The fast and the furious … and the frozen

A group of four vintage snowmobile racers take off from the starting line during Fire on Ice near MacDowall on Saturday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert resident Albert Ratti is kicking back and relaxing after whirling around an oval track located roughly a kilometer south of MacDowall for most of Saturday afternoon.

He’s one of roughly 60 competitors who braved the cold and the wind to race snowmobiles older than all of the kids and a few of the adults in attendance. The atmosphere is warm and friendly inside the MacDowall Lions Recreation Centre, where many of the racers have gathered to listen to the final results. That marks a start contrast from where it was just a few hours earlier.

“When you’re out there, it’s race time,” Ratti chuckles. “It’s game on.”

Although they’re a competitive bunch, racers also have a friendly side that extends to spectators, paramedics and yes, even their fellow drivers.

Ratti says they all share a passion for racing and snowmobiles, which means the post-race talk quickly turns to logistics or mechanical problems. Everyone’s competitive, he says, but they also love to help.

“This is a great group of people that we have racing with us,” he explains. “Everybody is willing to help everybody else out and make their day successful too.”

Ratti runs a super-stock sled that was originally built in 1975. That means it has a few safety updates to things like the skies and rear suspension. However, the engine has to be original, at least externally. On the inside, full modifications are allowed.

It’s this mechanical aspect that Ratti enjoys the most.

“The best thing is testing my mechanical abilities (and) making something go fast,” he says.

For racers like Ratti, speed is the name of the game, but for venue hosts and race organizers, it’s all about the weather. The previous three years of racing ran from picturesque conditions with powder snow, to warm weather systems that turned the track to slush.

On one occasion, the MacDowall race was cancelled outright, but balancing the ever-changing weather patterns is something drivers and venue hosts learn to deal with.

“Our first year was kind of wishy-washy,” remembers MacDowall and District Recreation Foundation chairman Dwayne Neudorf. “We were new. We didn’t know what (to expect). Every year is different because of the weather.”

Neudorf and the recreation foundation are responsible for hosting the MacDowall race every year. It’s just one stop on the Saskatchewan Vintage Oval Racing Association’s (SAVORA) provincial circuit.

Saturday’s weather didn’t faze him, and he’s glad to see it didn’t faze the spectators either.

“With the temperature today, I was pleased with the people who showed up. It was cold. It was windy,” he says, then stops and begins chuckling. “The snowmobilers like it. They like the cold weather, but the spectators, well…”

In total, Neudorf estimates that 400 people came through the gate on Saturday, judging by the number of wristbands given out and waiver forms signed. They’ll have to wait a few more months for the final financial results, but thanks to volunteers and “diehard sledders,” he’s hopeful things will turn out well.

But even if they don’t, he’s grateful that they came out scot-free in the most important area.

“We had a lot of sleds this year, and we had no accidents,” he says. “The ambulance was quite.”

Thierman Financial