Last January, I had the privilege of attending the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River. It is affectionately nicknamed the “Indy 500 of Snowmobiling.” 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 (here are 10 things to expect if you go), 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 is Almost as Exciting as the Race
When I first got into the IndyCar series, I was new to motorsports races in general and didn’t get the hype about qualifying. 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 has many 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.
Multiple Races Happen at "The Race"
If you tune in to an IndyCar race on TV, you’re expecting to see an IndyCar race, obviously. What you don’t see are the races for other series happening at the track. The Indy Lights series runs the Freedom 100 race on the Friday before the Indy 500. 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. The event includes both oval and sno-cross races, even though one big oval race on Sunday determines the World Champion.
It's Cool to Camp Out at the Track
I think I’m attracted to country sports because it’s pretty much a given that you can camp somewhere on the premises. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there are entire cities of RVs, tents, and other temporary shelters set up everywhere from cornfields to 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 the Indy 500 of Snowmobiling!
The Sound is Electrifying
If you approach IMS while cars are on the track, 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 want even to consider bringing earplugs. Though snowmobiles don’t have the same weight or force as an IndyCar, watching them accelerate to nearly 100 miles per hour down a straight of glare ice is one of the most incredible 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.
They Have Some of 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 drive from race to race, support their teams, and always have something to say about the latest aero kit upgrade. The “Indy 500 of Snowmobiling” 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.