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The 2004 Big Sturgeon Ice Invitational 

As told by Tim Winker

Now this is motorsports at a grassroots level. Except the grass is covered by several inches of snow. This is autocross, or rallycross, Minnesota style. No entry fees, no helmets, no waivers, no tech inspection, no overzealous officials. Just a bunch of guys and a few gals, driving on a frozen lake. There was all manner of creativity, in choice of vehicle, in choice of tires, in choice of driving line.

To be fair, there was some organization. Someone had to plow the track, and it offered a variety of turns with plenty of runoff area. From a standing start the drivers had a short straight, a quick left-right chicane, a 270 degree carousel to the left with a 90 right at the end, followed by a pair of hairpins, first left then right, and another short straight to the finish. With over a foot of snow, the resulting snow banks were a couple of feet high and allowed plenty of cushion should a driver get in enough trouble to "exceed" the course. And with over two feet of ice covering the lake, the possibility of anyone breaking through was non-existent.

Vehicles were divided into six classes: 2WD and 4WD rubber-to-ice, 2WD and 4WD studded, Open, and "Chevette". The Open class was for motorcycles, snowmobiles, go-karts, and purpose built buggies, and all vehicles in the class had studded tires. 

The Chevette class was an equalizer. For a $1 donation, anyone could take a run in an aging Chevette with automatic transmission. It had belonged to the octogenarian grandmother of one of the organizers, and was retired several years ago when Grandma decided her reflexes were not up to driving any longer. Now it sees duty once a year on the ice

The difference in perception of autocross or rallycross depended on choice of tires. Those who chose run on studded tires -- or hand-crafted tires with sharpened bolts through the tread -- had traction. Those who remained on street legal snow tires (studded tires are illegal on Minnesota roads) found it to be more like a drifting competition. 

The studded and non-studded classes saw their times through the course running in opposite directions. Those on studs/spikes got their best times early on when the ice was still smooth. As the tractionizing devices ground into the surface, however, the tires had more difficulty finding bite. This was an advantage for the non-studded group, as early on the glassy course offered little grip, but the roughing of the ice by the studs provided more places for tire tread to grab. The rubber-to-ice group generally turned in their fastest runs near the end of the day.

You may notice that there is no location nor names mentioned. This was an invitational event, so entry was at the discretion of the organizers. Even so, drivers came from all over the Upper Midwest from as far away as Detroit, Michigan. There was quite a variety of experience as well; several performance rally drivers were on hand, motorcycle and snowmobile racers, and some first timers finding out what it's like to drive on a surface with virtually no traction. Age ran the gamut as well, with a few grade school kids competing on 50cc dirt bikes and karts, all the way up to guys in their 50s and 60s. 

The Chevette-owning Grandma chose to stay indoors where it was warm.

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