By Stephen Petrick
The coolest type of car racing is (pandemic pending) set to return to Minden this winter.
Ice racing was originally scheduled to resume at the Minden fairgrounds on the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Ontario’s recent return to a modified Step 2 of its re-opening plan, announced on Jan. 4 to limit the spread of the Omicron variant, has put some uncertainty on whether a return on that particular date is possible.
Members of the racing community are preparing to start the season, said Minden Kin Club President Andy Rickard. A Minden Hills council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 13, is expected to provide some clarity on whether that season can start on time, or will be delayed.
Whenever racing goes ahead, it will mark the return of a tradition that dates back to the late 1970s. It was then that the Kin Club built a local track, knowing that it would lure ice racing enthusiasts from across the province. Previously, ice racing was mostly done on frozen lakes, which was not exactly safe.
Now ice racing has become an almost annual (and weather dependent) tradition in Minden. The only other ice racing track in Ontario is in Thunder Bay, meaning the Minden Fairgrounds track is the only track in southern Ontario for racing enthusiasts.
Ice racing events were cancelled last year, as Ontario’s battle with the pandemic worsened. This year, the Canadian Automobile Sport Club, which runs ice racing programs with the Kin Club, is hoping to stage seven weekends of ice racing. Two-day events are scheduled for each week up to Feb. 26 – 27.
“We’re extremely excited; it’s very important for us as a club and as a community,” said Rickard, in an interview that took place before the Step 2 announcement. “The economic impact of ice racing is huge.”
He said each ice racing day usually draws about 70 racers, from several different areas of the province. Those racers and their families then stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
Rickard said organizers feel they can pull the events off, even amid some COVID-related restrictions, because ice racing events don’t draw a lot of spectators; it’s usually mostly participants and family members at the events. Registration will be online and even officials are spaced out along the track, so the events can run without breaking any social distancing rules.
While everyday citizens may associate ice with dangerous driving conditions, Rickard explained that ice racing is actually considered one of the safest versions of auto racing. That’s because the ice often doesn’t allow drivers to accelerate to a level where they’re at risk of a serious crash. Ice racing tracks are also mandated to have snow banks on their borders, which offer more flexible padding than an average wall.
The sport is also loved by racing enthusiasts because it’s an ultimate test of driving talent.
“In many forms of racing, the ones with the most money can go the fastest,” said Rickard.
But that’s not so in ice racing. Adding horsepower to a vehicle won’t help. It’s more important for drivers to know how their tires will handle the turns.
“It’s all about how much you can get away with,” Rickard added. “It’s very much about driver skill.”
The sport is also less expensive than other types of racing. Most vehicles used in racing are stock vehicles that have been modified for competition, not unlike how old clunkers are stripped down and prepared for summer demolition derbies. There are classes of races for those using rubber snow tires and those using studded snow tires.
The fairgrounds track is challenging; it has a long straightaway, but the route after the turn isn’t parallel; it requires drivers to veer left and then right before the opposite bend. At the start of the day, the course is about as slippery as a hockey rink, but as the track gets used, the ice wears down and may provide a little more traction.
“The crashes aren’t spectacular in any way. It’s supposed to be non-contact; racing, bumping and rubbing is not a strategy,” said Rickard.
The sport has been around for so long, locally, that now there are families with multiple generations competing. In some cases, they can share the same car for separate races. There are also now programs to help people learn about ice driving, before competing in an actual race, Rickard said.
“It’s something that anyone can do. You don’t have to be an experienced race car driver by any means.”
And while there’s some modest prize money available for race winners, Rickard said that, literally, no one is making a profit on ice racing. “The champion will still be financially behind at the end of the year,” he said.
Most people do it for the thrill of competition and for the love of the sport.
“There are [people] that take it to an extreme level of competitiveness and there are [people] that come out and just try to have fun with it.”
For more information on ice racing, including the registration and schedule details, visit www.casc.on.ca.