Last January, I had the privilege of attending the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, which took place again this past weekend. It is affectionately nicknamed the “Indianapolis 500 of Snowmobile Racing.” At the time, all I knew was that I loved trail riding but wanted to see what snowmobiles were capable of on an oval.
After getting the opportunity to attend the actual Indy 500 last May, I started to compare the two to see if their similarities actually deemed the race in Eagle River worthy of its moniker (spoiler: they do). How does the world’s largest snowmobile racing competition stack up to its open-wheel counterpart? I’m glad you asked.
Qualifying, Qualifying, Qualifying
When I first got into the IndyCar series, I was new to motorsports races in general and couldn’t understand why my boyfriend got almost as excited about qualifying as the actual race. For those who don’t know, qualifying is pretty much what it sounds like: depending on the race, it can determine whether you get to race at all, what position you start in for the race, or both. For the Indy 500, qualifying takes place over two days.
The World Championship Derby is also replete with qualifying events, which I learned when I first attended the event at the World Championship Derby Complex on Friday. The Sweet 16 Pole Position Race takes place Friday evening during Friday Night Thunder and determines the line-up for the big race on Sunday.
What Series is This?
If you tune in to an IndyCar race on TV, you’re expecting to see an IndyCar race, obviously. What you don’t always see are the other racing series with events going on at the track. The Indy Lights series runs the Freedom 100 race on the Friday before the Indy 500, and other stops on the IndyCar circuit have even more races intermingled throughout the event.
The size of the event guide for the World Championship Derby was as thick as a textbook and covered divisions classified by everything from age to engine. There are both oval racing and sno-cross events throughout the weekend, and even though one big race on Sunday determines the World Champion, there are plenty of smaller races that happen as well.
Pop-Up Trailer Parks
I think I’m attracted to country sports because it’s pretty much a given that you can camp somewhere on the premises (water ski tournaments included).
At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there are entire cities of RVs, tents, and other temporary shelters set up everywhere from designated campsites to peoples’ front yards. It’s a little grody, a lot country, and 100% awesome.
The Derby Complex has a parking lot full of pick-up trucks with attached campers and a separate area for motorhome parking. Even in the dead of a Wisconsin winter, there are still lots of spectators camped out for their favorite event of the year. I was thoroughly impressed.
The Need for Speed
If you’re headed into an IndyCar event while warm-ups or qualifying is going on (hopefully you’re not just walking in during the race), you are going to hear what’s happening long before you see it. At over 200 miles per hour, IndyCars are basically land jets that roar as they drive past. You might even want to bring earplugs if you value the health of your eardrums.
Though snowmobiles don’t have the weight or force of an IndyCar, you better believe that watching them accelerate to nearly 100 miles per hour down a straight of glare ice is one of the scariest, but most amazing things I’ve ever seen. They’ve got their own iconic sound (that’s where #braap comes from); it is equally incredible and equally worthy of earplugs.
The Best Fans in Racing
IndyCar has gone through a lot over the past two decades, including the reunification of two separate series as well as deteriorating viewership. Through it all, the sport’s dedicated fans have never wavered. They belt “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the top of their lungs and show up en mass to continue the race’s legacy as the largest single-day sporting event in the world. They drive from race to race, support their teams, and always have something to say about the latest aero kit upgrade.
The World Championship Derby is similarly the largest snowmobile competition of its kind in the world and attracts more than 40,000 fans each year. It is these devoted fans who have kept the event successful throughout its 56-year history. Race day is filled with more energy and cheering than I have ever seen this far north, and I couldn’t have loved it more.