By Jeffrey V. Smith
For more than 40 years, members of the Our Gang 4 Wheelers—a self-described “little band of weirdoes” —have been holding races on ice, and having a ton of fun doing it. Except for its first three years, the club’s events have occurred on Georgetown Lake. Its members, many of whom have had relatives involved for decades, consist of volunteers who join to help put on the ice races, organize the events and attend meetings. Membership is not required to take part events during their six weekend season. Just follow the rules, pay the $20 fee and its off to the races. Even better, spectators can show up anytime to observe the action for free on the ice.
Our Gang’s first season was held in 1977 at Twin Lakes where it continued until 1980 when the regular season races were moved to Georgetown. The club started by hosting three events, and has gradually increased its season to six weekends in its 41st year. That comes to 78 regular season races, four championship events, a kid’s race and two “Fun Days.”
The group uses a “heads-up” style of racing that can be traced back to about 1965 when “a group of guys” got together to try driving on a frozen pond above Central City. Eventually, someone put chains on their tires and the idea to go fast and race each other was born. New ways to get traction were developed, and the group of ice racers grew. The Rat Patrol was soon formed and over the next decade, began to evolve the hobby into a unique sport. Races were held on Crystal Lake/Pine Junction and St. Mary’s Glacier.
A “heads-up” method was created to allow drivers to race one another without the problems wheel-to-wheel racing brings, especially on ice. A dog bone-shaped track has been used since ice racing started, and it is unknown who designed it.
“Most of our members work for the love of ice racing, and for their friends and family who love to race too,” club President Lisa Bashline Lannerd said. “But, there are also perks for donating their time and effort; they have the ability to vote on issues, they can purchase discounted prepays for entry—or free entry in some positions with a higher workload—and they can participate in ‘Fun Day Happy Hours.’ We are pretty relaxed, so it’s really whoever has the time… There’s not a lot of politics.” Lannerd and her sister were exposed to ice racing at an early age—her parents are running their 40th season with Our Gang this year. “My dad was big into Jeeps and 4-wheeling so, he spent a lot of time with the local shops around town,” she said. “He met a guy from work who said you ought to see what my crazy brother in law does—and he was an ice racer. So, my dad came up and watched one race, and I think he was hooked.” The girls grew up at the races and began driving as soon as they had their permits. This season, they are both at the top of leader board.
The Our Gang races have three divisions: competition, professional street and street. There are separate races for men and women. A wide range of cars, from normal all-wheel-drive street vehicles to extremely modified Jeeps with studs and “cheaters,” can participate.
“On Sundays, we have the most popular class for beginners and that’s just regular street cars racing heads up with regular tires,” Lannerd explained. “From there, you can step up through the ranks. We have the Street Class—street cars with street tires—but then we have the Pro Street Class. It’s street cars, but they are starting to advance their competitiveness and buying special ice driving tires or studded tires. Then, you can keep going all they way up to my class, which is purpose built race cars with the tires and a lot of experience behind the wheel.” She says, to begin, if you have a street car with regular tires, all wheel drive, a driver’s license and pay the fee, you can come up and race.
For the drivers who participate, there is a undeniable, unmatched thrill to driving fast, and drifting, on the ice. “It’s definitely something you wouldn’t think of, just from watching it from the side lines, but especially with the [cheater] bolts, when you are stuck down to the ice like that, and you have that much horse power, and then you turn left; it’s something I haven’t felt in any other area of my life,” Lannerd said. “I think [the thrill of it] comes for me when I’m sitting at the starting line and you push the peddle and they lift the flag, that’s when I feel it.”
The energy is definitely different when your competing, according to Lannerd. “Even in the bare rubber level, people think it’s going to be really slow and boring,” she said. “But, when you are in the car driving, you are very busy. I think the best way to experience it is to actually do it. This is local or grassroots racing to the core. You are not going to get rich doing it. We are all doing this for fun and most of us have been friends for decades. It’s all about the love of the sport and having a good time.”
For those not into racing or driving on the ice at high speeds, it’s free to watch others do it, and it’s surprisingly entertaining. “We are just off the highway, and you can come see a really unique sport,” Lannerd said, “but, you also still get to be outside in Colorado in the winter time. It’s just something you can cross off your bucket list. You get to walk on a frozen lake and watch some crazy people racing cars.”
There is also the competitive aspect. “You can watch that lap and that finish between those two drivers and the advancing of the brackets,” Lannerd explained. “I think that’s an exciting element for people to watch as well. It’s not just numbers on a board or anything like that. It has that drag racing or NASCAR feeling and has that ‘heads up’ competitiveness to it.”
For spectators, the competition division featuring “purpose built” cars with studded tires or “cheaters,” which are one and half-inch bolts, are some of the most exciting. The cars are based on a CJ-3A Willys model from 1949. “But, really all that’s left of that original Jeep is maybe the frame, the axles and the body. Everything else is specialize race car engine, chasse, suspension, all that stuff,” Lannerd said. “If you like that, and you want to get into the high speed cheaters and stuff, there is a lot more customizations that come with it.” Most of the participating racers are from the Front Range and metro area as well as Wellington, Parker and Colorado Springs and well as some regulars from Summit County.
Racing Schedule – 41st Season
Georgetown Lake – Georgetown , CO
Races Start: 9:30am
Spectators are free/$20 per driver per class
Use Interstate 70 exit 228. Racing takes place at the far east side of the lake, by the dam, and is easily visible from the road.
• Feb 4: Studs & Cheaters
• Feb 5: Bare Rubber @ Georgetown Lake
• Feb 11: Studs & Cheaters
• Feb 12: Bare Rubber & Kid’s Race
• Feb 25: Studs & Cheaters
• Feb 26: Bare Rubber & Go for the Bronze
• March 3: Fun Day for Practice (11am-4pm)
• March 4: Studs, Go for the Gold, Go for the Silver & Cheaters
• March 5: Cheater Invitational & Bare Rubber
Originally published in the February 2017 issue of the MMAC Monthly