By PAT KRAUSE
Ironwood — Snowmobile racing action returned to the Gogebic County fairgrounds for the second weekend in a row with the USSA ProStar events being featured on Saturday and Sunday. Last week, the classic vintage sleds were in the spotlight, but this weekend it was the Premier late model snowmobiles that can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour that took center stage.
The TLR Cup races are the signature events in the USSA Pro Star Racing Series and world champion Nick Van Strydonk, of Tomahawk, Wis ., won on Saturday, while Malcolm Chartier, of Fair Haven Mich ., was on top of the podium on Sunday. Chartier is the defending TLR Cup champion.
On Saturday, Van Strydonk rode his Pro Champ 440 sled to a fourth place finish along with two first in his heats to qualify for the TLR Cup final.
On Sunday, Van Strydonk was hoping for a double victory in the TLR Cup race.
"I think I have a pretty good chance to win," he said early in the day. "The sled is running fast and I definitely have a lot of momentum. This is a great track and there are great people here. I have to go 100 percent."
But on the 10th lap, Van Strydonk, who said he has hit the top speed 103.2 m.p.h. on his sled, got tangled up with another snowmobile as they went into the corner and he crashed hard into the hay bales that lined the track.
Van Strydonk seemed to avoid serious injury and walked off the track but took an ambulance ride to get checked out in the emergency room at Aspirus Grand View.
Meanwhile, the 25-year old Chartier was on a roll. In his three qualifying heat races, he finished first, first and second. That gave him a great position on the pole in the TLR Cup final. In these races, there are 10 sleds in the front row and two in back and they race 15 laps.
"I got a good hole-shot and got out in front," Chartier said. "I led the whole race, the machine was running great and was very responsive to where I wanted to go. I had a nice lead and then we had the restart (because of the accident). You never know what will happen with five laps to go, but I got the lead back again. Ironwood is the first two races on our race schedule, so this gives us momentum the rest of the way."
Matt Richie, of Minocqua, was also involved in a crash on Saturday that showed how strong-willed and tough snowmobile racers really are.
"I was coming into the corner in second place and the first place guy and I got tangled up going about 98 miles per hour," Ritchie said. "The sled flipped over and landed on my hand. I hit the hay bales hard and bruised my lung. I was coughing up blood. I decided to take a trip to the emergency room to get a CAT scan and x-rays.
"My hand was just sprained and it could have been a lot worse, so I went back out and raced. We're racing for the Pro Champ $150,000."
The TLR Cup is an Ice Oval racing series sponsored by Tommy Lipar Racing and kicked off its season with the two races in Ironwood. The series will have nine consecutive races and prize money will total $151,850.
Other big winners were Nick Dolezal who won the Outlaw 600 on both Saturday and Sunday.
Blaine Stephenson took second place in the LTD 500 on Saturday and blazed to a win in the same race on Sunday.
Stephenson also won the 2014 Jim Adema Memorial Cup race, which is a special one to the drivers. In December, 1975 during the last day of racing, Jim Adema, one of the good guys in the racing community, lost his life racing on the 1/2 mile track in Ironwood.
With the return of USSA sanctioned racing to Ironwood in 2014, Jim's wife, Patty, gave her blessing to allow the Ironwood Olympus group to offer a special Cup race in Jim's name.
The Sunday afternoon F-500 feature race winner (Stephenson) received a special trophy and cash payout in memory of Jim Adema.
Sara Miller raced to victory in the F-500 14-15 age group, the Junior II Sprint race and the Women F-500.
The Pro Vintage Racing seems to have established a successful foothold in Ironwood. The USSA Pro Star Racing Series looks to be following in its footsteps.
"The races went real well,” race director Tom Auvinen said. “There were no major injuries or accidents and all the guys want to come back next year.”