Is there anything more fun than ice racing? I cannot think of many activities that are and can also be enjoyed as a family. It has been about six years since I was able to take my old Mazda 2 out on the ice as it is rare to get a combination of consistently cold weather beforehand but not too cold on the day, as well as a willing land owner to grant access. The stars aligned for 2020 and I decided to take my two older boys (17 and 16) with me. Fortunately they could both drive but I would have to be in the car with the younger one as he only has a learner’s permit. Since we had three drivers it made sense to bring two cars, so the Tercel came along as well as my Acura TSX.
We had to travel about two hours to get to the lake on which the race was to be held at, which meant an early morning start at 6am. Not so easy for the teenagers. Road conditions were poor on the first half of the journey. As a consolation prize we got an extended viewing of a sunrise to the east while we traveled north.
The last portion of the drive to the lake was on a snow covered gravel road.
We applied our numbers with my usual method of using painter’s tape. As we were setting up something strange occurred… another Tercel appeared. Mindbogglingly it was a practical twin to ours, as a 1996 Toyota Tercel with the Sport trim in red. Out of the twenty cars the odds of this had to be extremely low. We had an amusing chat with the owner of the second Tercel while comparing features, rust and mileage. His had a little more body rust, no sunroof, slightly more mileage but a nicer condition interior. Our Tercel has led an interesting life since I rescued it; participating in the Great Beater Challenge, becoming a daily driver and now an ice racer. Not bad for a car that likely would have been junked if I did not buy it.
There were a variety of entries from both rwd and awd Subarus, Volvo 940 (with roll cage!), Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Golf and more. The rules dictated that you were required to have a tarp under your car in the pits area and park far enough apart so as not to overly stress the ice. Quite a few competitors brought dedicated studded tires. Others decreased the pressure on the tires they drove in on. We did the same but to a more conservative degree in case we had to drive a portion of the journey back on the under inflated tires as I only had a bicycle pump to restore the lost air pressure.
Here is the map of the course which was not quite to scale and it ended up being around 3.4 kms (2.1 miles) in length. The S-numbers marked the work stations for penalty spotters.
Traditionally in ice racing or auto-x before racing you walk the course to get a feel for it but due to the length of it we got to take two slow parade style laps.
We were divided into two heats; all wheel drive and two wheel drive, with the AWD group starting. The group not driving gets to marshal, which involves calling in penalties and restoring hit cones. If you have a spotter with you then you are able to take a few photos of the action as well. This Toyota Celica only had a couple laps before it had to bow out due to engine problems.
Naturally Subarus were well represented and they gripped the ice very well. There was not a huge amount of snow covering the side of the track, making dramatic ice plumes rare on the day.
Another Subaru, this time a right hand drive WRX station wagon. The long straights meant higher speeds that I had seen in my previous ice racing experience.
In the all wheel drive class this Toyota Tacoma truck got in on the action. It was hard to miss with an aftermarket exhaust which made it the loudest vehicle on the day as well as being driven in one of the more dramatic styles.
A blue WRX sedan negotiating a series of turns.
Another Subaru kicking up some snow.
After the all wheel drive group finished it was our turn in the two wheel drive heat which had a mix of front and rear wheel drive cars. Most had studded tires so we struggled for a grip with our well used regular winter tires. On some of the long straights we were able to get up to 100km/h for short bursts. It is interesting being at those speeds but still having to modulate the throttle to avoid slippage. Luckily the lake was reasonably smooth with not too many large bumps or ruts.
After our first lap there was a break for lunch which was most welcome with locally made (and very good) pizza brought in.
When you are driving there is very little opportunity for getting photos of others in your heat especially with three drivers, two cars, two helmets but my boys managed to get a few shots. Here my eldest boy drives the ex-Great Beater Challenge Tercel. Note the classy blue winter steel rims.
Here I am lining up with the Acura with my middle boy as a passenger. The rival Tercel is behind. The Mazda MX-3 was fast winning the two wheel drive, studded tire crown.
As the afternoon progressed the wind picked up leading to almost white out conditions, so we wrapped up slightly early. While our times were not particularly fast all three of us had a blast. I actually won the front wheel drive, non-studded class which is impressive if you ignore the fact that only the three of us were in that class. I did get times fairly close to some of the slower all wheel drive non-studded cars. The boys learned some car control skills in a safe environment where if you spin out only your ego is going to get bruised.
At the end of the end of the day we attempted to re-inflate our tires only to have the bicycle pump not work for some reason. I think there was too much snow in the tire air valves so we kept speeds low and limped it to nearby Vulcan to use the gas station pump. Once that was completed we should have been able to drive the speed limit again but both cars suffered from a rather pronounced vibration. Huge clumps of snow had to be pulled out of the wheels which took a few attempts to get it all then everything was back to normal. There are a few more professional photos here including one each of my cars. If you get a chance definitely give ice racing a try. It is a pile of fun and you can (attempt to) justify it as educational.
Wow, that looks like good fun DS!
I wish we had something like that locally. Not enough cold temperature I’m afraid, last weekend we rented a cottage near Barrie with some friends, and while cross country skiing on a canal someone called out that we’d better not go further because it wasn’t frozen up ahead 🙁
Even so I think I prefer Ontario winters…
@ D.S.: Thanks for providing an experience for me to experience vicariously, LOL!! 🙂
Looks like fun! Unfortunately ice racing is not something we have much of in California. Where it is cold enough, it’s hard to find flat expanses, at least sites that are not protected Wilderness. But I can one-up the Tercel’s, at least vicariously through a friend in New England, who recently acquired a beater Toyota Echo for ice racing and rallycross use. Even at speed I think an Echo just looks ungainly, or even another word also containing the letters u, g, l, and y.
I was originally looking for an Echo when I bought the Tercel. While the sedans are not going to win any beauty contests the hatchback version (Vitz in other markets) Canada got looks quite decent.
Awesome! I’d really like to try that competitively as you did on a truly large (at least it looks large in your pics) lake, that looks great and the ice makes driver skill even more important and able to be competitive with a car that one wouldn’t automatically label a contender.
Pretty much any car could be competitive with studded tires. Beyond that just a helmet is required. Cost wise it ended up pretty similar to say a day at the ski hill.
Ice racing is one of the few cold climate activities that I’d really like to try out some day. In fact, it appeals to me much more than than regular racing and your article expresses just why… with an old Tercel (or two) and no special equipment, you can have loads of fun, and probably with some experience and studded tires, you can be competitive too.
Between this and Jim’s ice-driving pieces, I’ve started wondering whether there’s a frozen lake within 1,000 miles of me. Probably not.
The actual car matters less. Ice is a great equalizer. The biggest factors are studded tires and all wheel drive distantly followed by power and handling. In fact I would not want a stiffly sprung sports car for this sort of event as the ice is not perfectly smooth. The other Tercel was faster overall than my TSX despite having half the power but studded tires. Talent could explain some of the difference of course but a decent portion was tires.
I should bring my F100 up for that sometime! Oh wait, it’s currently got no heater; never mind. 🙂
But the heater has since been fixed, no?
This happened in Alberta, yes? With climate change, it must be getting harder to find places with thick enough ice on big enough lakes to do this safely.
I feel like I would want to do this in a stupidly inappropriate car, like a 1970’s Cadillac or Mercury Marquis.
Yes, none this year with COVID and warm winter. 🙁
I was going to take the automatic Mustang.