By Zachary Cormier
It was a fun day of racing on Gull Lake this past Valentine’s Day.
The Second Gear Club hosted their annual Gull Lake Oval Ice Race on Gull Lake near Rimbey on Sunday, allowing racers from all over the province to come test their skills.
“It’s sort of tradition. We don’t want to see the sport disappear. Oval ice racing has been in existence since the mid-70s, so it’s definitely a traditional sport here in Alberta,” said Rhonda Pechout, who is the event coordinator for the Second Gear Club.
As the name implies, oval ice racing takes place on a large oval race track on top of a frozen lake. Riders compete in a number of classes, including two-stroke and four-stroke bike classes and studded and non-studded ATV classes.
This year’s race, Pechout said, is the 10th the club has put on at Gull Lake over their 17 years of existence.
“It’s an official, sanctioned event through the Canadian Motorcycle Association, so each event accumulates points for an overall championship at the end of the year.”
According to Pechout, the club normally tries to put on between four and five ice races every year.
“We’ve had a couple of tough years due to lack of ice, but this year we’ve got good ice and we’re back rocking and rolling with it.”
About 100 racers and 500 spectators made the trip out to the northern part of Gull Lake in the unusually warm February weather to participate in a day full of racing and socializing.
“This is a fantastic spot to come and race and the other races in the series were at Pigeon Lake, so this is our third one now,” said Brian Roberts, a Blackfalds-based rider who races predominantly in the studded bike classes.
This is Roberts’ first year racing in the Oval Ice series, though he has competed in Hare Scramble events with the Second Gear Club and Rocky Motorcycle Club.
“We’re hooked. It’s fun. It’s too fun,” he laughed, adding that the opportunity to continue to race during the winter is a welcome one.
“That’s kind of the neatest thing about this, you know? You can buy a toy, like a bike like this, and you can play all year.”
According to Roberts, racing on a slick ice surface on a dirt bike is actually fairly similar to driving on dry asphalt, as long as you have the right equipment.
“With the studs that we’re running it’s almost like running on dry pavement,” he said, motioning towards the tires on his bike. Each of them has large, metal spikes covering its surface to dig into the ice.
“The traction is unbelievable. We’re taking them corners in and around 100 kilometres an hour and it’s holding that. You would have to be on a pretty good sport bike to do the same thing.”
Not only do the riders go into the sharp, oval corners at high speeds, they are also often surrounded by three to four other riders trying to do the exact same thing.
“As the day wears on, it gets rough and there’s snow on the track from the giant margarita makers here. You’ve got to watch that for traction, but if you can get on good ice, you’ve got lots of traction,” Roberts said, again motioning to his tires.
The first two races of the series took place on Pigeon Lake, northeast of Ponoka and the fourth and final race goes on Feb. 28th. The location of the final race has not yet been announced.