MIRA racers left in cold

Leader editor

The third and final day of snowmobile races in the Menominee Ice Challenge was canceled Sunday because of poor track conditions.

"The race track just disintegrated," during Saturday's featured race, said Karl Schwartz of Saginaw, Mich., president of the Midwest International Racing Association.

The cancellation of the races, along with other problems, prompted Shawano Area Chamber of Commerce officials to call off the Northern Exposure winter festival Sunday. (See story on Page A1.)

MIRA officials made the decision — which disappointed several dozen racers — after inspecting the track early Sunday morning.

There wasn't enough ice to safely race a third day, Schwartz explained.

"Our snowmobiles don't race on snow, they race on ice," he said.

Some teams took the opportunity to run hot laps before loading up their rigs and heading home.

The lack of ice on the Shawano County Fairgrounds track would have made it difficult for drivers to control the sleds, Schwartz said. The bare track would also damage the expensive carbide runners on the pro sleds, he added.

The track problems became apparent during the feature race Saturday afternoon, the Menominee Ice Challenge. The race was supposed to last 250 laps, but the ice had become so worn down during several races Friday night and Saturday that one of the sleds actually cut the through an antenna used in the lap-counting systems, which was buried in ice on the track.

The sleds carry transponders, and the antenna reads the signal given off by the unit. The laps are automatically scored, in the same NASCAR laps are counted.

The cut was discovered on lap 146, said Ivan Hansen, a MIRA board member. The race was stopped for just over an hour while the antenna was repaired. Race officials decided to cut the race short, to 175 laps. The competitors were restarted at lap 140.

"The ice conditions out there were a little marginal because of Mother Nature," Hansen said.

Hansen also attributed poor track conditions, ironically, on the record number of teams that showed up to participate.

"Friday there was a lot of sleds here, and it just clears (the ice) out," Hansen said. "And for the enduro race, we had 21 (sleds) last year, and there were 31 this year. It just takes away the ice."

The decision to call off Sunday's races, which include events for teens, sportsmen and pro stock sled competition, disappointed several teams that had waited two days to race.

"Some were upset, some understood," Schwartz said. "Our sprint program of professionals, amateurs and teens, those team race under our group, and they've been sitting and waiting for their turn, and it's not going to come, and they're justifiably disappointed."

But Schwartz noted there was a MIRA record turnout of race teams for this event, and noted that he and other racers were extremely impressed with the organization and race preparations.

"This was our biggest race in four years, in terms of participants," Hansen said.

Al Stachura of the Menominee Casino-Bingo-Hotel, which sponsors the races, said that except for the track difficulty, everything else went extremely well.

"It was far beyond my expectations," Stachura said, noting that some of the top snowmobile racers in the world came here for the event.

"This put Shawano on the map, in the racer's eyes," Stachura said.

This weekend's event was the first of MIRA tour.

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By Kent Tempus
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