Garageboy's Dream Garage

You're Racing Your Car on a Lake Again THIS Winter??
You Sure There's Enough Ice Up There?

I've been a member of the Boston Chapter of the BMW CCA since the late 80s. When I moved back to New York and joined the New York Chapter in the early 90s, I started participating in the Boston Chapter's Ice Racing events on Newfound Lake, New Hampshire. Why did I wait until I moved 5 hours away to do this? At first, the concept of putting one's car on a frozen lake invoked memories of Bugs & Daffy or Tom & Jerry where anyone who fell through the ice - and somebody ALWAYS fell through the ice - would be pulled out of the water frozen inside a big ice cube. Of course, they were still alive, but their teeth were chattering, they had turned blue, and they had to be left in front of the fireplace to thaw. Or I thought of that movie "The Four Seasons" where the uptight dentist (Jack Weston) screamed, "My Mercedes!!!" as he watched in horror while his car spontaneously and instantly sank through the ice.

[Garageboy Parks Next to His Tires Between Runs]
[Garageboy Leaves His Mark On The Ice with His Studded Snows]

Rest assured Ice Racing with the Boston BMW CCA is nothing like that. Not even close! When you approach the turn-off from the main road, and you see the orange cone (with the roundel) and realize it's pointing you onto a lake... well... Then you usually spot other BMWs already on the lake, and you can leave the shore and go for it. Oftentimes, the ice feels remarkably like smooth pavement... until you hit the brakes and realize that this is pretty tricky. Then, as you get closer to the designated course, you see dozens of cars parked together, just like at an autocross. In fact, you may see cars that are much nicer than yours, and that is when you realize you have nothing to worry about. Certainly falling through is no longer at the top of your list of worries...

Except this year. The mild winter caused havoc on Newfound Lake. The SCCA Ice Racers in Massachusetts cancelled their only event, and short of driving to Canada, it looked as though Garageboy might not get to compete in any ice racing this winter! Newfound Lake, at 4100 acres, started to freeze, but not enough of the surface of the lake fully froze. After a brief warm spell, the surface turned back to water. Usually, if the lake "catches", meaning the whole surface freezes, the ice below it develops more quickly. As long as it doesn't snow a tremendous amount during that freezing process, and it remains cold, as much as an inch per day of ice can develop in most parts of the lake. Twelve inches is the minimum amount that must be there for an event to be held. How do we know this? Is it some mystical, ancient secret of the White Mountains that is only shared amongst local New Hampshire residents? Well, no, actually, we have a drill that we use to measure the thickness, and it bottoms out at about 16 inches.

Newfound Lake was not happening for us. Fortunately, due to the resourcefulness of the event organizers, a smaller lake (346 acres) was discovered only 20 miles north of Newfound Lake, and at a much higher elevation. Apparently, this combination of size, latitude and altitude ensured that we had a reliable 18 inches of ice for the entire season! The 2002 Ice Racing Season commenced on February 10th for the first time near Rumney, New Hampshire on Stinson Lake.

The events are run for the Boston Chapter almost entirely by the Jackson Family, a warm, generous group of car-nuts that have lived on Newfound Lake for longer than anyone can remember. They are affectionately known as The Icemen, despite the fact that the whole family, men and women alike, participate rather competitively in a myriad of silver BMWs and other nearly German vehicles. Garageboy has had the good fortune to become friends with the Jacksons, although some New York Chapter members believe that this friendship is based on a rumor that Garageboy is required by law to bring New York bagels whenever he visits the Granite State. Legend has it that this law was enacted in exchange for leniency on one of Garageboy's triple-digit speeding violations.

[Steve Jackson Prepares for his Run While His Passenger 
(Mom) Hides her Fear with a Smile]
[Steve Jackson, Surrounded by the Silver Bullets of the Jackson Arsenal]

Technical Inspections are fairly innocent. Helmets are not required, but they are not discouraged either. You line up at the start line just like at an autocross, and the timing equipment is all electronic, maintaining accuracy and fairness. When you reach the starting line, you look out over a sea of orange cones and hope that you remember where the course is. Sometimes, when there is snow on the lake, it is necessary to plow the path. It is much easier to follow the course when it has been plowed. However, plowing creates snow banks, which are a double-edged sword. They can be used for good, like steering the car through a fast turn. Or they can be used for evil, like when you lose control and go off course and stuff your car into a snowbank. The only damage you might do is to your ego.

Cars are classified as rear-wheel, front-wheel, or all-wheel drive. And then the sub-classifications are based on your tires. Tires are very important. Since most participants are from the surrounding states, many entrants use snow tires. In order to be competitive, you cannot run on summer or all-season tires. Some competitors have started to run ice tires, as these are becoming more popular. For those of us that run snows all winter long, ice tires are not very practical. In areas like New York City, they'll spend 95% of their lives on dry pavement and wear out in one season.

The best part of ice racing is that you can do all the things you used to fantasize about doing at Bridgehampton, except without the threat of impending death. Wanna do a four-wheel drift on the back of the course? No problem! If you make a mistake, you might hit a cone and slide mercilessly out of control... into oblivion. But you won't scratch your car, and you won't hurt yourself!

Sometimes, finishes are impressive. It's always entertaining to see someone slide through the finish gate sideways or even backwards. Ice Racers are masters of improvisation. I've seen drivers spin out, and to keep their momentum, they finish half their run in reverse. Most racers realize that if their run is already ruined, they might as well show off with a spectacular finish.

[Stan Jackson's M3: I'm the Only Other Person Who Gets to Drive It]
[Stan Jackson's M535i, My Only Competition]

Conditions can change dramatically as well. This can occur from event to event, or even from morning to afternoon! Unlike an autocross, where the conditions are likely to stay the same for the duration of an event, the surface of the lake is guaranteed to change over the course of a day, based on temperature, wind, sunlight, and precipitation. New scoring rules were put into effect this year that has compensated for the changing conditions and made for more exciting results.

The Jacksons are competitive. No matter what class they run in, they want to win. And they all want to beat each other. It has taken me nearly a decade to understand their strategies, and I still have much to learn. I'm still learning how they use the changing conditions to their advantage. I've successfully learned how to compete with the right tires, but there are still many secrets to be unearthed. This year, I did better than any previous years, and for the first time, my Eta-Power car beat all the M cars. And now that we have a consistent venue for the future at Stinson Lake, I'll come back next year and try again for more FTDs.

For more information on the Ice Racing events and the results from the 2002 Ice racing season, visit:

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©2002 - Steven J. Bernstein All rights reserved.

Comments to:
Steven Jay Bernstein
updated Sunday, 21 April 2002 04:25:49