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UMIRA,Ice Racing,Upper Peninsula

U.P. Ice Racing Slides into Winter Schedule

By Stephen King

On Saturday, Jan. 9, I had the pleasure of attending the first Upper Michigan Ice Racing Association (UMIRA) race of the season. Each Saturday, they run races in Gwinn in the central Upper Peninsula.

These races are on an ice oval track nearly a quarter mile long. Here, motorcycles and quads compete to find out who is the best driver on the ice each Saturday. These are not snowmobiles. However, with the magazine’s upcoming change in format, which will include ORVs, I thought this was most appropriate. Watching racing, visiting with the racers, flirting with the pretty girls, it’s kind of what I do. I know it’s a tough job, but I do my best.

This is the second season for this track, which started with an idea. Some local racers — Steven and Zach Keverns, John Kay and a few others — had the idea of bringing ice racing to Gwinn.

Steven worked with local government, so they kind of had an “in.” It still took more than a plan. They had to make a presentation to the township board for approval to build a track. The proposition was approved.

UMIRA,Ice Racing,Upper Peninsula

The track was to be built on a few acres owned by the township just off downtown. The pine plantation-type land needed to be cleared so a track could be built. A local logger was contacted. He agreed to harvest the trees and donate the money from the timber to the township. (It’s the U.P. We get logging off a few acres of trees. Kind of what we do up here.). Then, with the trees gone, they got another contractor to remove the stumps and level the land. With that done, water was added, and an ice oval was born.

Last year, they had this ground-level, shack-like structure where scorers could watch the race. A ground-level shack is not the best vantage point for scorers. This past summer, a two-story building was erected. The scorers now have a better view, and registration people and staff have a nice warm place to work.

They did an excellent job of designing this track for fans, too. The pits and the scoring shack are on one side, about a third of the track. On the back side, there is parking all the way around.

If you get there early and get a place on the edge of the track, you can sit in your car and watch the race. Most cool. Or, maybe, most warm. Instead of standing out in the cold to watch the race, you can sit in your nice warm car and enjoy the show.

You don’t even have to roll down the window to listen to the race because they broadcast the announcer over FM radio. Not only can you sit and watch the race; you can also sit and listen to the announcer talk about the racing as it is happening. Again, most cool.

UMIRA,Ice Racing,Upper Peninsula

This is for motorbikes and quads — no sleds. But they are talking about this. The only problem with sleds is that they tear up the track, which makes it unusable for the bikes and the quads, bikes especially. Some of them do have studs on them. When the tires lose contact with the ice, things can go sideways in a hurry. So, having sleds out there making things go bump would not be a good thing.

However, with this being the U.P., we all ride sleds. They are talking about adding on to the facility and building a track just for sleds. This is just talk now and probably won’t happen this season. But next year? Maybe.

Back again to who can race. When talking to John Kay, he noted, “We have racers from ages 4 to 78. So, if you want to race, we will find a class for you.”  John also noted they have various classes according to the size of the bike and with or without studs.

Another question was about practice, which now is an hour or two before the race. You can get out there and get the feel for the track, which will help you in keeping to the sticky side on the track, the shiny side up, and not putting track marks on your body.

I met a couple of racers. One was little Chaz Carlson, who is 6. When I met him, he was sitting on his quad, waiting his turn. A few minutes later, I got to watch him on the track. He was racing, with a huge smile on his face. For him, it was the big time, the big track. The crowd cheering him on. Way cool. The kid was having a blast.

UMIRA,Ice Racing,Upper Peninsula

I also had the good fortune of talking with Tyler May, who is a bit older but new at this whole racing thing. He, too, was having a blast. He asked me, “Did you see me wipe out? Corner 2 seemed to be the place today.” Of course, I did. He spun out with style, got back up and kept racing. Way to go, Tyler. On this day, after a few spills, Tyler still managed to take a second in the Quad Amateur Rubber Class.

Finally, there was Kristy Kerstner. She came into the scoring shack at the end of the day to pick up her winnings. One of the guys in the shack asked, “Did you beat up on all of those guys again?” Kristy grinned and said, “Almost all of them.” She took a second in the Q2 Rubber Class for Quads.

Kristy is 26 and has been racing for 14 years. For sure, she is one of the best racers on the circuit. I found out she is from Rapid River and coaches girls’ volleyball. I thought I had run into her before when I was a sports reporter for various EUP newspapers.

But, this day, Kristy was a racer who had had a pretty good day. She was happy.

UMIRA,Ice Racing,Upper Peninsula

As were most of the people here. This is not a big-drama, big-time race. It is the U.P. We Yoopers love our racing but are really cool about it. No drama. No huge purses. No big companies. Just a bunch of Yoopers hanging out and playing on a track. Just out having fun doing what we love to do.

If you happen to be in the Gwinn area this winter, they will be racing most Saturdays from now until mid-March. Races start about noon. They are literally right in the middle of town. Just stop at the gas station and ask; everyone knows where it is. If you are on a sled, it is right beside Trail 8.

Also, this is inexpensive entertainment — only $5 for a carload; $10 if you want to get into the pit area. For less than the cost of a burger, you and the family can go and watch a race from the comfort of your car. What a deal, eh!

For more information, contact John Kay at (906) 458-7636. Or you can find UMIRA on Facebook. Or just show up. It’s the U.P.; we’re good on that up here. No invite needed.

1 thought on “U.P. Ice Racing Slides into Winter Schedule”

  1. We would like to come to this event but what is the address we are from southern Michigan and not firmiliar with that are.

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