TUPPER LAKE - It's loud, it's fast-paced and it's screaming with ice-cold action.
It's not the Sochi Winter Olympics. It's motorsport ice racing, and it's coming to Tupper Lake this weekend.
Members of the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club will speed across the ice on Raquette Pond for the fourth time, starting at noon today and Sunday. The races are free for spectators.
An Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club ice race
(Photo — Mark Long)
The event will include 10 classes - from "street legal" cars to full-tube-chassis "super-modified" racers - so anyone with a vehicle that meets the requirements can hit the ice. Those specifications include a mounted fire extinguisher, helmet and snow tires. Large, heavy vehicles could also be excluded if they exceed weight limits.
AMEC President Eric Roscoe said safety is a top priority, so ice has to be at least 12 inches thick across the entire lake area being used. Last year's ice wasn't thick enough, so the event was canceled, but this year that isn't a problem. Since snow is an insulator, too much of it can slow ice formation, meaning the lack of snow that has kept the Big Tupper Ski Area from opening this winter has been perfect for a safe ice race track - as long as it stays cold enough.
Roscoe said about 60 holes drilled in Raquette Pond's ice on Tuesday revealed that it's more than 14 inches thick away from the shore and more than 16 inches thick near the shore. Frigid winter conditions like that got the attention of AMEC members; warm hospitality kept them coming back.
"We started coming there years ago because we've been having sparse conditions (in the southern Adirondacks), so we started searching farther north for ice," Roscoe said. "We've been going back because the town is so accommodating."
Freezing-cold temperatures can produce their own set of problems, but Roscoe said they also ensure safety.
"The first year we went up there, I had to push my car off the trailer," Roscoe said. "The transmission fluid was so thick it wouldn't even roll downhill. I think it was minus 11 at night. That was OK, though. You feel safer on the ice when it's below freezing."
Once complete, the race track will be a clockwise, multi-turn road course that winds for about a mile along the frozen surface of the pond. Weather can complicate matters, though.
"Different races will be different at different times," Roscoe said. "The weather changes, the course changes, the race changes. Even without snow, if it's cold enough, the ice crystals the racers chip up stay in the air, so you have whiteouts as people go into the corners. It's all part of the challenge."
AMEC treasurer, event organizer and chief flagger Mike Glock has been involved with AMEC for more than 20 years. At one point, he was even the club's super-modified champion.
The ice racing is just for fun. Trophies are handed out for each class, but there is no cash prize.
Glock explained that ice racing is a way to extend the auto racing season. It's relatively cheap to participate in, and the aggressively studded tires on the higher-class cars make track conditions better for the "street legal" cars that follow them.
"Those (higher class) cars go out there, and they're like a cheese grater on the ice," Glock said. "They really chew up a lot of grooves on the ice and make it very rough. That, in turn, allows that street-legal class to go out there with a good snow tire and get a good hold of the ice because it's so roughed up. The traction is actually comparable to racing on a very wet road."
A good driver can keep his or her car under control, but after a few laps the ice starts to get polished, which makes things interesting.
"It keeps getting slipperier and slipperier, and those last couple of laps you'll see the drivers are really starting to hang on," Glock said. "Their lap times can drop four seconds a lap as they start tip-toeing around the turns."
Glock said past ice races have drawn a couple hundred people to the shores of Raquette Pond, but this year registrations are down.
The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2004. At one time, as many as 60 cars would be registered for a race. Last weekend there were only 35.
"Over the years, the car count seems to be dwindling a little bit," Glock said. "The cost of everything keeps going up, including race cars, and the economy hasn't exactly been robust. So guys that used to have a few extra dollars and could come out and play are finding the economics are a little too tight, and they can't come out and join us."
For more information, visit icerace.com.
Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.