GLEASON, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wisconsin Kids Snowmobile Racing Association and the Wisconsin Kitty Cat Racers groups have been giving kids around Wisconsin and surrounding states the chance to get started in the sport of ice oval snowmobile racing for years.
Racers await the start of a race at the WKSRA race in Gleason on Saturday. (WSAW photo 1/25/20)
Eagle River World Championship winners, including Nick Van Strydonk and Cardell Potter, along with defending United States Snowmobile Association Pro Star Series champion Gunnar Sterne all got their starts in either of the two series, one established for northern racers (WKSRA) and the other for those in the southern part region(WKCR). Several times throughout the year, the two come together for racing action on the ice.
“It’s pretty cool and I would encourage a lot of parents to let their kids at least try it,” said Andrea Brey at a WKSRA event in Gleason on Saturday. Her son, Branden Christensen, races in numerous classes with the group. “I tell teachers all the time, my son could be playing video games and sitting on a couch but he’s out here training every weekend with his friends, being a part of a team.”
Kids are able to get started in the Amateur Kitty Kat division when they are just 4 years old, and then progress up to modified sleds in the Kitty Kat and 120 divisions before making the move to full sized snowmobiles when they are 10.
You begin with heat races and then make your way to the 5-lap final around the small ice-oval, all while competing for season championship points.
As a mother, Brey says she still gets anxious watching her son race, but insists that the sport is as safe as possible for the kids, who wear chest protectors, helmets with goggles, neck devices and shin-guards.
“They have so much padding, it’s so safe,” explained Brey. “I have a one-year old daughter who will be racing in three years and I’m not scared at all.”
For now, she’s focused on her 9-year old son, whose hopes are set on winning on the big track at the World Championship Derby Complex when he is old enough.
“I’m thinking of all the tricks and what I have to do to win and pass,” said Christensen when asked about what he’s thinking about during a race. He already knows what needs to be done to achieve his dreams. “Race harder, faster; win more.”
Talking the talk is easy, but Branden also walks the walk. He was victorious at last weekend’s youth World Championships hosted by the WKSRA on the grounds of the WCDC.
Another young racer is Ryder Redell. Aged 12, you can consider him a veteran of the group, racing on full-sized sleds in the Junior I and Junior II categories. When not on track, Redell can be found throughout the pits helping his dad, WKCR president Mitch, or working with younger racers.
“That’s our future generation of riders,” said Redell. “We want them to keep going.”
2020 is Redell’s last year racing with the WKSRA and WKCR groups. He will move up to full-time competition with the United States Snowmobile Association, where he is competing on a part-time basis this season. He knows how important it is to have mentors at the track.
“Blaine Stephenson and Tom Olson,” beamed Redell when asked about riders who he looks up to. “They’re such nice guys, and they help me out with my driving and a lot of others.”
Whether kids have world championship aspirations or just want to be outside, have fun, and go fast, the WKSRA and WKCR are the clubs for you. As Mike Spalla explains, it’s easy to get started.
“Anybody here, we will let you borrow a sled,” said Spalla during a break in the action that his son, Cody, was participating in. “The safety equipment; everybody here will get together, let you borrow their stuff and see if you like it.”
The groups will be in action next weekend at the Waupaca County Fairgrounds for the Fire on Ice State Championship race, hosted by the WKCR.