Monday, February 25, 2008

Ice racing: addictively fun.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I headed to Minden, Ontario to participate in some wheel-to-wheel ice racing. The plan was to attend a trade show in Burlington, Ontario on Saturday and meet up with Lee W. and his friends in the evening in Minden. The plan was for me to rent his backup ice race car, a 1990 Civic Si, and run in the rubber-to-ice class and in the studded tire class. I was to be sharing the car with Pablo, another ice racer who'd had his own car bent up quite badly in multi-car incident while Lee was driving (it was not Lee's fault in any way!).

Registration opened at 11:00 am so I decided to arrive at the ice track at about 10:30. There were maybe 60 or 80 ice race cars there, but few people. I had never seen a photo of the 90 Civic or of Pablo, so I was sort of wandering around aimlessly. There were at least 6 or 7 Civics that fit the description of my car. Also, Lee had had an extremely tough night on Saturday and I knew not to expect his too early.

Because everybody knows everybody, someone was able to point me to the car I was supposed to be driving. It was not pretty, but it seemed like it would get the job done. As I did not see any studded tires around, I registered only for the rubber class, in case Lee did not show up in time to tell me where to get my 2nd set of tires. After a short while, Pablo and his son Andrew showed up at the track and we finally met. I was glad to finally find someone who knew what was to be done to prep the car (not much, it turns out). The car was completely gutted except for 2 metal race seats and some old harnesses.

Pablo graciously allowed me to go out for the rubber practice session. I strapped in to the race seat and Carl jumped in as a passenger. There were more than 20 other cars on track with us and it was quite exciting, even though we were diving slowly. I don't think I passed anybody in that session. The car had a tendency to pitch violently to the right a couple of times per lap, and this was quite unnerving. I figured it was because the car had taken so many hits in the past. At least it was pitching to the right during the day of clockwise racing. I was slow compared to the other drivers, but not embarrassingly so. I also had a small spin out. I finished up the session and handed the car over to Pablo for his first race. I asked him about the evil handling of the car and he did not seem to know what specific issue I was talking about.

I headed to the snow bank to watch Pablo's race. By this time, poor Lee had still not shown up and had missed his first stud race. One of Lee's friends found me and offered me the use of the stud tires, but I declined, as I was not prepared to participate in a much faster class, combining my lack of experience and a weird-handling car. Pablo concurred.

Pablo went out for his race and completed only a single lap before parking the car. I was afraid my day of racing was over before it began. However, after the race, he made it back to the paddock under his own steam. He said the car only had 1-wheel drive. We jacked up the car, which had received a new axle the day before, only to notice the axle nut was loose. Pablo was not happy, but he tightened up the nut so that I could go out for my race.

I was sitting on the grid ready for my race and Carl jumped in again. Lee had shown up and came to wish me luck. He asked if I was nervous, and answered that I was not, really, as there was nothing on the line. I was gridded last as I had no points in the current championship. The races are standing start. As Carl was in the passenger seat, he had a better view of the race starter and yelled "Green, go, go, go!". I gave it some gas and we basically just sat there. I felt like an idiot as the field simply pulled away. I finally managed to take off, very slowly, and I knew something was wrong. It only took me a short while to figure out we still had the axle problem. Normally, when you have a broken axle, the car would not move at all. It must have been the welded differential that allowed us to drive around at low speed. I could see the other cars pulling away and I did my best to keep driving. I was getting the hang of the car a bit more and was using left-foot braking to angle the car around the corner. A back-marker spun and I passed him, but he soon caught me and re-passed me. A couple of laps later, the leaders began to lap me. Then the slower guys lapped me too. Then I spun, used reverse to get going again, and continued to take the checker. I was quite disappointed. I had driven over 500 km to attend the event, and now it looked like the day was over.

We drove back to our paddock spot and took a look at the situation. The end of the axle had been stripped and I had lost the nut at the beginning of the race. Pablo began to look around for another axle but there were none to be found. The 90 Civic was done for the day.

I decided to go see Opal, as she had mentioned that she wasn't feeling great after the previous night's partying and that she might lend me her car for the final race. I looked everywhere for her and found her dozing in her street car. When I asked her if I could rent her car for the last race, she said yes without a moment of hesitation. On top of that, she refused to take any money. I was extremely lucky that Opal and Guillermo were at this event!

I went to look at their car, a 92-95 Civic hatch just like mine. It was bone stock and only had a few bumps and scratches on it. It had its original seats, most of the interior and a full heating system. It felt just like my car. I pulled out the dented front fender a bit by hand, installed my number plates with Guillermo, and headed out to my race.

I was gridded in last place out of 15 cars for the start. Carl did not jump in, as he had lent his helmet to a friend and couldn't get it back in time. I was pretty psyched, as I knew this car would be more reliable and easy to drive, if not slower, than the 90 Civic. Opal warned me that the other red Civic had non-tractionized tires and that he would be slower. I was gridded behind that red Civic and beside a FWD Subaru Justy.

Photobucket
Thanks to Opal for this photo of me in my final race.

As the flag dropped, I got the jump on the Justy and the other red Civic and drove down the straight on the left side, where there was a lot of snow on the ice. I believe someone spun in the first corner. I was then embroiled in a mutli-lap chase of a Corolla, a black Civic and a purple Festiva. I was doing OK in the corners, but was not good at dosing the gas pedal for optimal acceleration in the corners. The Festiva and Corolla were pulling away, but I had the black Civic in my sights. I managed to outbrake him and drive around him at the end of the straight on the before last lap and I took the checker without incident. The left-foot braking technique was not really working for me, so I resorted to using the gas pedal and handbrake to rotate the car. I don't remember for sure, but I don't think anyone lapped me. I was happy with my result (I don't actually have the result, but I think I finished around 12th out of 15). I handed the car back to G. and Opal, thanking them again for saving my day from being a bust, and Carl and I immediately began the long drive home. We made it in 5 hours and I managed to catch the end of the Oscar's.

I have to thank Lee W., Opal and G., and Carl for making this a fun weekend of new experiences. As you can imagine, Carl was already talking about building a car for next year and the logistics of running the championship. Carl is the devil.

All in all, a great experience. It really feels like real wheel-to-wheel racing, and it's just a blast.

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