The month of January is definitely a season for outdoor activities with lots of clothes on. Someone recently told me that the most fun you can possibly have in an old car – with your clothes on – is travelling sideways on a frozen lake.
It’s a dark, cold, wet and blustery time of year. Sitting here in Denmark, one can only ponder why anyone ever decided to settle down at these latitudes in the first place. The answer could of course be that they arrived here in July and let themselves succumb to the fabulous Danish summer. Either that or they simply wanted to prove that establishing a settlement and a purposeful life here was indeed possible?
But we’re here now – even after multiple generations – and as owners of classic cars, this gloomy time of year can seem even more sinister. Not because it’s cold – we got used to that a long time ago – but because the weather couldn’t be bothered to give us a proper winter with suitably low temperatures. If only it had, a thick layer of snow and ice would have now covered fields, lakes and creeks. In this utopia, it would be all too easy to find something sensible to entertain oneself with: Such as a full weekend of ice racing in that old car which is otherwise just parked up in the garage.
It’s an almost ancient discipline, which has been practiced heavily in areas near the polar circle. Canada, North America, Sweden, Norway and Finland all have strong traditions in abusing cars on icy surfaces. And while it might sound a bit odd, even France got stuck into ice racing at various ski resorts. They’ve even gone as far as hosting the final of their ice racing championship at the national stadium Stade de France in Paris – on artificial snow and ice, naturally.
Ice racing is supposedly impeccable training for normal racing on tracks in the rain. Which might explain the touch of stardom which the ice circuits have experienced with Formula 1 celebrities such as Alain Prost, Oliver Panis and Pedro Rodríguez participating in races. But traditionally, ice racing has often been an amateur sport exercised mostly – or even solely – for the entertainment factor. However, there was previously two proper and official championships: One in America which was held in Alaska, and another in Europe taking in various venues.
Besides long wooly underwear, the most important equipment is a helmet and not least the correct tyres. The tyres used in ice racing are vicious devises – especially those with inch-long metal studs.
The cars were divided up into several different classes, and there were also races for cars using studded tyres and those that didn’t. Just about any car which excelled at off-road driving would have certain advantages on ice too. Blowing snow in general, but of course also clouds of pulverized ice being kicked up by other cars, could limit visibility severely, so cars needed high intensity lighting both front and rear. As speeds increased this was essential.
In those classes using tyres without studs, the reduction in traction meant it was often be the cars weight that was the deciding factor. Very light cars with front wheel drive had obvious advantages in these classes.
What say you? Wouldn’t it be brilliant with a day on the lake in your old classic car? Plenty of hot chocolate and Danish pastry in between the various heats, cold red cheeks, and lots of laughter while we rub our hands together in an attempt to stay warm.
It’ll probably remain a dream, as this year’s Danish winter is rather weak and it’ll soon enough be spring. But that is of course a totally different matter…
Feature picture by Malcolm Griffiths.