This weekend marks two years since P.J. Wanderscheid graced the famed banked oval track in Eagle River, Wis. After several major injuries mixed with the time constraints that evolved from the family’s growing business, P.J. took the checkered flag on a truly remarkable racing career:
72 Pro wins
4-time Eagle River World Champion (2002, 2003, 2006, 2011)
2003 Snow Week Racer of the Year
3-time 525 Champion (2009, 2010, 2011)
2-time CPTC Canadian Champion (2010, 2011)
2012 TLR CUP Winner
2003 Woody’s Triple Crown Winner
2010 Central Wisconsin Triple Crown Winner
2011 U.S. Nationals winner
17 Pro High Points Championships
No doubt, P.J. is one of the all-time great oval racers. But while he won’t be on the track at this weekend’s World Championship, he’ll be at the track as part of Country Cat’s sponsorship there. And there’s a chance his team’s expertise will one day support another Arctic Cat racer to chase the World Championship title. Here’s what P.J. had to say about his retirement and more.
AI: P.J., last year you decided to end your historic racing career. That must have been a huge decision for you and the Wanderscheid team…tell us about it.
P.J.: It was a hard decision for sure but when you get to a point in your career you know its time. My body was ready and with having three kids now and more reasonability at the dealership I felt it was the right time to call it a career.
Our team raced for 17 years total we had a ton of fun during that time. It is something I will never regret doing. As any type of racing there are good times and bad times. One thing we always did, is have fun during the process. We even surprised ourselves a few times along the way. (laughs)
AI: Did you retire on your own terms and with peace in your heart?
P.J.: Absolutely! The decision to retire was all mine. And I guess it was easier because of that. I wanted to race Eagle River one more time after being hurt pretty bad in Wausau in 2015. I raced Eagle River one last time in 2016 to just go out and do it one more time to prove I could still do it. I figured that is the race that made me stand out as a driver and figured it only made sense to race at that event for the last time.
I do wish we could have got one more win in Eagle River to get the record wins just a little higher. I would have retired a few years prior but wanted to keep trying for that 5th win.
AI: One year later, how does that decision sit with you?
P.J.: I still miss racing for sure. There are moments when I think about getting back on a sled. But, for the most parts I am content with what I have done. I miss being at the races and spending time with the crew. I don’t miss being hurt.
For the past few years Country Cat has been a sponsor of the World Championships in Eagle River, WI. This gives us all an opportunity to go back and be a part of what was the highlight event every year when we were racing. Its fun to watch and amazing how many little things you can pick up on watching because we have been on the other side of the fence. I guess you may say this gives us our “fix” we need for our race addition.
AI: What becomes of your sleds, race equipment and the team’s cumulative knowledge and expertise?
P.J.: All our equipment is still sitting here. We were working on new development items up until last spring in hopes of finding a budget to field a driver again in Pro Champ class. With the Arctic Cat buyout things were kind of on hold with race budgets so until that gets sorted out we will sit by the sidelines. I would love to support a different driver and get an Arctic Cat to win the World Championship again soon. It’s tough knowing there isn’t one Arctic Cat in the Pro Champ class this year. We hope with the help from Arctic Cat we can change that for next season.
AI: Where are you focusing the energy that used to be directed at racing?
P.J.: We are super-busy at the dealership. Our time and energy had been focused on making Country Cat bigger and better. We are all very competitive people here and that drive has been redirected to the dealership now. Just like at the racetrack we want to win. The same goes as being a dealer. We want to be in the lead.
AI: How is Country Cat doing, including some of the successes and challenges?
P.J.: All is good here. Things are really busy now with the winter season upon us. Our online sales have been booming!
The Textron takeover has been a great thing. They have a new direction and way of doing things and I think it will be awesome. We are super excited to be a part of this new chapter in Arctic Cat history.
The hardest thing now is just not having snow locally. We are heathy as a company due to our online sales, but local business is tough right now. With this being 4 years without snow, it makes it hard for a local to buy a new sled and not ride it. It also affects parts and service because people aren’t riding much in this area.
AI: I know you guys had a nice collection of sleds, and that you’ve added it to it over the past year. What sleds have you acquired, and what’s your plan for these gems?
P.J.: We have a nice collection started of Arctic Cat sleds. Most recently we added a 1964 Model 100 and 1965 Model 140 machine. Because of the dominance of the 2018 ZR 600R SX sled, we also grabbed one of those. We also got a SVX snow bike to be in our collection. That is the most recent, but we have lots of 1990’s sled, some 1970’s and 1980’s too. It is great to be able to show them off in the dealership. We of course have some of my old race sleds, including all four of the World Championship winning sleds. People really seem to enjoy looking at them and brings back memories for many.
AI: Country Cat’s race presence grew last year with the sponsorship of Christian Brothers Racing. Are you expanding your sponsorship footprint for this season?
P.J.: Yes, we love working with CBR. They are a class act group of people and we are extremely proud of being involved with them. They are involved with so many different forms of racing and do a great job with all of it.
It great to involved as a sponsor. I went to Canterbury recently to cheer them on and watch online when I can’t be at the races. When you can have a team you sponsor, it makes you feel like your part of it and follow it that much closer.
AI: Is it possible for you to summarize what your racing career has meant for you personally, and for the team?
P.J.: It has been a fun ride! I never imagined going as far and accomplishing as much as I did. I had a lot of help and enouncement along the way. I always said I had the easy job, the rest of the team had the hard job. Honestly, I feel a little guilty that I was always credited for the wins. The wins were a team effort and not because of just one person’s actions. I have been very blessed with people in my life that supported me over the years. My parents, family, sponsors and my team have always been behind me. Win or lose we had fun and at the end of the day that is what it’s all about.
AI: Will your win record at Eagle River ever be beat?
P.J.: I sure hope not! (Laughs) I think it’s very possible for someone to beat it. It seems like such a low number when you start racing but when you get into it, it’s extremely difficult to obtain even one win at Eagle River. That race track decides who wins and it’s not always the fastest guy. We always said Eagle River will decide the winner. All you can do is put yourself in the position to be that person as best as you can.
AI: Any words of advice for a young kid who wants to someday become the World Champion?
P.J.: The biggest one: Do your own thing and don’t worry about what others are doing. Many racers get discouraged because of what others say or what they are doing. Focus on making yourself better and run your own race.
The other would be is get in shape! I won many races because I was the racer that was in the best shape and could run as fast at the end of the races as the start. That is even more important at the longer and more demanding World Championship at Eagle River.
And finally, have fun! If you’re not having fun racing it’s just not worth it. Having fun at it will naturally bring success if you put the work in with it.