Portage County Ice Wars, snowmobile races at Mach speeds!

Snowmobiles are sleds with engines under their front hoods to drive them. Snowmobiles for racers have very powerful engines tweaked by expert mechanics and teams much like at the Indy 500. It is a motorsport. In Portage County, they call the races "Ice Wars." Ice racing was the original form of snowmobile racing. Other forms have come and gone, but Ice Racing is still here. It was certainly alive and well in Amherst on January 2-4, 2009. I attended the races on January 4 and brought home some neat photography. These racers surely had "the need for speed," some clocked at over 100 mph.

January 8, 2009


It was a Sunday, January 4, 2009, a bit gloomy outside, pretty darn cold, and here I sat. While going through on-line news of Wisconsin, I learned of the Portage County Ice Wars in Amherst, and found that they were in their final day. So I hopped in my Jeep and headed there. What a riot --- all new to me.

This is a snowmobiling event on an oval ice race course. It was held from January 2-4, the races conducted on January 3-4. It was held at the Portage County Fair Grounds in Amherst. The Tomorrow River Lions Club and Amherst Fire District put on the event, and hoped to raise some $15,000 or more for local use.


This collage of photos was presented by the Portage County Ice Wars web site. It was captioned, "December 26, 2008. 12"-14" of ice!"

A spokesman for the Lions Club said they spent several weeks, working each night, to lay down and layer roughly one million gallons of water go create the ice track. They get the track about a foot or more thick. They also set out about 2,000 hay bales around the track for protection should someone blow off it. There was a grandstand where spectators watched the races and some heated tents below with lots of grilled brats, hamburgers, hot dogs and brewskis. It is amazing how good a cold Point lager tastes on a freezing day!


The races were sanctioned by the United States Snowmobile Association. There were multiple classifications, some 27 by my count, based on the kind of snowmobile employed.

This was my first try at photographing such fast movers on the fly. I got to test out my new Pentax SLR digital camera, so let's see how this rookie did. Better yet, enjoy the photos of the racers doing their thing.


I knew I was in for something when I parked my Jeep and spotted this H2 Hummer belonging to Charter Motorsports, part of the Ski-Doo Team. Ski-Doo is a brand name for snowmobiles manufactured by BRP, an international power sports company founded by J. Armand Bombadier some 60 years ago. Looking at this Hummer, I saw that this was going to be colorful, that sponsors were big, that this would look something like car racing, and that there would be special garb which, of course, this rookie didn't have. I also took notice right away that this was a no-foolin' around event, that there were going to be a lot of serious people with a lot of serious equipment and support.


As a baseball and football fan, I figured the first place to stop were the stands. I got there pretty early, and they were just starting qualifiers, so the crowd was just coming in.


As you can see, the fans had the garb, and were dressed to be warm. I, the rookie, of course was walking around in sneakers, a very boring pair of sweats and an equally boring jacket. I did wear an Air Force knit cap, so I did some smiling looks! Or were they chuckling at the rookie?


Nothin' fancy here. Don't need it. I liked that right away.


There's the man calling the race over the loudspeaker. He stood in there the entire time I was there!


We'll give him closer face time! Good lookin' dude!


This is the boss on the track. He waves that green flag and off they go. There are other officials placed around the track with yellow and red flags in case the race has to be stopped or put on pause. I admire this guy --- no hat, no gloves.


The green flag just gave these guys the "Go." Second from the right looks to be first out of the chute, with the guy on his right just a hair behind him. As with all races, the start is huge.


There's Old 747 smokin' and jokin' down the straightaway. The fastest speed clocked during all the races was 104 mph. This guy is about a quarter the way through the straight-away on the oval. Also note the bales of hay lined up for the racers' protection. Also note the men and machinery in the center area. They have quite a few people standing inside the oval all around the track it in case there's an accident, and they had multiple ambulances standing by. You can also see the icing machinery. Like in ice hockey, they have to come out and lay down some new ice every once in a while. They're not Zambonis like the pro hockey teams use, but they get 'er done. Here's a closer look at those guys.


She would more properly be called an ice resurfacer. I did not get close to this big fella, but I understand the major components to be a sled housing the blade that shaves the ice, a "towel" that picks up those ice shavings, a system that distributes the water, both fresh and that obtained from the surface. You can see the tanks on the back. It looks to me like the folks adapted some farm equipment to handle this job. The resurfacing equipment, except for his water tanks, is attached to the underbelly. There are resurfacers that can be dragged by a tractor or even a go-cart.


Nr. 747 has the lead in this heat and he's rounding the curve.



And here they come, out of a curve. I love this shot, which is why I used it at bratthe opening. Taking photography at these speeds is like a crap shoot, at least it was for me. I just kept clicking them off as the lads approached, and prayed for a good one.


I'm no pro, but these guys came out of the curve high, which is why they were to the rear of the leaders, I think. That said, in some heats I noticed quite a few guys would come out of the curves high. A fan told me the curves were extremely icy. I saw an interview with one racer and he said safety is their biggest concern. They all have jobs or go to school, some racers are at different expertise levels, they're not being paid, so there's no use taking too many risks. That said, to this old man, they had plenty of risk on their plates and had enough bravado for me.


One of the challenges of being behind is that the ones in front of you kick up a lot of snow and ice, reducing visibility. All the contestants wear professional reflective suits to help everyone see who is around them. Look at the guy on the right. He's really leaning to get her around the curve, much like motorcycle racing.


Here you have two guys about half way through a curve, one low and one high. Look at the guy on the left, working to get in low, leaning heavily to his left.


It can get crowded out there.


Here we've got a crowd coming at us from a curve. They all look like theyare running a little high. Interesting some have lights on, some not.


Follow-on photo a second or two later. The leader has fired up his afterburner, blew right by my camera, and is leaving a wake of snow showers behind him. These lads are movin', no question about it, really a thrill to watch and hear.


What I find interesting here are the varied postures of each racer. The guy in front is low and leaning, the second guy a little higher and straight away, and the third even higher in the saddle yet.

The races are great to watch. Walking around the grounds to see what is going on is as much fun.

First stop is to warm up and eat.


This is the cooking brain trust. I am assuming the older guy on the right is the head-rigger, giving cooking instructions to the chefs. Either that, or it's just a guy telling a tale a mile long to the young fellas, who, of course, are obliged to listen.


Oops, the chefs have just received an order from the ladies inside for brats and dawgs, or as I say, brats and barkers. So the two chefs have to kick into action, get the packages open, and get 'em on the coals. The guy on the left is General Robert E. Lee. I know that because I was talking to his father, also Robert E. Lee. Well, actually his dad said he was the general, and the kid was a buck private. But when I introduced myself to the kid, since he was cookin' and his old man was just yappin', I called him General and he loved it. Got a great super smile from him. Hey, bellies first.


Now the chefs go at it and work their magic, each brat and barker handled with tender, lovin' care. Look at 'em, these are two serious guys.


There you are Wisconsin, the Badger delicacies, brats and dawgs, or as I call them, brats and barkers. Note the chef --- no gloves like those pro football players. Here your hand has to have the feel of the brat through the tongs.


And, of course, burgers. The chefs backed away for just a moment to let me get a shot of these sweethearts. I like these chefs because they don't contaminate the brats-barkers with the burgers. They are each cooked separately! That's the way the pros do it. Once cooked, they head inside to the serving area.


I've stepped inside the tent attached to the fairground stands to saddle up and order. Lots of chit-chatting going on. had to move those guys aside to get to business.


Then we've got another tent, the dining room. Lots of tables to sit and eat, but of course you have most of the brawny guys standing around the heater telling their tales!

Okay, I've had a brat and brewski, got some warmth, and now back to work, outside.


This is your holding pen, where the next racers are lined up waiting to do their thing.


These guys are ready to go. My guess is this is not the fun part, standing around waiting, getting cold, thinking through the race, and all that.


But for some, there are issues.


Since a mechanic I am not, this looks like a big issue. Thank God, plenty of supervisors standing by.


This is a no foolin' around, serious business. These guys are in line for the next race. They're either tweaking, or they've got problems. The orange wire you see over the engine area is a static line --- very important for safety purposes.


The team with the yellow jackets, well they seem confident their machine is ready, though one guy is watching the trouble-shooting behind him that we just showed you. He is either wondering what those guys are doing or getting worried about what he ought to be doing instead of just standing there!


But then again, the "Yellow-Jackets" are carrying the US Marine Corps with them, which helps explain their confidence.


Lots of waiting. Nice shot of the gallery and the announcer's booth.


As you walk away from the holding pen, you see a long line of trailers, people working on their machines, preparing them to race. The guy left of center in the red-black has a cart and is wheeling his machine toward the holding pen.


These guys are working on their baby.

These next three shots show them working on their engine from close by. At one point they cranked her up pretty good and you had to cover your ears if near by.



Nice looks at the engine area in those two shots.

Well, that's a wrap on the 2009 Portage Ice Wars.


Always something to do, always something going on. Lots of fun.


And this is what it's all about, Alfie.