Top snowmobile racers to tackle ice-covered oval at Luxemburg Speedway
LUXEMBURG – Just because Luxemburg Speedway is covered with ice doesn’t mean it won’t have racing this weekend.
And just because the racing surface is ice instead of the usual clay doesn’t mean speeds, and the action, won’t be high. Quite the opposite, in fact.
That’s because the United States Snowmobile Association is coming to the speedway to hold “Blast at the Burg,” two days of snowmobile racing Friday and Saturday for the USSA’s ProStar and TLR Cup series.
Casual motorsports fans may think of “snowmobile racing” mainly as the snocross races seen on cable TV and at ESPN’s X Games, with the sleds tackling jumps, whoops and moguls on a snow-covered track.
But, what fans will see on the third-mile oval at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds is speed, lots of it, and side-by-side competition. Quicker and faster than the stock cars that normally compete on the clay track in the summer, said Bob Richardson, director of competition for USSA ProStar.
“They’re going to be amazed,” Richardson said. “You’ll see a track covered in glare ice (on purpose), and the racers will be three, six seconds a lap quicker than the cars can go out there. With the speed and the traction they have, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of side-by-side racing, too. It’s more or less a pure adrenaline rush for people who like racing.”
The speed will be most notable in the USSA Champ 440 class and the TLR Cup race, which uses sleds built to Champ 440 rules. The TLR final is Friday night after three heats to determine the starting field, and the USSA Champ race closes the show Saturday, with pretty much the same field as the TLR race.
It’s the premier class and the fastest racing snowmobiles in the world – the snowmobile version of a Formula 1 or Indy Car – featuring high-tech chassis that are only required to weigh at least 375 pounds powered by special 440 cc engines, and drivers from across the Midwest and Canada will compete on them.
“(The Champ 440 class) is basically unlimited,” Richardson said. “Carbon fiber is allowed, titanium is allowed, you can have electronics on board so you can tell how the suspension is working, your speed at any point. The cheapest (sleds) are probably $40,000 while the most expensive are about $65,000. It’ll be apparent when they’re on the track – you’ll see the difference from the other classes.”
Plus, it’s easy to see the drivers hard at work. There’s no seatbelts or bodywork to hold them in place as they battle g-forces in the corners, leaning over and hanging off the left sides of their machines to counteract the forces trying to push the sleds to the outside.
“I think what makes us different is we’re reaching the speeds we are, 90, 100 mph, and the only thing keeping us on board is hanging on to our snowmobile,” said Gunnar “G-Man” Sterne, the 2017 TLR Cup champion and current points leader. “We’re different from snocross; the speeds we reach are pretty crazy. I think people respect that when they see the speeds and how close we race.”
Sterne, a 24-year-old from the Chicago area who’s won four of six TLR Cup races this season and the last three in a row, said the physical part of oval-track snowmobile racing matters along with the mechanical part.
“There’s definitely a lot of training involved to get to the pro level,” Sterne said. “20, 30 laps might seem like a sprint, but it takes a lot of strength to do even one lap. You’re hanging on, squeezing the handlebars (to work the throttle and brake). It takes a lot of experience to preserve your strength to the end. I’ve learned I can make the most damage in the last five laps, when other people are going slow because they’re tired.”
The drivers trying to halt Sterne’s three-race TLR Cup winning streak come to Luxemburg from across the Midwest, as well as the northeastern United States and Canada. Among the top challengers are Nick LaGoy of New York, Travis MacDonald of Manitoba and Blaine Stephenson of Minnesota, winner of last month’s World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, the most prestigious snowmobile oval race in the world.
Leading the Wisconsin contingent are Nick Van Strydonk of Tomahawk, a two-time winner of the Snowmobile Derby (2012 and ’17); Cardell Potter of Camp Douglas, the 2015 Derby winner; and Jerry Brickner of Wausau. Also, Colt Dellandrea of Ontario, currently fifth in TLR points, rides for a team run by Dale Loritz of Green Bay, who won two straight Derby crowns in 1994-95.
Money is available for the racers. The TLR series pays out nearly $50,000 total over its nine-race schedule and a $52,500 points fund is awarded at the end of the season, with the champion taking home $15,000. The teams also have sponsorships and contingency awards from snowmobile equipment manufacturers; Sterne is backed by international energy drink brand Red Bull.
But, few, if any, make a living at it, even in the TLR Cup.
“No, unless they have a sponsor,” Richardson said. “With the cost of the sleds and the miles they put on – we’re just getting back from Valcourt, Quebec, where we raced last weekend, and the week before that we were in Alexandria, Minnesota, so we had to haul from Minnesota to Quebec and back. It’s not lucrative. It’s really for the love of the sport.”
Full days of racing
While the TLR cup and Champ 440 races are the featured events, they’re not the only sleds that will hit the track this weekend. Far from it.
USSA has 22 classes that will compete this weekend, and it’ll be a full show of heats and feature races both days, 31 on Friday and 48 Saturday. The classes range from machines that are showroom stock or lightly modified to those that are close to pure racing sleds to accommodate all levels of experience and ability. There also are classes for junior drivers to learn how to race; Sterne said he started racing when he was 4 years old and worked his way up through the ranks.
Richardson said the more interesting of these classes include Pro Lite, a slightly limited version of the Champ 440 sleds and the potential last step before moving up to the Champ class, ala NASCAR’s Xfinity Series; Factory 600, a close-to-showroom stock class that he said is drawing interest from manufacturers; and F-500, a popular, near-spec class using older Polaris sleds as the base.
There also is the Outlaw class, a relatively new class using machines that blend snowmobile and sprint/midget car technology. Drivers sit back on the seats inside a cockpit surrounded by bodywork and with a roll cage, and Richardson said it’s not unusual to see the racers leaning on and bumping each other during the action.
“The Outlaw class has brought a lot to our sport,” said Richardson, who also is the USSA Outlaw representative.
USSA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. While the big names today may not be big names to the majority of racing fans, some who raced snowmobiles in the past will ring a bell.
The late Wisconsin stock car legend Dick Trickle raced sleds in the 1960s and ‘70s. Brothers Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve came out of Quebec to win Snowmobile Derbies before becoming stars in Formula 1 and CART, respectively. NASCAR Truck Series race winner Rich Bickle of Janesville ran Outlaw sleds when the class first started and now manufactures them.
The sanctioning body has raced at Luxemburg before, but it’s been several years and never with the TLR Cup. Richardson said he hopes this weekend leads to return appearances.
“The community’s been just great to work with,” he said. “Hopefully we can make this a continuing event from year to year.”
The United States Snowmobile Association holds the “Blast at the Burg” for the ProStar and TLR Cup racing series Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16 and 17, at Luxemburg Speedway, at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 N. Third St., Luxemburg. Races are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Friday, with the TLR Cup final at 9 a.m., and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with the USSA Champ 440 final at 3:30 p.m. Admission is $15 for a one-day pass, $25 for two days for ages 13 and older.
For more information, go to www.luxemburgspeedway.com.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Top snowmobile racers to tackle ice-covered oval at Luxemburg Speedway