Fastest show on ice

The sound of revving engines, smell of exhaust and sight of snowmobiles practically flying down a patch of glassy ice are once again returning to the Magic City.

The Minot 660 Ice Racers, helmed by president Mike Weiskopf, kicks off its 11th season this weekend a mile west of the U.S. Highway 83 W. Bypass.

While lakes or rivers are often used for ice racing, the Minot club can also transform a slough into a suitable drag strip.

“We go out, find a big slough, clean it off, and shave it as nice and smooth as we can make it,” Weiskopf said. “We have the Portatree Christmas lights, just like NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), so everything is timed – your total time, your speed, everything.”

“It gives your reaction time, 60-foot time, miles per hour and total ET (elapsed time),” club member Troy Bertsch added.

Up to four snowmobiles can be raced at a time and the length of each drag race is 1/8 of a mile, or 660 feet, which is where the name of their club came from.

Weiskopf said some of the club members had been racing for years but there were no races held in the area. They all decided to start a club in order to hold annual races in Minot.

“Back in the ’70s and early ’80s there were races every week all over – Rugby, Drake, Bottineau, Minot. There were races all over and they kind of petered out so the club got formed and they started putting on races again in Minot,” Bertsch said. “We started out with one race a year and this year we’re going to hopefully have three weekends of racing in Minot (weather permitting).”

Weiskopf noted the club has also been hired to hold two other races out of state – in Detroit Lakes, Min., and the World Series Ice Drags in Oconto Falls, Wisc.

There are four different divisions of snowmobiles – stock, improved stock, pro stock and open mod. Each division has many different classes that are calculated by engine size.

Even with a completely stock machine, the only things a racer needs to enter a race are ice picks on the sled’s track so it doesn’t spin off the starting line and damage the ice, and a tethered kill switch so the machine is automatically shut off if the rider should fall off.

“If you have those two things on your snowmobile, we will find a place for you to race. Those two things are required,” Bertsch said. “And then of course your safety gear with your helmet and so forth.”

The top 1000 cc machines in the open mod class are capable of running a drag race in under 5 seconds at speeds around 140 mph.

Registration for racers is $25 per class per day, and races are 100 percent payback on entrance fees. For spectators, they are welcome to park their cars on the ice. There is a $5 entry fee per person, and children 12 and under are admitted for free.

“The races are announced through FM broadcast onto the car radios so there’s no reason that you have to leave the car other than of course to go get concessions,” Bertsch said. “We do have concessions at our races.”

They have also listened to feedback from races over the years and made an important change to the format this year. In past years there was one race run over two days, with qualifying heats held on Saturday and finals held on Sunday. This year there will be two races, one on each day.

“So there will be a final each day and you’re not required as a racer to race both days. You can race both or one or the other,” Bertsch said. “That’s something new to our club. We have never done this before.”

Bertsch said they decided to make the change after racers told them they often could only race one day or the other, but not both. Holding a single race over two days meant many racers couldn’t participate. It is hoped changing the format to having a full race on each day will improve racer turnout, which is already strong.

Bertsch said spectators who come out will be wowed by the sheer speed of the machines, and promises the afternoon of entertainment the club provides will be well worth it.

“It’ll be a good show,” he said.