Updated: Mar 24, 2020
By Joey Lee So recently, we’ve had some good weather hit us here in Minnesota and this past weekend, I decided to spend Sunday attending the Ice Races out on Lake Pokegama; just west of Pine City. The International Ice Racing of MN was holding their usual races out on the lake and I had never been to one before, so I wanted to check it out. The IIRA has been racing in MN for over 60 years now with numerous numbers of drivers at numerous age ranges and on numerous lakes. Rules Chairman, Bradley (Brad) Johnson, even mentioned to me that an 81-year-old racer, who has been racing for over 40 years in the IIRA.
The IIRA makes things challenging as they offer up to 6 different classes of cars ranging within front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive to naturally-aspirated or forced induction engines. All cars are racing on the track at the same time and forces the driver to know who they are always racing as well as what class. For the most part, you can find up to 20 cars on the track at once racing around the courses, which, change periodically from not just running it in reverse, but changed in the overall layout as well.
Care for the track is a must in order to maintain good control and good grip throughout the corners so a mid-day plow is typically in order which also gives time to the racers in their pits to make any small repairs or adjustments to their vehicles. With that, the IIRA does limit on stud sizes and lengths in order to preserve the track at racing conditions on the ice. The cars themselves are smaller lightweight vehicles for this weekend’s race like a VW Scirocco, Ford Focus, Audi TT and such. The cars are more lightweight and don’t dig deep into the snow allowing the cars to make a better turn than getting stuck in someone else’s rut. They also accelerate quite well in the snow as per my visit, someone was able to hit just about 90mph on the snow and ice track. All the race cars are trailered in and everyone helps one another when it comes to learning not just the cars, but the track as well. Many of the cars have a passenger seat and some drivers will allow people to ride shotgun during a race. Certainly an experience I would like to try sometime.
On this particular Sunday, Texas Drift Academy stopped by and on a separately plowed track, did some ice drifting out on the lake. With them, Texas Drift Academy brought out 3 Nissan 350z’s with drift and YouTube drivers Josh Robinson (Aussie Formula Drifter – IG: JoshRobinson350), David Patterson (Automotive Youtuber – IG: thatdudeinblue), and Emelia Hartford (Actor/Producer – IG: ms.emelia). It was cool to see them on the track running through the snow, and meanwhile they had their fair share of mishaps, when they we’re on point, it was exciting to see. Last year they ran with the racers on the race track, but with their studded tires, ate up the track well. And in this 40 degree Sunday, it would have gotten pretty bad for the racers.
The IIRA also has introduced what is called “Open Track Racing” where you can bring your daily driven or winter car, without a roll cage or studded tires, and just run the course. Just a helmet and working seatbelts. Only thing is, you’ll be running on the track when the studded class cars are not racing and are in the pits. It is fun though being able to put your car on
their ice course, much like the Ford F150 SVT Raptor did this day. Do keep in mind that even with only snow and ice tires, the turns can get tricky as your car and understeer into one of the embankments. But if you decided to want to do this regularly, you’ll need to start with getting an IIRA license.
Brad was an easy guy to talk to and he’s certainly open to answer any questions for anyone looking to get involved with the IIRA races; as well as anyone else on the staff. They’re always looking for volunteers and for not just participants, but spectators to give feedback in anyway. At the end of the season, the IIRA holds an awards banquet for the season long races and racers to cap on another wonderful winter race year.
In the end, the IIRA races are a fun and family-oriented event. The pits are open for everyone to walk through, see the cars, and chat with drivers and track staff members (with a waiver signature of course). Photographers and videographers are welcomed and even allowed on the infield to their thing, if a few simple rules are followed. If you’re worried about the cold, there isn’t any need to be as you can drive your vehicle onto the ice to certain points around the track in order to watch the races. Typically, no more than an hour’s drive outside of the Twin-Cities, the IIRA races are a fun and free for those with automotive-event withdrawals to go and watch. For a small fee, you can even participate. I will certainly be making my way up there again, hopefully before the season comes to an end.
Please visit www.iceracemn.com or search for their Facebook page “IIRA Ice Racing, Minnesota” for more information and to keep up to date on special events or weather related cancellations.