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Finding Minnesota: High-Speed Racing On Frozen Lakes

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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RUSH CITY, Minn. (WCCO) — At a time when most drivers become more cautious and more attentive to their brakes, there are others who prefer to hit the gas.

They’re the ones who create race tracks on frozen lakes so they can take slippery turns over and over again.

“It’s a feeling like no other in any other form of racing I’ve ever done,” said veteran ice racer Mark Utecht. “We’re going through some corners at 80, 90, 100 miles an hour.”

Competitors pay to race on weekends in Minnesota, simply for the adrenaline rush.

They have to handle not only the ice beneath the tires, but also the cloud of ice chips flying into the windshield.

“Sometimes you are driving blind,” said Utecht. “When the studded tires are spinning on the ice, they’re breaking out little chips of ice. It’s like crushed ice and that’s very, very heavy and it comes up off the tires.”

The racing weekends feature sprint races with a set number of laps and endurance races with a set amount of time – as long as two hours.

Utecht is the mayor of Stacy, and he’s been racing for nearly 30 years, with his wife as team manager.

“Sometimes it’s more about the people than it is the actual racing,” he said.” Almost all of our friends are from racing.”

Minnesota has a couple of ice racing groups.

Pete Tavernier is president of one of them, the International Ice Racing Association.

“One lap will hook you in for life,” Tavernier said. “It takes a day or two to get (the courses) plowed out and get all the pit lanes and the paddocks for all the race trailers and all that kind of stuff.”

Racers wear helmets and their cars are required to have safety features like roll cages, harnesses and fire extinguishers.

Tavernier said few injuries have been reported during Minnesota’s ice races but rollovers occasionally happen.

“There’s an inherent risk in all forms of racing,” Utecht said. “It’s just trying to minimize that risk as much as possible.”

It’s a risk that many drivers are willing to take because their time on the ice is limited.

“Come spring, the course is gone,” said Utecht, “and the next year we build a new course, a little different.”

The International Ice Racing Association has three more weekends of races this season.

They’ll be on Lake Superior in Thunder Bay on Feb. 8 & Feb. 9, followed by Lake Mille Lacs and then Madison Lake in Mankato at the end of the month.

If you have a Finding Minnesota idea, let us know here.

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