The Lac La Biche Weekend
A perspective from the driver’s seat of Car 79 [March 11, 2006]

 

The F-1 world has the Monaco Grand Prix. Golf has the MASTERS. Ice racing has the Western Canadian Championship, and the weekend was a huge success as the weather and the crowds came together for some real speed and action on the ice. The action took place in front of the Lac La Biche town site on the lake. There were snowmobile drag races, Rebel Ice Races (motorcycle, sidecar, ATV), a hockey tournament, a kids winter carnival, and of course, the Western Canadian Championship Ice Races, all attended by the local and northern Alberta crowd. A hotel room was a luxury on this racing weekend, also dubbed the “Festival of Speed” by organizer and car racer Ken STAPLES.

 

The season started for me this weekend as it was my first car (race Chevette) ice race event of the year. Equipped with a helmet cam, a roof cam and the usual in-car cam, I was ready to tape the races from a variety of angles. The car I brought was the 2005 championship car, Car 79. It won both weekend races last year; however, the trophy is on a mantle somewhere in Ottawa, in Ferdinand’s living room. Could the car REPEAT? Is it the CAR or is it really just the DRIVER? No changes were made to the car. It was started on Friday afternoon, test-driven, loaded on the trailer and unloaded at the LLB track. Changes require thinking. Why mess with a successful car set-up?

 

With the usual high expectations and butterfly stomach as the flag dropped for Race #1, it did not take long to burst the balloon of great expectations. Corner 1, lap 1 saw my right front tire go flat as it was gouged by the car on my right in a sort of low speed metal “sandwich” series of events. Race over. Weekend Championship over, and I’ve only driven about 200 feet! After hobbling around the track on 3 tires, pulling into my pit and getting some tire-changing help from Car 67 (rubber class), I return for about 2 laps before the checkered flag is waved for car 54. Really lousy video to boot! At least I got a quick driving lesson by the series leader, as the track is new and the rest of the competition largely unknown. May as well get some video footage as well, as one never knows WHEN the camera may catch something incredible. On to race #2. After my (strategic) 9th place finish (also called last), I earn the pole position for Race #2. The race video is extremely boring, as there are no cars in sight during Race #2, going wire-to-wire and taking the win. More lousy video… This sets up an interesting starting grid for the next race. The Race #3 grid is set, not by the reversal of Race #2, but by the reversal of the season points to date. Hey, great stuff, I had no points until today! That puts me in P2 for Race #3.

 

Sunday morning. Starting in P2, I look in my mirror and see the ever dangerous combination of cars 54, 43 and 55 at the back of the 8 car, single file grid. They are so far back, when I look in my mirrors, I need my zoom lens to see them. I all but dismiss their chances and resign myself to a first or second place finish, the only battle to be with car #7 ahead of me. With an opportunity to over-take car 7 on Lap 2, I decide to back off and be patient as there is lots of time left in this race and besides, it’s between me and car 7, right? WRONG! After a few wide lines (mistakes) and a patient wait behind Car 7, Car 54 slips past me in the inside of Corner 3, lap2. Where in the *&%*# did HE come from (and all the way from dead last!)?  Oh yeah, the mirror reads “objects are closer than they appear”. Still with about 6 laps to go, I realize I better pick up the pace or 3rd place is no guarantee. Final lap, car 55 catches me and lightly bumps my rear bumper to remind me that one little mistake and he will grab 3rd from me. Thanks to a relatively narrow back straight with limited passing areas, I narrowly escape with 3rd place, about ½ car ahead of Car 55.

 

One more advantage to driving a Chevette (aside from getting the girls) is the opportunity to enter both RUBBER and CHEVETTE classes. That means twice the track time for Chevette owners. Chevette drivers use the RUBBER class races as extra practice and a time for fine-tuning our race techniques for the REAL race class. The ideal situation is a rubber race grid with a gaggle of Chevettes grouped together. The worse-case scenario is a Chevette gridded around a bunch of mid-pack FWD cars (those most likely to careen off snow banks at random under full throttle, full steering lock and almost zero control). We all know who THEY are and we all try to avoid racing THEM. Ironically, although I am successful in dodging the FWD demons, I end up crashing into another Chevette. That’s another story. The short version of the crash is that the cars were fixed up and raced the rest of the day in the damaged state. More importantly, both drivers, myself and Driver 43 had no ill effects from the crash.

 

Final race of the day sees the grid in order of points for the weekend, with most points gridded in P1. I am in a 3-way tie for 3rd place with Car 43 (Is he old enough to drive?) and Car 55 (“can’t drive 55”). The tie-break system puts me in 3rd, Car 43 I 4th and Car 55 in 5th, followed by Car 14, 6 and local crowd favorite, Car 73. After a miserable start, I realize on the front straight that my right hood pin is not connected. The hood is lifting up 4 to 8 inches and buffeting in the air at speed. While forced induction is good, aerodynamics of a barn door are BAD. The trade-off is a loss of about 10 km/h on the main straight. I am not SURE if the left hood-pin in connected of whether it is holding on due to the misaligned hood from the earlier crash. At any moment I expect the hood to come crashing over the windshield and wrap itself over the roof. This happened to me once in practice (and once while driving on 149 Street) and it is REALLY BAD for outward visibility! To makes things worse, my race is being taped by the ROOF-CAM, located exactly where the hood will wrap over the windshield. Now THAT will be 1.5seconds of GREAT video (smash!). The aerodynamic issue caught up with me as Car 43 and 55 eventually over-took the ailing Car 79 on the straight. I’ve got to fire that pit crew!

 

At the end of the weekend, Car 54 was the Champ as well as the series champ. Car 7 came second with a consistent series of finishes including his first career ‘Vette win Sunday morning. Car 43 (the kid) out drove the rest of us and took 3rd place. The prize money was attractive this year and should inspire more drivers next season as the LLB organizer doled out the following:

 

1st place:  $500

2nd place:  $300

3rd place:  $200

4th place:  $150

5th place:  $100

 

As well, we all got towing/travel money ($75) and RENTAL money ($100) for those cars opting for the charity race. All in all, a great festival of speed, and extremely well organized. Race video footage is available. Next up, the MONACO Grand Prix and the MASTERS… Have a great summer. / Car 79.