While the winter weather has most of the country hulled up in their houses, off-road enthusiasts in Colorado are taking advantage of the cold weather rather than hiding from it. That’s because with cold weather comes plenty of freezing power and what better way to test your unique driving skills than to take to a frozen lake for a bit of ice racing fun?
On the weekend of March 1 to 2, we headed up to the Colorado high country to witness this time-honored tradition, getting to witness some of the most seasoned ice racers around compete in the first day of the 2014 championship event. As you can imagine, it was quite the cool experience!
The annual Colorado ice races put on by Our Gang 4 Wheelers and take place atop frozen Georgetown Lake, in the small mountain community of Georgetown, Colorado. This postcard perfect locale about an hour west of Denver may not seem like your typical hot rod destination, but at 8,500 feet above sea level, with nightly temperatures well below freezing, it presents the perfect ice racing haven for Front Range automotive enthusiasts.
While many of you have probably never heard of ice racing (we’re looking at you California), it’s not a new motorsport. In fact, the Our Gang 4 Wheelers have been holding ice races every winter in Colorado for the last 38 years and can trace the sport’s history all the way back to the 1960s.
According to the Our Gang 4 Wheelers website, ice racing originated around 1965 with a group of guys racing their street vehicles on a frozen lake above Colorado’s Central City. What some might look at as a winter weekend full of shenanigans, this club turned into a regular deal eventually progressing their icy sport to include tire chains and vehicles built specifically for racing on the ice.
In the 1980s, ice racing moved to Georgetown Lake. Now, some 50 years after its Colorado inception and nearly 35 since its move to Georgetown, dozens of people take part in the family friendly action, building modified 4x4s to participate in the slippery winter fun.
The Art of Ice Racing
So how does it all work? Well, it starts out with a frozen lake with ice no thinner than 16 inches. Vehicles, whether street-legal or specifically built for the sport, are then equipped with studded tires, which give them just enough grip to get going and bite in to the ice for some traction, but not enough to prevent the vehicle from sliding. Drivers then line up against each other on a variety of course configurations laid out on the lake, from oval and “dog bone” style circuits to more technical, almost autocross-like runs.
The green flag drops with drivers taking off opposite of each other on the course and the race ends once the first driver completes the circuit and crosses his or her designated finish line. The races continue in bracket style, restarting with previous race winners competing against each other. The fastest ice racer in each category wins the division.
On Saturday, we had the privilege of watching three different groups race: the Pro Street Class, the Modified Class and the Cheater Class. Those running in the Street Class had vehicles you would see on the road on any given winter day, from old Ford Broncos to more modern Jeep Wranglers. While some of these vehicles were definitely set up for ice racing, many also doubled as daily drivers, trail-runners and mud racers.
The Modified Class was run by vehicles specifically built for ice racing- ones that mostly lacked modern street features such as headlights and brake lights. Both the Street and Modified classes ran studded tires for their championship races.
The third class to run was the Cheater Class, named so for their very unique “bolt” tires. Only the modified guys whose vehicles did not have windshields raced in this group, with some racing in both Modified Studs and Cheaters, and others just running the final race. The result was a day filled with sliding 4x4s, flying snow and a whole lot of fun!
On Saturday, a total of nine races were run, two of which were Championships. In addition to the regularly scheduled races, which are run every weekend for six weekends in a row, the Our Gang 4 Wheelers took to the ice for the Go for the Gold and Go for the Silver races. This was where the street-legal folks and the modified folks could really show their stuff.
Going For The Medals
Those running street-legal vehicles competed in a total of three categories–Women’s Pro Street Studs, Men’s and the Go for the Silver Championship. Starting out on the more technical course, competitors faced down fellow club members until only one was left standing in both the Men’s and Women’s classes. For their respective categories, Linda Leflar and Bill Snyder took the top positions for their races, both winning in a Ford Bronco named Molley.
The competitors from both the women’s and the men’s classes then moved over to the oval course to compete again, where the winner of the Go for the Silver Championship was determined. Fighting to the very end, it was Mike Tjarks and his off-road creation dubbed Barely Movin’ that took the final win, taking home the title for the Silver Championship.
Competitors racing in the Competition Studs category also ran three races; one for the women, one for the men and the final Go for the Gold Championship. Working in opposite track order as the street competitors, Competition Stud drivers started out on the oval track for the male/female races.
Lisa Bashline took the Comp Stud title for the women in her red CJ-3A Jeep, and Jimmy Olson took the Comp Stud title for the men in his freshly wrapped Jeep called Black Ice. The competitors then moved to the more technical track for their Championship, where Jimmy Olson took the Gold.
The Cheaters (Sort Of)
Rounding out the races on Saturday was the Cheaters competitions–again one for the women, one for the men and then a final race in preparation for Sunday’s Cheaters Invitational.
Taking advantage of a modified dog bone-shaped track, which was transitioned over from the oval course, competitors in the women’s class lined up first for a couple of slow laps around the track to break the course in. It was then down to the competition, also run in bracket style.
Sporting some of the same Jeeps that competed in the Competition Studs Class, the women got things off to a blazing start, ripping ice and snow from the frozen lake with their heavily studded (or bolts, as some call them) tires. Although the competition was close, coming down to mere seconds, it was Andrea Olson driving the Black Ice Jeep that took the checked flag.
Once the women were done racing, it was on the men, who showcased their unique driving and drifting skill simultaneously. With a handful of black flags thrown when competitors hit a course cone, and some stalls, it was Jimmy Olson and a clean run that took the first-place position for the men.
In one final exhibition, both male and female competitors took to the course in a pre-Cheaters Invitational race. Though the competition between men and women was tight, it was Olson who ended up taking the win for the final race as well, sweeping the Competition and Cheaters classes.
The Competition Goes On
Once the final Cheaters race was run, the competition for the day was over. As we headed home, many competitors prepared for another day of action on Sunday, when the final races of the season were run- the Competition, Street and Pro Street Bare Rubber Races and the Cheater Invitational.
This race day brought a whole different group of winners, including Susan Tubutis for the Women’s Street Bare Rubber Class, Linda Leflar in the Pro Street Bare Rubber Class and Lindsey Bashline in the Competition Bare Rubber Class.
For the men, Donny Cryer took the win for the Street Bare Rubber Class, Cody Naeb took the win for the Pro Street Bare Rubber Class, and Lee Bashline took the win for the Competition Bare Rubber Class.
For the final race of the season, the Cheater Invitational, it was Jimmy Olson and Black Ice that again took the field.
Getting to take part in the annual Georgetown ice races was truly an experience like no other. But even though their season is over, we’re sure this isn’t the last time we’ll see the ice racers this year. After all, the Our Gang 4 Wheelers have more tricks up their sleeves, including dirt drags on the Fourth of July. We can’t wait to be there!
For more photos of the Our Gang 4 Wheelers’ ice racing weekend, check out the Off Road Xtreme GALLERY below >>>