Photos by Theresa Marthaler and Kristi Flynn
At this year’s Eagle River Derby, Team Arctic Oval star P.J. Wanderscheid punched through the so-called glass ceiling to become the first racer to win four World’s Championships. It was a monumental achievement for P.J., the Wanderscheid Racing team, and their family’s dealership, Country Cat.
Now a married man with a young daughter, P.J. was kind enough to take a break from his duties as Online Sales Manager at Country Cat, to talk with us about his historic win.
ArcticInsider: Congrats on your win, P.J. What does this win mean to you personally, and how does it compare to previous wins?
Wanderscheid: That win is something we and others have wanted for a long time.
It’s tough to win Eagle River once. We won the first three from 2002-06, but then it felt like we hit the ceiling for four years. In hindsight, the first two wins probably came a bit easy. We didn’t know the significant of those wins at the time, but now we do.
Hard to fully comprehend the magnitude of four wins. Truthfully, it hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
Every one of our wins was special. The fourth win was extra special, not just because it was four wins, but also because of the great battle we had with Gary Moyle.
AI: Did you feel the weight or burden of the so-called “impossible fourth win” prior to the race?
Wanderscheid: Definitely! I was really nervous this year. In qualifying, I knew I had fast sled. The historical significance of four possible wins went through my head all weekend, and especially on Sunday. We know what pitfalls can occur and all the variables required to win. A lot of factors have to come together to win that race.
That internal pressure makes it more difficult. It’s the reason I wasn’t faster during the first 15 laps… I wasn’t riding loose and in the moment. I was too tied up.
Then with the new format – where they threw a checkered flag after 15 laps, gave us a five-minute break, followed by a restart with 15 more laps – I got great advice from my crew, telling me to calm down, run my line. That was a huge help.
AI: What does this win mean to the Country Cat crew, and to your family’s dealership?
Wanderscheid: It’s huge… really important. We’ve wanted and worked for this for a long time. It’s so satisfying to make everyone’s hard work pay off by winning. As for Country Cat, racing helps support the loyalty our customers have to our store. A lot of people are passionate about our racing, and they support us because we race.
AI: You mentioned the unique final, in which it went 15 laps, had a five minute break where drivers/crew could change carbides, slide lube and fuel, then ran the final 15 laps (in a staggered-starting order according to the first 15 laps). What did you think about this change, and how did it affect your strategy?
Wanderscheid: When I first heard about it, I didn’t like it. I train hard, all year long, to race fast for 25 laps in a row. So I was worried that the new format would be easier for drivers who aren’t as strong.
In hindsight, I think the new system was actually as difficult, or more. We raced five more total laps, which made the track rougher, and there was a greater intensity to the final 15 laps, which is fatiguing.
And as I mentioned, I like that I was able to use the break to calm myself down, get input from the crew.
During the first 15 laps, when Gary was out front and I was in second, I didn’t feel any urgency to close the gap. There was no point in beating up my sled or myself. But the second 15 laps… there was definitely an urgency.
AI: By all accounts, the final 15 laps between you and Moyle ranks as one of the Derby’s greatest battles. Describe those 15 laps, why you were running the low line and how you set up for the win.
Wanderscheid: We ran low for three of our four Eagle River wins. It’s a style and line I’m most comfortable with. It’s rougher, and I take a pounding. But there’s none of the loose snow like that of the higher line that Gary was running. That loose snow and ice can easily take you out.
In ’09 I was running third when I got into that stuff and spun out. During this year’s final, Gary’s sled wasn’t working down low.
I have immense trust and respect for Gary, and knew I could race side-by-side with him. I knew early on that the win would be determined by line choice, strategy and eliminating any mistakes.
As the race unfolded, I concentrated to stay in clean ice, especially the last lap, and went as fast as I could. In 2004, I was leading until the last corner of the last lap, and got passed. I know what that’s like: it hurts!
AI: We often hear about you and other racers running a “Hooper-built” sled. Who builds your sled and engine, and then who tunes/calibrates it during race weekends?
Wanderscheid: John Hooper builds our motors, and we build the chassis. We invite input from John, but final decisions are ours. It’s our own spindles, A-arms, rear suspension and other components. At the races, we do all the clutch calibration, engine/carburetion as well as chassis stuff.
AI: What is the basis for your engine, and can you give us some general numbers like horsepower and rpm?
Wanderscheid: Our engine started as a 2001 ZR440 Sno Pro. Hooper has been working on these for many years and knows it well. It’s producing 120-125 hp and spins 10,000-10,500 rpm. We have multiple options for cylinders and exhaust, depending on the track and conditions.
AI: How different is your current sled compared to the sleds you won with in ’02, ’03 and ’06?
Wanderscheid: It’s considerably different. Every year we make improvements, getting the sled lighter and handling better. Our current sled weights 380 lbs. (Note: there’s a 375-lb. minimum weight rule). Last year’s sled was 390 lbs.
I don’t believe our ’02 sled would be competitive today. Our lap times are significantly faster now compared just three years ago.
AI: How different is your sled from Moyle’s? Were they pretty equal on the track?
Wanderscheid: I’d say they were very equal. We were literally racing side-by-side for 15 laps. It’s amazing how different our lines were. I covered less distance by using the low line, but that requires sacrificing straightaway speed. By running the high line, Gary was able to carry more speed around the track, but that meant covering a longer distance.
AI: How did your team celebrate after the win?
Wanderscheid: We went to awards banquet, and then to bed (laughs). We’re not big partiers. We went there to do a job. We got it done and that’s what mattered.
AI: Did any former World Champions congratulate you on the win?
Wanderscheid: Definitely. Terry and Dave Wahl congratulated me, as did Gary (Moyle). Jocko (Jacques Villeneuve) kept saying, “You beat me to the four. You beat me to four!” He was happy for us.
AI: Since Eagle River, you’ve already raced at Big Lake, Minn. What’s the rest of your season look like?
Wanderscheid: We’ve got six more races…so we’re not even half way through the season. But Eagle is our main emphasis. We want to win all the races we attend, but Eagle River is the one that matters most. We could lose all the remaining races and have a great season.
AI: Give a shout-out to your sponsors and crew!
Wanderscheid: My sponsors are AMSOIL, Arctic Cat, Country Cat, Skinz Protective Gear, Millennium Technologies, DRIFT Race Clothing, Woody’s, Ultimax Belts, Moto Tassinari, Fox Racing Shox, Hooper Race Engines, Trackside Performance, Leatt Brace, Dan Welle Southtown Chevrolet, Varner Auto Body, Minnesota National Bank, Webtomix Websites and Visual Advantage Graphics.
My crew consists of Mark Wanderscheid, David Wanderscheid, Brian Wanderscheid, Todd Kemper, Dan Merten, Butch VonWahlde, Rick Varner, Troy Hoppe, Kevin Allex, Rod Flynn, Eric Marthaler, Jim Determann and Jeni Wanderscheid
AI: Besides checking out this Website, what’s the best way for fans to stay in tune with your racing?
Wanderscheid: They should go to my official face book page HERE. We update the page after all heats and finals, plus keep fans updated with results happenings of the race team.