by Doug Etten, Sports Editor Vilas County News-Review
Just three races into the USSA ProStar Cup Tour season Blaine Stephenson of Hutchinson, Minn., and Gunnar Sterne of West Chicago, Ill., are separating themselves from the field following racing action at the 525 Racing Complex in Wausau this past weekend.
Stephenson, coming off a perfect three rounds of heats and a win in the final at Eagle River, was near perfect once more in Wausau atop his No. 102 Wahl Bros., Polaris, winning two of his three heat races and collecting a win in the final Saturday after Justin Peterson of Campbellsport slipped through the snow dust with less than two laps remaining.
Peterson was aboard a fast Ski-Doo all weekend, and after winning two of his three heat races looked poised to take the championship race and 100 points toward the year-end standings when he came out of turn two high and got washed into the ice shavings which gave Stephenson the opening he needed to secure the top spot.
Stephenson never looked back and was able to wash away some of the disappointment from last Sunday where a late-race caution flag crippled his drive for a fifth World Championship at the Eagle River race.
“It kind of just panned out for us,” said Stephenson after the race. “This class is so dang competitive so to win any race is good. Dang good points today. Justin drove one hell of a race. When he got motoring, boy, I was like (I don’t know if we can catch them).”
Peterson said after the race that he had one of the fastest sleds at the track that day, but that may have been what inevitably bit him.
“We just got a little too aggressive and it wore me out pretty quick. The rest is history,” he said. “The race was really good for about 11 laps, then a couple after that. Then it didn’t go so well.”
The shuffle sent Peterson to second place. He was followed by Travis McDonald of Gonner, Manitoba in third. Fourth place went to Tom Olson of Lodi who’s best was yet to come Sunday where he would win the Sprint World Cup race. Sterne placed fifth which helped him lock down 87 total points on the weekend.
Sterne came into Wausau with a narrow 10 point lead in the season-long standings, however Stephenson overtook the top spot and now rests there with 353 points, 30 ahead of Sterne.
Olson sits in third place with 254 points followed by 2023 World Champion, Matt Goede with 243. The rest of the top 10 includes MacDonald (225), Peterson (195), John Henke (151), Hunter Sears (141), Calvin Cook (124) and Matt Szalai (108).
The next two rounds of ProStar Cup Tour racing takes drivers and teams north of the border with racing this weekend in Eganville, Ontario followed by the Grand Prix in Valcourt, Quebec the following week.
After that teams are heading to Manawa for the Snodeo event, Feb. 18-19 before they return to Eagle River for the World Series of Snowmobile Racing, Feb. 24-26. The final race of the season than takes place in Beausejour, Manitoba where the season points race will culminate.
For more information, standings and driver profiles go to ussaprostar.com.
Olson Claims World Cup
Gunnar Sterne was on his way to a sure top spot in Sunday’s inaugural running of the USSA Sprint World Cup as the accomplished driver had set apart a 12 second lead on the field with just seven laps to go in the 20-lap final.
It was then his drive belt let loose, brining his No. 220 Ski-Doo to a halt between turns three and four and sending Tom Olson of the Wahl Bros., team to the top spot on the upcoming restart.
From there, Olson clicked away the final laps as he hoisted the cup in victory lane for what was undoubtedly his biggest win to date in the Champ 440 field netting him just over $6,500 in prize money.
“I didn’t think I was an emotional person, but there is a lot of emotions right now,” said Olson following the race. “Thank you Wahls. You can’t thank those guys enough. You have to have longevity and those guys work very hard. This was a challenging week for everyone to get everything together after (Eagle River). But those guys really work, I can’t thank them enough. I just drive the sled, but they put in a lot of the hours behind the scenes.”
Sterne following the race, was understanding of the events that took place, but disheartened to say the least.
“Days like today are why I race,” said Sterne. “I love to compete and I love the feeling of knowing you put your best all out there and just put a whooping down on the track. I love that feeling when I do it, and I hate it when people do it to me. But today was a hard one to swallow
“Right before the drive belt blew we had an 11 second lead in just 13 laps. And all of that credit goes to my crew. I wanted to bring home a Sprint World Cup for my guys so bad but it just wasn’t meant to be. In the end I am still so proud of my team and all the hard work we put in to get this sled as fast as it was after a pretty horrible showing on Saturday.”
Following Olson with another podium finish was Goede who came in second place. Earning a hard-fought podium also was third place finisher Fred Manke of Lodi, who’s team is based out of Eagle River and Minocqua as sponsored by Ryden Marine and Eagle River Dock & Lift.
“All the time in the shop we’ve done the last couple of years makes this moment all worth it,” said Manke. “This is probably only my third time driving Wausau ever. We came out in practice and I was not very good. The sled was really good. It was all me, and I just had to make the adjustments. The sled was there the whole time.”
Following Manke in fourth place was Justin Peterson. Fifth went to Calvin Peterson ahead of Jordan Sobetski, Travis MacDonald, John Henke, Sterne, Blaine Stephenson, Hunter Sears and Calvin Cook.