Ice racing on Georgetown Lake (video)
Ice racing on Georgetown Lake
For more information on racing, schedules, plus more photos and videos, visit OurGangIceRacing.com.
Drive by Georgetown on a winter weekend and you may witness an interesting sight. Turn your eyes from the traffic flow of Interstate 70, and at the foot of the looming mountains, out across the frozen expanse of the lake, you’ll see the gleam of metal. There may be the glare off a windshield, or the glinting of dozens of inch-and-a-half-long tire spikes. It’s the gathering of Our Gang ice racing.
According to the group’s website, it’s been putting rubber to ice for over four decades now. And the tradition is still going strong.
First of all, it’s definitely a family affair. All five members of the Huffaker family, for example, are racers, from 53-year-old Joe to 11-year-old JoLee, who competes in the kids’ races.
“We’ve got a really tight-knit group, and there’s a lot of camaraderie with each other,” Joe said, of the regular racers at the lake.
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He and his brother have been ice racing on frozen lakes and ponds since childhood, though he really got back into it and involved with the Georgetown Lake group about six years ago. He’s the head of the tech committee that performs mechanic checks and approves racers’ cars before they start, and his wife, Leesa, helps with registration.
Raised in Loveland, Joe and his family now live north of Wellington, and travel to Georgetown throughout the winter for the races.
“It’s an awesome group,” Joe said of Our Gang. “Everybody just helps everybody and they get along really well, and really, it’s a ton of fun.”
Subarus and cheaters
The ice racing on Georgetown Lake isn’t a half-hearted affair. The group follows strict rules on which types of vehicles can race — all must be all-wheel drive, for example — and when they can race.
Ice a minimum of 12-inches thick is needed for racing, with a minimum of 18 inches for parking cars and trailers, Joe said. Each race day, the ice is checked to be sure it’s safe to go out on.
There are a number of race “classes” for different types of vehicles and tires. This ranges from your typical car with snow tires (often Subarus, Joe said) to Jeeps (and former Jeeps) that aren’t street-drivable and feature tires with hand-sharpened, inch-and-a-half-long bolts, called “cheaters.”
“They look like a medieval torture device,” Joe said with a chuckle. He went on to explain that cheaters tend to have 112 bolts per tire.
Anyone can enter the “street class” of regular cars, for a small fee and a mechanical check-up. But not anyone will put the time, effort and money into a Mad Max-style cheater Jeep.
Unless you’re someone like Joe. One of his four racing vehicles is a red Jeep called Ice Grinder.
“That’s definitely something to see,” said Donny Cryer, of watching the cheater vehicles race. Cryer, originally from Dallas, Texas, moved to Silverthorne this past summer. He regularly races his 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in the street classes. “Even if you’re not interested in racing, it’s still fun to watch.”
Adrenaline and tactics
Though Joe has been ice racing for years, it still gets his heart pumping.
“It’s an adrenaline rush like no other,” he said. “You’re there on a cold, cool morning, it’s crisp. … Then in the afternoon everyone puts on their cheater tires and the adrenaline ramps up and the laps are stinking fast. The Jeeps are just insane fast.”
Cryer’s been racing at Georgetown since 2011, which has given him enough experience not to feel butterflies before a race, but rather approach it with a tactical eye.
“I know on bare rubber (tires), the key to winning is mostly skill and tactics, so it’s not really too dependent upon the vehicle,” he said. While there are some factors that help — manual transmission, for example — the majority of the success comes down to the driver.
The ice races don’t go wheel-to-wheel, but are timed against opponents. Drivers start at opposite ends of the cone-marked track from each other and attempt to complete the fastest lap. Not only must they stay on course to complete the lap, but they need to maneuver around the cones. Clipping or knocking over a cone means disqualification.
“You have to make it around the track cleanly, but as quickly as possible,” Cryer said. “In doing so, you have to kind of find ways to speed up and find ways to slow down, and figure out which areas of the track you can go faster, so that’s where experience comes in, because someone who’s done it a lot will know — ‘If the track has these particular conditions, I can speed up,’ — but you can only speed up if you have a way to slow down (for the corners).”
Joe agreed. “It’s not always about how fast you are, but how well you read the track and read the ice,” he said.
RCs and regrets
Like many ice racers — both regular and one-timers — I became intrigued with the concept the first time I heard about it, mentioned off-hand at a party in Frisco. I rallied a group of friends last winter and we went down to the edge of the frozen lake to watch. The revving of engines, the spray of ice and snow, and the cool look of spiky cheater Jeeps filled us with excitement, as we all expressed our desire to get out and give it a try.
Racing is entirely condition-dependent, so it’s never guaranteed that a race will happen until the ice is checked. Normally, the races run from January through the first week or so in March. However, the past few years have resulted in warmer weather and fewer weekend races, Joe said.
“We had three weekends (this year) so it wasn’t terrible, but I think they only had three weekends last year too, because of the same reason,” he said. Normally the group races for at least six weekends each winter. “It’s been two warm winters in a row. Prior to that, they’ve always had either five or six weekends (to race).”
I learned this the hard way, when the last two March weekend races were canceled, right when I had planned to put tires to ice for the first time. The disappointment was palpable. So much so that to help cheer ourselves up, sports editor Phil Lindeman and I bought a remote-control monster truck at Target and took it out on Lake Dillon for a spin.
Though the high-pitched electronic whir of the little plastic tires could never compare to the adrenaline-pumping crunch of a cheater Jeep, we did enjoy running it over the GoPro camera and jumping it off a nearby dock into some snow drifts, with the majestic peaks of Keystone and the Tenmile Range behind us.
Until next winter, it will have to do.
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