Ice racers satisfy need for speed
By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 1, 2018
When it comes to ice racing, four friends and co-workers at Minden Subaru say they love the thrill of competition and the sense of community at the ice track at the Minden Fairgrounds.
Passion for cars drives this group, which includes 24-year-old Chad LaRue, a sales manager; the Pinelli brothers: Mike, 24, and Chris, 26; and Kris Cox, 27, who are mechanics. They all drive close to stock Subaru Imprezas, except Mike has installed a turbo engine in his this season.
Ice racing has been a long-standing tradition in Minden for close to four decades, a winter spectacle of wheel-to-wheel action, screeching tires and the occasional snow-flying collisions.
It’s just about the cheapest type of motor-racing around. You need a provincial driver’s licence, a CASC-OR (Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs – Ontario Region) membership, a CASC-OR licence, a working car and a Snell-approved helmet. The cost to race a season is estimated from $1,000 to several thousand, depending on budget.
There are rear-wheel drive, front engine, front-drive and four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles in the competition. The series is open to every type of vehicle from hatchbacks, station wagons, sedans, coupes and small pickups, riding on non-studded to studded tires.
Kris and Mike are Minden Subaru Ice Race Series champions and former champions.
Although Kris was a rookie last season, he finished as the best street stud all-wheel-drive class driver and was awarded a trophy and a jacket with his name.
The series is ideal for these gear heads, who love spending their free time working on their cars when they’re not busy racing. The races take place during the weekends, starting in January and the entire month of February (and March if previous weekends are cancelled due to weather).
“I love racing. I love cars. The whole culture,” Kris said.
He finished either first or second 13 times over four weekends during his rookie season.
Before racing on the ice, he admits to “spirited” driving in the Highlands.
Cox, who is from Haliburton, has been married for two years and said his wife watches him compete.
“I’m pretty much gone racing for six weeks,” he said. “It makes the time go by in the winter time.”
A graduate of J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School and Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, he’s lived in the Highlands since he was eight years old.
He loves the competition and the family-like atmosphere at the track.
“A lot of people there are customers here [at Subaru] so we know them from here. It’s just fun. Everyone is friendly. We’re competitive on the track, but at the same time we don’t want to take each other’s cars out and end our season so there is camaraderie,” he said.
Racing is about being in the moment, but over the racing season there are moments that last.
Cox said among the best memories for him was when he was on the ice track for the first time with Chris, who shares a car with him, racing in the street stud all-wheel drive as a second driver.
“Him and I were in the car. He was driving. This is the very first time in the car on the track and it was practice. We were coming into the first corner – the practice had not even started yet – one of the cars went into the bank and rolled the car the first corner of the season,” he said. “Chris and I turned to each other and went: at least we won’t be the worst ones this year on the ice. [After all] we made it around the first corner.”
Mike, who was a street stud all-wheel drive overall series champion in 2016, was second to Kris last year. He is proud of his championship season in his second year.
He said success is all about being smooth.
“It’s all about throttle control and a lot of patience. I’d say patience is a big one,” he said, laughing. “You’ve got to wait for an opportunity, right? Take your opportunity and hopefully [win].”
His brother Chris, from Minden, chimed in: “You can’t get frustrated and get the red mist, as they call it.”
The red mist is when a driver gets a “heavy foot” and you start to drive at a speed that makes the car break traction, resulting in hitting snow banks, losing speed and time to competitors, they explain.
“The more you want to win the less [of a chance] you have to win,” Chris said.
“It’s really about control, rather than full-out speed.”
During his rookie season last year, he finished second in the second driver class.
“All the people there are super nice. It’s a good community of racers and it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a good way to spend the weekend.”
Mike said this kind of racing doesn’t cost a lot.
“You can basically just take any car up to three litres [engine] and just take the headlights and taillights out and put some high-mount brake lights and a rear facing light and you’re pretty much ready to go,” he said.
The group say they always want to start with preparations months in advance, but they usually start in January, weeks before. This includes basic maintenance of the vehicles, which sit from the end of the racing season: brakes, alignment and suspension.
Every pound counts.
One advantage that can be gained over competitors is to make the vehicle lighter.
The majority of the excess weight is stripped or cut away such as the interior and the back seats.
Another highlight for the group, which had everyone laughing, was when Chad ended up on the snowbank.
“The race had finished, but he didn’t realize that he had finished. He was still racing against Mike and I, thinking he was going for the lead. Meanwhile we had already come first and second and he ended up spinning out, hitting the bank and went right up on top of the snowbank. Yeah, that was pretty funny. He was like seven feet up in the air up on the snowbank,” Kris said.
With the snowfall last year, the snowbanks were large and soft, so the only thing that got hurt in that incident was LaRue’s pride.
He smiles as his friends retell the story. This is what ice racing is about, getting to spend time with your friends doing something you love.
The local Kin Club and its volunteers create and maintain the track every year – no matter the weather.
Chad, a 2011 graduate of HHSS, races in street stud (SS4). He finished third behind Chris in the same class. He started the same year as Mike and said it gives him something to look forward to in the winter.
“I’ve never really raced before. I grew up with snowmobiles, ATVs and stuff like that, but so I do enjoy going fast,” he said.
Getting to transfer the skills learned on the ice to the real world is a definite benefit and added bonus.
“When the roads are bad and you get into a situation where they are icy then you use your skills from the track on the streets,” he said.
All of the racers said they’re appreciative of the support they get from Tammy and Tran LaRue, owners of Minden Subaru, the race series sponsor. The group is grateful for use of the LaRues’ garage, which brings with it specialized tools such as the hoists to work on their vehicles in a heated space just a few kilometres from the track.
Any time there is an issue over the weekend, it’s a luxury to be able to bring the race car back to the shop and resolve any mechanical problems.
When they see the other drivers lying on the cold, snow- and ice-covered parking area at the track, working in the sub-zero temperatures, they feel a little guilty ... but only for a moment.
See www.casc.on.ca/iceracing_about for more details about ice racing. Other local racers competing include Doug Forbes and Larry Laycock.
With files from CASC-OR