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Three World Champions: An Evening at Wanderscheid Racing


(12/8/2013)

In the aftermath of the 50th Anniversary of the Eagle River World Championship last January, Jim Dimmerman and I have wanted to spend a few hours with the Wandersheid Racing team to see their Champ 440 race sled; talk with four-time Champ P.J. Wanderscheid and his brothers Mark and Dave; and get a feel for the commitment required in oval racing's premier class.

The timing worked out during Thanksgiving week, so Dimmerman and I headed to Wanderscheid's dealership Country Cat in Sauk Centre, Minn., where their race shop is located.

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & P.J. Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

When we arrived, Dimmerman went straight to the cool display area containing a couple of P.J.'s World Championship Champ sleds, along with a selection of his trophies and gear.

Jim's interest in current oval racing was piqued by what he saw last January at Eagle River, as well as the restoration he completed on his 1984 World Championship-winning Phantom race sled.

He's been eager to learn the current state of race sled technology from the Wanderscheid crew.

 

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & P.J. Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Jim and P.J. spent a few minutes talking about the display and the busy Country Cat dealership.

These two guys have more in common than the elite title of World Champion: Dimmerman owned a successful Arctic Cat dealership in the Twin Cities for about a decade beginning in the early 1990s.

The two traded stories about the dealership experience, as well as a laugh about the energy and pace of work required during the Thanksgiving-to-New Year's timeframe.

 

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & P.J. Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

After getting a quick tour of Country Cat, we headed to the race shop, located at the back of the property and separate from the dealership/mail order aspects of their business.

There, Mark Wanderscheid (left) joined in as the three immediately began discussing race sleds.

 

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & P.J. Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Dimmerman's career as a Team Arctic Factory racer began in 1978, when he was tapped to replace the retiring Larry Coltom. He raced alongside Bobby Elsner, witnessing the joy of Elsner's historic win at Eagle River in 1979, as well as the gut-wrenching demise of Arctic Enterprises (and its famed race program) in late 1981.

While Team Arctic was "gone fish'n" beginning in 1982, Dimmerman teamed with Ted Nielsen to continue racing ovals aboard the last of Arctic Cat's factory sleds -- specifically the Scorpions previously piloted by 1981 World Champion Brad Hulings.

Starting with that sled, Dimmerman and crew added their own ideas and components to create the Phantom and, in a historic piece of driving, won the 1984 World Championship. That David-vs.-Goliath victory against the factory Ski-Doo twin-track machines was the last for a single-tracked machine until the sport changed the class rules more than a decade later.

Fast forward nearly two decades from Dimmerman's win... to the era of single-track Champ 440 sleds that comprised the World Championship class of oval competition. In 2002, then-18-year old P.J. Wanderscheid showed up at Eagle River aboard a year-old Arctic Cat Champ 440 sled built by John Hooper.

It was P.J.'s first-year in the Champ 440 class and, in another historic bit of driving that turned the snowmobile oval racing on its collective head, he upset the old guard to earn his first World Championship title.

P.J. and the Wanderscheid crew would return to win again in 2003 and 2006, joining an elite club of three-time champions.

In 2011, P.J. became the first-ever four-time winner; a feat that many pundits had previously proclaimed would "never happen."

 

Jim Dimmerman & Mark Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In the year's since the team's first win in 2002 they've continued to learn, engineer and build ever more sophisticated (and better) Champ 440 race sleds, continuing their relationship with sled/engine builder John Hooper for most of that period.

For Dimmerman, who had been away from oval racing for more than a decade, this historical download proved as fascinating as it was illuminating.

There are some pretty big differences between the last of the Factory single-track sleds like what Dimmerman rode and the current crop of Champ sleds.

They've gone from cleated tracks to rubber tracks; from 340-lb. machines powered by 340cc engines producing around 90hp to 375 lb. sleds with much more powerful 440cc mills. The chain cases have been rolled back, positioning the track further from skis, hence a more separated weight balance from front to rear. The rider is further offset to the left of the machine. And instead of factories competing against each other, it's a handful of independent teams.

Dimmerman summed up his fascination and curiosity: "I look at that race [Eagle River] and always wonder what the next step is in order to win it."

What he saw this afternoon in the Wanderscheid race shop answered most of his questions.

 

Jim Dimmerman & Mark Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Likewise, listening to Mark Wanderscheid talk about the continued development that's occurred in Champ 440 was equally enlightening.

As the crew chief/head mechanic for Wanderscheid racing, Mark has become one of only a handful of Champ sled builders, albeit one who confines his work to his younger brother.

 

Jim Dimmerman and Wanderscheid's Champ 440. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

From cooling to front end geometry to engine placement, the Wanderscheids have continued to push the envelope of oval sled development for the past decade. Each year the team crafts a new machine that incorporates new ideas and technology.

Her Dimmerman checks out the cooling system on last year's sled.

 

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & Steve Thorsen. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

As fate would have it on this Tuesday evening (and to our welcomed surprise), into the shop walked Steve Thorsen (right), the 1977 and '78 World Champion.

"Son of a gun, Orville, it's good to see you!" proclaimed Dimmerman, using the nickname given to Thorsen decades ago.

Thorsen's career is another that deserves a book. He won his World Championship titles for Polaris before moving to Team Scorpion (owned at the time by Arctic Cat).

Thorsen would continue his relationship with Arctic Cat racing, building race sleds (with partner Dean Schwarzwalter) for Brian Sturgeon for more than a decade beginning in 1987. Thorsen & Schwarzwalter, aka T/S Racing, also owned an Arctic Cat dealership while continuing as head builders/mechanics for several Team Arctic racers through the late-2000s.

For the past handful of years Thorsen has been the head mechanic for the Scheuring Speed Sports snocross effort while assisting the Wanderscheid team with ideas on recent Champ sleds. Truly Thorsen is one of the most knowledgeable and accomplished sled builders of the past 25 years.

 

World Champs Jim Dimmerman & P.J. Wanderscheid. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

It was compelling listening to Thorsen and Dimmerman talk race sleds. The two have very different personalities. Thorsen is quiet, almost solitary, while Dimmerman is talkative and very social. There was healthy dialogue and some good laughter this evening at the Wanderscheid race shop.

Here the two look at what will be Wanderscheids' 2014 Champ sled.

 

Wanderscheid's Hooper Racing-built Champ 440 engine. Photo: ArcticInsider.com

On the bench next to the new Champ sled sat the Hooper-built 440 Arctic Cat race engine. With continued creative development, Hooper has pushed horsepower numbers for this non-valved 440 well into the triple digits.

Hooper has been a veritable guru of engine (and sled) building during the past decade, having been key to the success and World Championship titles posted by P.J., Gary Moyle and Larry Day.

 

http://www.arcticinsider.com/Images/Article/20131208075553.jpg

While Hooper builds the engines, Mark knows them intimately. This time of year, Mark excuses himself from most of his day-to-day duties with Country Cat in order to build the race sled.

 

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

I'm guessing he spent at least 30 hours welding hooker plates and adding studs to this track.

 

Champs Jim Dimmerman,  P.J. Wanderscheid & Steve Thorsen. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Untold hours are spent inside this shop, building a race sled (and eating beans).

 

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

While the vast majority of components on the Champ 440 sled are custom, there are a few off-the-shelf items, including the coolant hose from a 1995 ZR580...

 

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

... and another from a 1992 Prowler 440. So for all of us who chuckle about the Prowler, we should acknowledge that it has some really awesome plumbing.

 

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

There were a couple years when the Wanderscheids used the laydown-style engine in their Champ sled, including their 2006 World Championship-winning machine. The remnants from that period are now housed in the storage area of the shop.

 

Champs Jim Dimmerman,  P.J. Wanderscheid & Steve Thorsen. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Dave Wanderscheid (left) joined the powwow for a while that evening, but generally he was busy doing all the real work so that P.J. could talk race sleds. Thanks Dave!

All three of the Wanderscheid brothers are so dedicated to the race efforts, with the same passion and attention to detail they employ with their Country Cat business, it's no wonder they've achieved such great success on the race track.

 

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440 carbon fiber.

Wanderscheid racing Champ 440 carbon fiber.

The team has been building their own carbon fiber tunnels and hoods the past couple of seasons. Above is one of the sets they'll use this season.

Wanderscheids have a slightly different approach to the schedule for 2014, with maybe slightly fewer events than some previous years, to better concentrate on winning a fifth World Championship.

 

Champs Jim Dimmerman,  P.J. Wanderscheid & Steve Thorsen. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Just before it was time to shake hands and thank our hosts, Dimmerman pulled out his phone to show some pictures of a race sled he's got cooking.

If I had one take-away lesson from the afternoon spent at Wanderscheid's with Dimmerman, it's that a continuous line can be drawn from Roger Janssen's 1969 World Championship all the way to P.J.'s 2011 win.

Along that line you would find Dave Thompson, Larry Coltom, Charlie Lofton, Bob Elsner, Brad Hulings, Steve Thorsen, Dean Schwarzwalter, the Wahl Bros., Jim Dimmerman, Brian Sturgeon, Jim Herzig, the DeVaults, John Hooper, Larry Day, Gary Moyle, P.J. Wanderscheid and many others.

Each has simultaneously achieved success under the Team Arctic umbrella while pushing the sport forward, giving themselves and their fans truly thrilling experiences in the historic arena of oval competition.

And I know that, for Dimmerman at least, his passion for Team Arctic has never diminished.

As he told the Wanderscheids before we left for home, "I want to see you guys put yourselves and Arctic Cat back on the podium at Eagle River."

Thanks to the Wanderscheids for hosting our visit, and thanks to you for reading!



Comments (36):

Dick says:
12/8/2013 6:25:00 PM

Great story. Good to see Jim and Steve again. I knew them both back in the days when I was with Arctic Cat.

Dick
I bleed Green. says:
12/8/2013 6:51:00 PM

Why don't they run exhaust valves? I would think that would be a benefit off the line?

Cool article. I need to get to eagle river one of these years.
Tom Rowland says:
12/8/2013 7:02:00 PM

Thanks for a great ArcticInsider glimpse inside a pretty exotic oval effort that most of us never get to see. I am surprised to see a traditional-looking engine configuration being used again. I think we can say that those drivers that are going to compete against the Wanderscheids this winter will have their work cut out for them. Good Luck this winter season team!
Mike F says:
12/8/2013 7:18:00 PM

Super stuff as always. What a swell shop! Good luck!
Dulpher says:
12/8/2013 9:14:00 PM

Awesome story! Wonder if oval will ever make a comeback? The vintage ovals sure have. On separate note I'd love to see cat come back with a super lightweight stripped down 440 C-tec2
Rod Cymbaluk says:
12/8/2013 10:31:00 PM

Good to see the 2 generations come together
your friend Team Arctic Cross Country 76-77
Wade Schroeder says:
12/8/2013 11:18:00 PM

Great People the Wanderscheids' I help on load there race sled up at the 50th get together at Arctic. They gave me a shirt just for help lifting a couple of sleds. Really nice people. Good luck to them this year and bring Team Arctic home the hardware at Eagle this year.
thecatkid says:
12/9/2013 9:37:00 AM

Great Story John. I was great to see Thoreson. I learned a lot from Steve. Hi nickname for me was Dougie Lugnuts. I think you should do a story on T/S racing!!!!
Arcticcdnfc says:
12/9/2013 11:12:00 AM

Great story, nice to see oval racing receiving some accolades. But I'd like to see a story on stock class racing. You see some of us can't afford all the help from professional shops, etc and we can only afford to race our stock sleds. Grass roots racing is what made these performance shops grow.
jeff says:
12/9/2013 12:45:00 PM

I agree, its been many years since we have seen any stock oval racing.
the Devaults and Jim Herzig were the probably the last to run stock cats.
the whole sno cross/rider forward movement really killed this sport it seems.
Sure be nice to see even a low cost stock class like the sno pro 500's compete.
To bad PJ didnt make it up to Beausejour this past weekend.
Arcticcdnfc says:
12/9/2013 2:10:00 PM

I agree with what "Jeff Says", the last time I actually saw "Stock Class" was when Sturgeon, Devault, Herzig, etc were aboard the ZR 440 Sno Pro's, 580's, 700's and the 600 triple. I agree that the SP 500 would be an excellent stock class for the 500cc engine class.

Bone stock class racing will indicate which brand has what it takes. You only have to strap the suspension down, possibly clutch/gear accordingly, install ice studs and ski carbides, install handlebar hooks and an oval brake lever and you good to go racing.
Kevin Hooper says:
12/9/2013 4:03:00 PM

3 drivers representing different eras in the sports and who will be remembered as legends in ice oval racing -- that's really neat. Very nice article!!

I had the opportunity to see their race shop a few years ago and Mark took the time to show me around and answer questions. I have nothing but respect for the Wanderscheids and would love to see PJ get that 5th win. He may need that one too because I believe the young Jordan Wahl will chase that record.
firecat 45 says:
12/9/2013 5:45:00 PM

Great story John Did you know Steve Thorsen won 45 feature races in 1980. Has anyone ever come close to that victory total.
Ryan says:
12/9/2013 7:21:00 PM

No power valves used because the engine never runs at a low enough RPM for them to work. They would always be open. So they just get rid of them to shave weight
sparcat says:
12/9/2013 7:52:00 PM

Great article!! Met Jim Dimmerman at Waconia in 2007, and went to the dealership he co-owned with his brother, before it closed, when I worked in Forest Lake, Mn. Even have a key fob from the dealership, used on myv92 EXT Special. Three great Champions in the same room, must have been a wonderful experience!
Darren G says:
12/9/2013 9:08:00 PM

I have heard a lot of people say the new pyramid sleds "as they all are today" can't be competitive in oval racing, I don't buy it, the top teams are using them, look at P.J.'s sled M. Chartieer's sled.
Now I know these aren't even close to stock sleds but I've put many miles on new sleds and they corner leap years better then they did in the 80's, and 90's.
It's funny I remember back in the 80's the mags used to knock Ski Doo because they were built to much for oval racing and not enough for trail riding I remember one article said Doo needed to start testing there sleds somewhere besides there oval track.
Now we are pissed because they don't work well on a oval track.
Perry says:
12/10/2013 5:05:00 PM

Jim Dimmerman (driver)....Steve Thorsen (crew chief)....Look out Eagle River!
Perry says:
12/10/2013 5:06:00 PM

I'd have to dust off my camera
Paul Nadeau says:
12/11/2013 5:56:00 AM

Another great article John, thank you PJ and crew for the time to be hosts to all involved. Very interesting comment about Steve's and Jim personalities. I remember years ago when oval racing was in it's heydays when all of the teams came to Presque Isle Me to race. One of my friends who raced ovals at the time had the opportunity to hear and talk to Steve and ask questions. After the meeting, he told me when Steve speaks, you had better be listening real well, he was only going to say it once, man of very few words, genius is his work. Thank you Steve and Jim for all that you have done and continue to do to support and encourage today's racers.
John, maybe someday you could sweet talk Jim in letting you do a few laps on his Phantom when he takes it out and let us know what's it's like to drive his sled. Then you could sweet talk PJ into doing the same? How about it PJ? What do you think Jim & PJ? Is John up to the task? How about a comparo between Jim's Phantom and PJ's Champ? Jim, how about you doing a story on the 2 sleds, different time era's, set up, motors, etc. Would be an interesting article for sure. PJ, maybe you could sweet talk Jim in letting you do a few laps on his Phantom and share your thoughts.
Just some thoughts from an old oval fan who still can't get enough of it !
John Sandberg says:
12/11/2013 8:15:00 AM

Thanks for the nice words everyone. It was truly a pleasure to be a fly on the wall that day.

I agree wholeheartedly about doing a story on T/S Racing's contributions over the years.

I too agree with the sentiment expressed by some that the current crop of stock snowmobiles could be made to go around an ice oval. However, the challenge of doing so isn't the only hurdle for revived Stock class racing. The OEMs, race circuits, racers/teams and other interested stakeholders need to tackle several other challenges as well, including cost, contingency incentives, rules and promotion.

Firecat45: I did NOT know that Thorsen won so many features in a single season.

Paul: I would LOVE to see P.J. and Dimmerman spend a day riding each other's sleds, then describing the experience.
Dan Everson says:
12/11/2013 11:51:00 AM

In response to one of the comments posted earlier on this story, when was the last time oval racing saw factory race teams? I'm assuming it was during the time sno-cross became popular and I can't imaging that we are that far off from seeing the big factory team haulers showing up some day. Thank you.
Paul Nadeau says:
12/11/2013 3:46:00 PM

Ok PJ and Jim, somehow the 2 of you need to do this, us old oval guys would love your thoughts and perspectives and besides it gives John an opportunity to write another great article !
Jim Dimmerman says:
12/13/2013 8:39:00 AM

Hi Guys.. As always John, a great story ! Let me give you a little "Eagle River".
As most of you know I went back to Eagle River this past year for the first time in 25yrs. There is something about that Derby Track that just comes over you when you enter the grounds. My mind and outside thoughts would completely shut down. I would consume myself with everything that was in front of me. The track layout, the ice condition, holes and bumps, starting line condition, dirt spots, corner entry marks, quality of the ice on the lines I want to run, optional lines if I can't get those.. then I'd look at the other drivers, how are their sleds getting into the corners, can they turn down when they want to, how are they coming off, how do the fast guys engines sound off the corner ? How much compromise in the clutch for take-off vs. off corner rpm? What's the right balance so you have good steering at the end of the race? You see what I mean. And I'm leaving 50 other things out !!!
My desire to win THIS race was unlike any other.. and it had to be because their were 6 other factory drivers that wanted it just as bad..
I give PJ and his Team a LOT of credit. To be focused and dedicated enough to win it 4 times is HUGE. I see a lot of Steve Thorsen in this chassis build.. Orville came from the same mold as me, he earned it... I know in his mind he's offering what HE would do if he was building it for himself.. There's a tremendous effort at Wanderscheid Racing... Thank you for letting me in on the "Arctic Insider". Now you got me leaning left again...Jim
Don Peet says:
12/15/2013 8:11:00 PM

nice article , glad to see Jim & see how interested he still is on Cat.
Kristopher Reeb says:
12/26/2013 9:34:00 PM

Awesome read! Articles like this are priceless to someone like me living on the West Coast! Thanks John!
Gilian says:
1/14/2015 2:00:00 AM

Those pictures are ale****oby priceless.....you should print one out to have for when you're having a tough day, to remind us of the little improvements that are more like little miracles. Oh, I'm so happy for you. :)
Andrei says:
12/19/2015 3:56:00 PM

LOL! This is why I always send my habusnd and the kids alone. I play christmas carols and await them with hot chocolate and good cheer which I can readily afford to dispense since I'm all warm and cozy at home.
Andrei says:
12/19/2015 3:56:00 PM

LOL! This is why I always send my habusnd and the kids alone. I play christmas carols and await them with hot chocolate and good cheer which I can readily afford to dispense since I'm all warm and cozy at home.
Andrei says:
12/19/2015 3:56:00 PM

LOL! This is why I always send my habusnd and the kids alone. I play christmas carols and await them with hot chocolate and good cheer which I can readily afford to dispense since I'm all warm and cozy at home.
Linda says:
12/21/2015 12:41:00 PM

I turned down an offer to go and cut down our Christmas tree b/c I tughoht this might happen to us. For the record, I can't sing either. I'm so bad, my own Nana once told me not to join in the Carols we were about to sing. http://hbghwy.com [url=http://dzygrt.com]dzygrt[/url] [link=http://velylamncj.com]velylamncj[/link]
Linda says:
12/21/2015 12:41:00 PM

I turned down an offer to go and cut down our Christmas tree b/c I tughoht this might happen to us. For the record, I can't sing either. I'm so bad, my own Nana once told me not to join in the Carols we were about to sing. http://hbghwy.com [url=http://dzygrt.com]dzygrt[/url] [link=http://velylamncj.com]velylamncj[/link]
Linda says:
12/21/2015 12:41:00 PM

I turned down an offer to go and cut down our Christmas tree b/c I tughoht this might happen to us. For the record, I can't sing either. I'm so bad, my own Nana once told me not to join in the Carols we were about to sing. http://hbghwy.com [url=http://dzygrt.com]dzygrt[/url] [link=http://velylamncj.com]velylamncj[/link]
Seru says:
12/23/2015 7:02:00 AM

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Seru says:
12/23/2015 7:02:00 AM

Los cajones son uno de mis mlebues preferidos.Colocados con lf3gica y adaptados al conjunto,tengo el salf3n lleno.Son lo mejor para tener a mano siempre pequef1os objetos.Pero hay que tener buena memoria para saber df3nde...Los del post me encantan. http://cezdzgo.com [url=http://wkwbssnpom.com]wkwbssnpom[/url] [link=http://trjccqfasn.com]trjccqfasn[/link]
Seru says:
12/23/2015 7:02:00 AM

Los cajones son uno de mis mlebues preferidos.Colocados con lf3gica y adaptados al conjunto,tengo el salf3n lleno.Son lo mejor para tener a mano siempre pequef1os objetos.Pero hay que tener buena memoria para saber df3nde...Los del post me encantan. http://cezdzgo.com [url=http://wkwbssnpom.com]wkwbssnpom[/url] [link=http://trjccqfasn.com]trjccqfasn[/link]
Vern Simon says:
1/6/2017 6:47:00 AM

article all the names heavy hitters in racing Dean sharzwalter. Wasn't he with team frustration .?

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