For us in the Northern Mid-West, we don't get to do much during the winter months as car show seasons end and what not. But for one little town just north of Wausau, Wisconsin, they've been competing for decades during the rigid cold months, and they've been doing it successfully. The Merrill Ice Drags have driven their way through since 1965 on Lake Alexander and have created quite a loyal following in the area. The Merrill Ice Draggers compete on a 1/8th mile plowed out track on the ice and is set up, in one of the straights of the lake, hidden between trees and with a boat launch as one of the few means of getting onto the track.
The minimum racing age is 14yrs old so it's easy to see how there are 3rd and 4th generation racers competing on the track. Races start at noon on each event day and multiple classes run through the afternoon and into the early evening if need be. A single car can complete in many different classes as long as it stays within parameters which include even lifting off the gas or hitting the brakes before crossing the finish line of the 1/8th mile track to stay within your class. Many different style and generations of vehicles come out to test their times, but one thing that changes each round, is the ability to grip the ice, with the fastest reaction time possible. The current track record, as posted on their flyer, is 5.431ET, 141.6 MPH, in 660ft. (1/8th mile).
Race days vary based upon weather and can be postponed, or even cancelled. So if you plan on attending, make sure you pay attention to the weather reports as well as their Facebook page and website. The rest of the 2022 Schedule is as follows:
Sat. Jan. 22nd - Test & Tune Day
Sat. Jan. 29th - Race Day - "Merrill Winterfest"
Sat. Feb. 5th - Race Day - "People's Choice Award"
Sat. Feb. 12th - Race Day - "Memorial"
Sat. Feb. 19th - Race Day - "Championship"
Sat. Feb. 26th - Super Saturday
Sat. Mar. 5th - Banquet/Raffle
A few rules and suggestions to understand as you make your plans is that it is going to be loud. Big block and small block V8's, high revs, as well as test and tune times, can hurt the ears of those sensitive to noise. It is also because of this, that no pets are allowed in the pit areas. Also, there is food on site to purchase and it does cost a little extra to gain pit access. Otherwise, it is fairly easy to find front row spectating areas from the pits, or in the general attendance area. They also recommend ice cleats (as do I) to make things easier to travel across the ice because, it is slippery. I witnessed myself a few people who took a tumble here and there. Lastly, dress warm. There can be a bit of a breeze that travels across the lake, and it can get to your fingers and toes pretty easily.
The Merril Ice Drags are a non-profit organization and have even created a scholarship program and have helped many different groups and organizations like Northcentral Technical College-Wausau, Town of Corning First Responders, Lincoln County Humane Society, and more. Volunteers are always asked for and the Merril Ice Drag organizers put in their own time and money to help run these events. Just this year alone, they were given a gift of snow fencing to help with the track layout and design. One thing the organizers and members of the Merrill Ice Drags need, is your help in signing an Event Ordinance Support petition. What the Merrill Ice Drags are looking for, directly from the petition link, is "...Traditional Lake Alexander location and encourage the Town of Merrill, City of Merrill, and Lincoln County to engage in the adoption of an ordinance permitting the event and/ or supporting the event..." For a tradition that has been going on for over 50 years, we, as a community of automotive enthusiasts should rally and help this small community by signing the petition and in keeping the races going on, and to continue its historic heritage, Sign the Petition here:
The event itself is quick moving and the hospitality is very gracious as everyone is willing to chat. The neighboring houses on the shoreline even get together and have a barbeque and such to enjoy the scenery. A very organized and well-planned event, the atmosphere is very safe and family oriented. Parking and traffic can be a little rough as you are in the state park and utilizing the trails and roads that lead to the boat launch to enter the lake. Proper measures are made to ensure ice thickness and the track itself is brushed and plowed as possible to keep things clear on the track for the drivers. I certainly hope that they are able to keep their permits and ordinance support as I'd like to return to spectate the races again. Be sure to check out the drags if you ever get the chance, it's certainly a spectacle of a time for any gear head.
For full rules and regulations, please visit the Merril Ice Drags Rules page.
If you'd like to donate or sponsor the Ice Drags, please visit the Ice Drags Sponsor/membership page.