcons men’s hockey team will face the DePere Deacons starting at 8 p.m.

Following racing Sunday will be the awards banquet in the Expo Hall.