Ice racing in Superior: Big thrills, a few spills and a small costAUTO RACING: The Superior Ice Racing Association provides stock car racers with the big-time thrill of racing at a relatively low cost.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
When stock car racer Shawn McFadden Jr. began bumping into another competitor coming down the homestretch on Saturday in Superior — “trading paint” as they say — the two race officials along the infield, flagman Ed Stouffer and lap counter John Kimmes, started to go into a back pedal.
“We had to run more than once last year, but it usually isn’t too bad,” Kimmes said.
The Superior Ice Racing Association, which has held races each Saturday the past two winters on makeshift tracks on the ice on Allouez Bay, provides stock car racers with the big-time thrill of racing at a relatively low cost. It has helped fill a winter void for the summer dirt-track racing crowd.
“You see all kinds of shapes and sizes here. All kinds of different cars,” said McFadden of Ashland. “It’s pretty affordable. Pretty much anybody can come out and race.”
The level is similar to that of Street Stock racing, with a touch of Enduro mixed in. Enduros are low-level races with few rules and are ideal for beginners. The SIRA might even have fewer rules. To combat the cold, drivers are allowed to keep the glass on their cars, and co-pilots help them navigate the track while keeping an eye on the competition.
Pickups have raced on the SIRA circuit before, and Saturday’s races featured 12 entrants, including a pink Ford Thunderbird, an old taxicab and a Lincoln. An additional 75-plus vehicles, most of them 4-wheel drives, came out to watch, parked safely behind a snow bank on the front straightaway of the 5/8-mile track.
Admission is free for spectators and $20 to race, with small purses awarded thanks to sponsorships from local businesses.
“This is all for fun,” said SIRA promoter Darin Meierotto of Superior. “You’ve got to keep something free in this world. It’s a good sport for up here in the winter.”
Meierotto, 41, is a veteran dirt-track racer originally from Bayfield who grew up going to ice races on nearby Madeline Island. He felt like it made perfect sense to try something similar in the Twin Ports, where ice racing is nothing new, with the legendary Archer Brothers helping make a name for themselves as ice racers.
To stage the races, Meierotto receives a permit from the city of Superior.
“I have a rule of thumb we don’t race on anything less than 14 inches of ice. You could probably race on less, but we don’t,” Meierotto said. “I started ice racing in 1985 on Madeline Island, and that was their rule of thumb, and I just stuck with it.”
Meierotto and McFadden are close competitors. Meierotto won the inaugural series last year and also took Saturday’s 20-lap feature race, though McFadden beat him in one closely contested heat race.
Meierotto joked that McFadden had a car within his car because he had so much added weight to his 1975 Chevrolet Malibu Classic on Saturday — more than 2,000 pounds, McFadden confirmed.
Front-wheel drive cars are expected to compete at the two-day King of the Bay showcase this weekend, which combines racers from the Superior, Ashland, Rice Lake and Lake Magnor ice racing circuits.
McFadden said for the most part, it’s a safe form of racing. Racers are allowed to use cut tires and studs on the non-driving tires to help gain traction (you can’t have studs on all four tires because if they broke off, they could be like bullets). Even so, it’s not perfect.
“On dirt, you have more ability to get out of the way,” McFadden said. “On ice, once all that weight gets going in the wrong direction, and you start sliding, there’s no guarantee when you’re going to stop.”
Conditions on Saturday weren’t ideal as the snow wasn’t sticking to the ice, so speeds only reached about 60 mph. Sometimes speeds can reach upwards of 90 mph.
“That’s when it’s real fun,” McFadden said. “When the track is fast, that’s when everyone is normally fast.”
But when the track is slow like Saturday, it’s much trickier for many of the cars to find the traction to compete.
Even McFadden appeared to be sliding coming down the front straightaway during one of his heats, striking a little fear into the flagman and lap counter.
“I don’t slow down for those guys,” McFadden joked. “They’ll move.”