Horsepower on ice

Every winter the Central New York Ice Racing Association takes to the lakes for some sideways speed.

To the uninitiated, simply driving a car on a lake--never mind racing--is an exercise in the willful suspension of disbelief.

On a January day, the temperature on Lake Honeoye was in the teens, and there was a stiff breeze coming off the lake. The ice measured 11 inches average thickness, one inch below the 12 inches required for an official event.   But several members of the Central New York Ice Racing Association members decided to take their chances and show up at the usual time to turn some laps.

Photo: Jamie De Pould
Kurt Thiel, of Canandaigua, N.Y., briefs the drivers before they head out onto the ice Jan. 25, 2009.

The field was a smattering of sedans and coupes, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. Mazda Miatas and Dodge Neons were both popular choices. Cars were divided into two main classes based on their tires. Those with street-legal tires made up the first group, and the ones with purpose-built ice racing tires--called Menards--comprised the second.

The amount of ice spray kicked up by the Menard cars was incredible, some even grew full-blown “rooster tails” on the straightaways. Many had suspension modifications and gutted interiors. The lap times they were running would’ve been quick on tarmac, but on the ice they were downright incredible.

The fact that the cars were mostly sideways, and often door-to-door, only increased the spectacle.

Forget about trying to use the gas pedal and steering wheel at the same time. If you do, you’ll end up plowing into a snowdrift. You might even be backwards, depending on the car.

You have to build up as much speed as possible down the straight, then chuck it into the turn, trying to coax the back end out into a slight drift, keeping as much momentum as possible.

“I have to race,” said Kurt Thiel, two-wheel drive and overall winner for 2009. “If I go too long between races, then I just lose my mind.”

Thiel likes ice racing because of the unique driving challenges it presents. Racing on the ice sharpens a racer’s car control and reflexes. Some CNYIRA racers think Thiel’s winter schedule actually helps him go faster on more traditional surfaces.

But the racers really come out because they enjoy ice racing. At the end of the day, most drivers would be hard-pressed to remember where they finished in every race, let alone how their competitors fared.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.