This past weekend Team Arctic oval racing phenom P.J. Wanderscheid captured the TLR Cup Championship and the $25,000 check that went with the title! In just its second year, the TLR Cup is THE most important Champ-class series in oval racing.
I had a chance to talk with P.J. about winning the title, and his 2012 season (thus far).
AI: Congratulations on winning the TLR Cup! Since it’s a fairly new oval title, can you explain exactly what it is?
P.J.: It’s a six race series at select events in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was founded by Tommy Lipar, a businessman who loves oval racing and wanted to sponsor a premier series.
This year the weather forced some rescheduling, including running three rounds during the final race weekend in Weyauwega, Wis.
As it turned out we won one of these three races and finished high enough in the other two to take the title, which we’re really proud of.
AI: Were you more interested in winning the TLR Cup than winning any particular event?
P.J.: When we go to a track, we want to win. And that’s how we approached the first few races. But when we went into this past weekend, with three races taking place, we played it a bit more conservatively. I raced with my head a little more than with my heart.
Going into the final event of the weekend, three of us had mathematical chance, although the most likely scenario was that it would be me or Malcolm Chartier who would take the title. So during the final race my eyes were on Malcolm. I was happy to finish fourth in the final, because I knew it meant winning the cup.
AI: That was a hefty payday for winning the Cup. I’m not aware of any other snowmobile championship that pays anything close to that, are you?
P.J.: The closest big payday for oval racing is the Eagle River Worlds Championship, which has paid $20,000 to win the past couple of years, which is also huge.
But yes, the TLR Cup is an enormous payout, because in addition to the $25,000 that we won, second place won $12,000 and $8,000 went to third. In total, the TLR Cup paid out more than $100,000! We’re very, very fortunate that Tommy Lipar likes oval racing.
AI: Your brother Mark also won an award at the TLR banquet.
P.J.: Yep, he won Crew Chief of the Year, which is something I believe he deserved. I know than many of the mechanics work extremely hard on building race sleds. I know the hours Mark puts in and frankly there isn’t more work that he could do. He literally thinks about and/or works on our race sled 24/7/365. He’s always moving forward, and I owe my success to him and the team.
AI: I know you place a heavy emphasis on winning the Eagle River Worlds Championships, where you came up a bit short this year. Does winning the TLR Cup take away a little of that sting?
P.J.: Definitely! We know we can’t win every race. Eagle River is of course very special to us (P.J. is the only four-time winner. –Ed.), and it’s our first goal for the season. But winning the TLR Cup was our second goal.
Prior to the TLR Cup, after Eagle weekend, there was always a bit of a letdown for our team. Now with Cup, there’s still huge enthusiasm.
So yes, winning the TLR Cup definitely helps us get past the disappointment of not winning Eagle River.
AI: Tell me your version of how the Eagle River final went for you.
P.J.: It didn’t go as planned. The main thing that we fought all weekend was getting a holeshot. We just couldn’t find it, and in the final I wasn’t even close. I think I was 10th after final restart. That’s a lot of distance to make up, and with the competitiveness of that class, 10th isn’t good enough.
I was running second in the final, and late in the race I tried to go around Schulz on the low line. Turns out that wasn’t the best choice, as I got passed by three guys. But I felt I had to try something.
The Champ class is so competitive now that every aspect of your sled and line choice is critical. There are no more huge gains to be found. The sleds are so refined. Now we’re looking for two feet on a holeshot, or one-tenth of a mph.
AI: Your team built a completely new sled for this season. How has that worked for you?
P.J.: The new sled works great. The crew talked after Eagle River and pretty much said that we could put on bubble wrap on it and save it for next year. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better sled. I’ve raced it all season long and its handling is ideal on smooth or rough tracks. I can run high or low lines with equal ease.
We built it using a combination of aspects from each of the last three sleds we’ve raced, honing in on the best aspects of each.
AI: Going into the season, your plan was to contest the Soo 500 enduro. What changed your mind about racing there?
P.J.: It was a scheduling conflict with one of the TLR races (in Ogilvie, Minn.). As it turned out, Ogilvie was cancelled because of weather, but not until Tuesday of Soo week, so it wouldn’t have worked out.
AI: What’s on tap for the remainder of this season?
P.J.: We have three more races: Grey Eagle, Minn., Garrison, and Beausejour, Manitoba, for the 50th running of the CPTC. We’ve won the CPTC the last two years, so would be nice to three-peat.
P.J.: I have two more years for sure. After that, we’ll have to take a serious look at the situation. I’m 28-years old, married with a young child. I don’t get to see them much during the race season, and I don’t want it to always be that way. And I also want to start riding snowmobiles, just for fun.
So we’ll see where we’re at two years from now. There’s still a lot of racing in those next two years.