Honored by Snow Week magazine
It almost was not meant to be. This past January, P.J. Wanderscheid was powering around the famed oval at the Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby in the first round of Champ 440 qualifying when he entered turn one and hit a wicked bump. The 19-year-old lost his grip and was thrown from his sled. “Into the bales we went,” he said. “That was kind of a heartbreaker.”
Though uninjured, his John Hooper-built Arctic Cat Champ 440 suffered extensive damage to the front end. The sled’s A-arms and shock were torn off the right side. The skis, spindles, belly pan, hood and handlebars were destroyed. “I pretty much thought we were done for the weekend,” he said.
His crew — along with help from Hooper Racing — frantically repaired the sled with spare parts Hooper had brought to the track. Less than 40 minutes later, Wanderscheid was back on the track and advancing to the semifinals in Champ 440. “It was amazing, just a huge accomplishment for the team to get it back out there,”
Wanderscheid said. “I think it was a defining moment to our season.”
The next day, Paul John “P.J.” Wanderscheid, of Sauk Centre, Minn., went on to win his second consecutive Eagle River World Championship, one of the most coveted, storied races in all of snowmobile competition. With the win, Wanderscheid became the sixth driver to win back-to-back Eagle River titles.
“Winning the World Championship was something I didn’t think would happen even once, and then we did it again,” he said. “It took a while to really realize what we did.”
He said the win also proved to his doubters the year before was no fluke. “We knew going into Eagle River that a lot of people doubted us, mainly because of my age,” he said. “And after we won it, I couldn’t believe how many people said to me they really thought the year before was a fluke. I didn’t think that many people thought it was. To win it two times in a row was great. I think we showed them that we didn’t just get lucky.”
Any remaining doubters need to look at Wanderscheid’s 2002-03 season in its entirety to see he is for real. On the World Snowmobile Association (WSA) Xtreme Ice circuit, Wanderscheid, in just his second year racing as a pro, earned points titles in Pro 440 Champ and Pro Formula Open. He also claimed the Pro Overall points title and the Woody’s Triple Crown.
Wanderscheid’s 2002-2003 racing record led him to become the 2003 Snow Week magazine Racer Of The Year.
A Season To Remember
In the first WSA Xtreme Ice points race of the season in Roseau, Minn., Wanderscheid won Champ 440 and took a third in Pro Open. Two weekends later, Wanderscheid claimed his second World Championship at Eagle River by passing Philip Moulton with three laps to go, becoming the youngest driver to win back-to-back titles. He also took a second in Formula 1 and a third in Pro Formula at Eagle River.
After the Derby, Wanderscheid went on a tear, winning several races. In all, including two USSA races, he tallied nine wins, four seconds, two thirds and a fourth.
“This year we wanted to win the (WSA Xtreme Ice) points championships and we did successfully do that,” he said. “The other thing we wanted to do was win Eagle River again, and get the Triple Crown, so we accomplished all we set out to do. But we tried not to look ahead quite so far. We just tried to take it race by race and it worked out good for us.”
Teamwork Pays Off
Wanderscheid acknowledges that the season was a “total team effort.” He’s quick to praise his crew, Hooper for building his sled and his sponsors.
“The season was a combination of things,” he said. “Without Hooper we couldn’t have done it. But it’s sled setup, it’s teamwork, the pit crew and keeping myself in shape. It takes so many things to get to that one point, but everybody worked so hard this year and I’m glad it turned out for the best.”
His crew includes Mark Wanderscheid, Dave Wanderscheid, Butch Von Walde, Todd Kemper, Mike Middendorf, Jim Determan, Dan Merten, Brian Wanderscheid and Nikki Jeno.
Hooper said Wanderscheid is not only beyond his years on the track, but off the track as well.
“If he tells you he’s going to do something, that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said. “He’s also humble, and those are two rare things in young people these days. His word means something. He’s definitely from the old school, no doubt about that. He doesn’t look like it — he dresses with all the flashy clothes young people do nowadays — but his attitude is all old school.”
Wanderscheid’s sponsors include Arctic Cat, Country Cat, Sled Bed, Stud Boy, Hooper Racing, Gilleland Chevrolet, Pro-Maintenance Service, Eagle Fabricating, VForce, GW Web Designs, TF Graphics, Kimpex, Hiller Auction Service, FNB, Onsite Studios, Edge Performance and Micro Belmont.
Nobody has won three consecutive Eagle River World Championships in the event’s 40-year history. Wanderscheid said it’s a short-term goal.
“What I’d really like, and I don’t want to jinx myself, but nobody has won Eagle River three years in a row. That’s what I’d really like to do,” he said. “Nothing is given in anything like this so we’ll go out there and do the best we can.”
Also, only two drivers have won the Eagle River World Championship three times — Dave Wahl and Jacques Villeneuve — and no driver has won it four times.
“I think if he stays healthy and everything continues as it has been, I think he could very easily be the first guy to be the four-time champion,” Hooper said. “He’s already got two and he’s only 19. He has the physical ability and a great team. A lot of things can happen in a season, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t win four.”
A long-term goal? “I would love to keep doing good and someday get into the Snowmobile Hall Of Fame,” Wanderscheid said.
Wanderscheid named 2003 Racer Of The Year
Honored by Snow Week magazine