Derby

Tom Anderson, co-owner of the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River, addresses the starting field prior to the start for the World Championship final at last season's races. Photo courtesy of SpeedShot Photography

Each year, the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River draws 35,000 to 40,000 people to the Northwoods to participate in, volunteer at or to simply enjoy its series of winter snowmobile and UTV races. Maintenance and preparation crews work hard in the weeks leading up to the winter racing season to prepare the complex, which opened with the 21st Vintage World Championship Snowmobile Races held Jan. 6-9. Preparations include icing the track, which consists of laying 1.3 million gallons of water to make an ice base.

Along with this routine preparation, owners Tom Anderson and Craig Marchbank, who purchased the complex in August of 2018 along with then-partner Russ Davis who has now retired, have been making additional upgrades. Fifty-tow closed-circuit TV sets have been installed and the track was totally regraded during the summer. “Over the course of the years the angle had shifted,” said Anderson, “Now ,all the curves are smoother, with a smoother transition from the corners into the straightaways. We do a lot of maintenance and improvement in the offseason.”

Current owners Anderson, who serves as the CEO and Marchbank, who is the vice president and race director, recognize the rich history of snowmobiling in the Northwoods.

Anderson, who has been attending snowmobile races in Eagle River since 1973, worked as a publisher of a snowmobile magazine for 20 years and is currently the owner of World Snowmobile Headquarters, home of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River.

A premier grass drag racer in the 1980s through 2000s, Marchbank is now the President of the Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in St. Germain.

From the invention of the snowmobile in the 1920s by Carl Eliason of Sayner, to the first race that took place in Eagle River in 1964, snowmobiling and the Northwoods have become synonymous during long Wisconsin winters.

Several people are planning events for the upcoming spring and summer, but with COVID lurking, they don’t want to sign contracts.

—Tom Anderson, co-owner,

World Championship Derby Complex,

Eagle River

The 59th World Championship Snowmobile Derby, which will take place January 13 through 16 at the Derby Complex, is the “biggest winter tourism event in the Northwoods, ”Anderson said. “Everyone in the community looks forward to the snowmobile races coming in.”

With a population of just under 2,000 in Eagle River, the influx of 30,000-some snowmobile enthusiasts is staggering. The local economy enjoys a boost — motels, hotels, rental homes, and restaurants are filled to capacity, grocery stores see major increases in sales, and cars line up to fill their tanks at gas stations.

In order to make the World Championship and other events held at the Complex successful, there are upwards of 75 different volunteers working — parking cars, cooking and delivering food, providing security, and more.

For many, it’s an annual tradition, with both local community members and out-of-town guests getting involved. Volunteers come from Illinois, Minnesota and other parts of Wisconsin because of their love for the Derby. “These major events would not be possible without the support of the great volunteer staff we have,” Anderson said.

On Feb.17, the World Championship Derby Complex will host a new event, the “Legend Laps” snowmobile show and exhibition. The event will feature famous snowmobile drivers, along with their original, reproduction, and/or collectible race sleds, who will make laps in a non-competitive format.

Attendees will have a chance to meet racers and view the sleds.

The event is a fundraiser for the Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame (St. Germain) and the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame (Eagle River) and is sponsored by Country Cat, a snowmobile dealership in Minnesota.

Minnesota. In addition to hosting racing events, Anderson and Marchbank also make the facility available to local organizations for event registrations. The facility has hosted registration for the Pond Hockey National Championships, Fishing Has No Boundaries events and various charity walks as a service to the community.

With 31 acres on the grounds, 15 corporate viewing suites, an 800-seat heated/air-conditioned viewing stand, full liquor and food licenses, plenty of parking and a 10,000 square-foot expo hall (the largest in Vilas County), the facility “has the infrastructure to support a lot more than just snowmobile racing,” Anderson said.

The Complex began branching out to yearround events during the spring, summer and fall of 2019, hosting a trade show, weddings, and receptions, but the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020 shut down seven events that were scheduled for the summer of 2020.

As time goes on, although some events are beginning to take place in what has traditionally been the “off season,” the business is still feeling the effects of COVID.

“Several people are planning events for the upcoming spring and summer, but with COVID lurking, they don’t want to sign contracts,” Anderson said. Although several people discussed holding events at the Complex during the summer of 2021, few committed. Since most large-scale events take a year or more to plan, that makes it tricky to grow this type of business in the current environment.

Even so, “it’s a major goal of ours to create more year-round business operations,” Anderson said.