By Alex Gallacher
Since the 1970s, British Automobile Racing Club’s president Bryan Rashleigh has been coming down to Minden to compete in the annual ice racing events. From the humble beginnings, ice racing has come a long way. From racing in a swampy area in Minden, to now moving to a Kin Club-built course on the fairgrounds, the sport has changed a lot in the last 50 years.
“When I first started we did different venues every weekend,” Rashleigh said. “We went to Peterborough, we’ve raced on Lake Couchiching and Kempenfelt Bay. When the Kin Club built the first track in Minden down in the swamp area, it was the first track built in the area. The first year I was doing it, they asked me if I wanted to take one of the Kin Club members for a ride and lo and behold it was Tom Prentice. Tom ended up racing with me the next year.”
The world looks a lot different than it did in 1976, and racing as a whole has changed drastically. Cars, drivers and tracks have come and gone and while back in the day the rear wheel drive class was the most popular, Rashleigh said over the years the front wheel drive class really became dominant. But also a lot of things have stayed the same. Most of all, the fun.
“The camaraderie has always stayed the same over the years,” said Rashleigh. “If someone needs a hand fixing their car, someone is always there. We had a few guys who were rough drivers, but they got weeded out. The fun part is the same … The friendships I have made over the years, definitely stay the same.”
While some might assume the ice racing community has plateaued into the same groups of people, that’s actually far from the truth. The scene has swiftly grown, as it’s one of the most affordable forms of racing to get into. No need for million dollar sponsorships or aerospace engineers to design your car, ice racing is simple and grass roots.
The fact that some guys are still racing their cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s more than 30 years later, shows a lot about the longevity of the sport.
“I’m probably the longest running guy currently,” added Rashleigh. “Tom started the year after I did and my friend Ken Shaw started around 1978. Steve Robson who also started in ’78 still races, but some guys race for many years while others show up and are gone after two years. Other guys who didn’t race for a decade, will come back after a while. It evolves every few years, we always have a new batch of drivers.”
Rashleigh, like most racers, caught the bug after watching someone else do it. After working for Attrell Toyota, owned by one of Canada’s sports car legends Bob Attrell Sr., he became interested in ice racing. Watching someone else do it and have a lot of fun on the track stuck out to Rashleigh, and as the sport wasn’t too expensive to get into, his love was born.
Cars looked a lot different in the ‘70s and usually consisted of two or more cars combined together. While Rashleigh has experience driving in hobby cars, nothing could’ve prepared him for the unique ice racing experience.
“Back in the ‘70s my brother and I raced in the Hobby Cars series in Flamboro,” Rashleigh said. “I started working at Attrell Toyota and Bob Attrell Sr., he was into ice racing. He told me all about it, and he had an Austin Mini that didn’t have a roof on it. He also had a Toyota Corolla and I decided that I needed to watch this car race. I went out and watched and I knew I needed to try this. I found a car a week later and the rest is history.”
Ice racing is considered a gateway series for people who want to try out competition driving. Most of the time all you need is a 10 to 20-year-old pony car that can be configured to race on the ice, and roughly $300 to rent a licence. Compared to other series like the NASCAR Pinty’s Series or Canadian Touring Car Championship, the costs to run an ice racing car pale in comparison.
There are lots of old cars that you could pay less than the price of a washing machine for, the only real challenge is preparing the tires on a tractionizer. The device helps the tires get better grip — most veterans usually just buy used tires.
Rashleigh has won 10 rubber and ice class championships, but his best memories come from having his two sons race with him.
“I’ve had a lot of wins and class championships over the years,” Rashleigh said. “But nothing compares to racing with my two sons and watching them do better than I did. Another thing I’m really proud of is my car. It’s a 1980 Toyota Tercel that Bob Attrell took off the road at 6,000 kilometres, Bob and his son raced the car all over the place and I took over the car in 1989 and I’ve had it ever since.”
As the newcomers come up through the ranks, the elder statesmen of the series like Rashleigh, Prentice and Shaw are always thrilled to see them do well. As the future of the sport relies on the newcomers, Rashleigh knows ice racing is in good hands.