Ice, Ice, Baby
One of the most appealing aspects of owning a Jeep is that they can be used for so many purposes. Trail rides and four wheeling are the most obvious, and Jeeps excel at these tasks. But there are so many other things that Jeeps can be used for. And the members of the Our Gang Club have found yet another use for the Jeep to add to its impressive resume of winning wars, hunting, farming, and even delivering the mail! They outfit their vehicles with studded tires and race them on a frozen lake in Georgetown, Colorado, 40 miles west of Denver in the Rocky Mountains.
We headed out to one of the races to see if the Jeeps could be competitive against all-wheel-drive cars sporting turbocharged engines and low-slung center of gravities. We realized that that not only are the Jeeps competitive, they dominate the races. Like any Jeep, though, a few modifications were made along the way to make them more capable at their chosen task of speeding across ice and making hairpin turns at 40 miles per hour.
Building a competitive ice racing Jeep is entirely different than building a Jeep for the trail rides that we regularly feature in Jp magazine. Instead of a supple suspension and deep gearing, your Jeep needs to have a high-revving engine and cutting brakes. That doesn't mean that you cannot have a Jeep that can do everything, but these are the features you will want before you hit the ice races.
While different courses are used at different events, many track configurations require the ability to make super-tight turns. The ability to lock up an individual front wheel with a switch or lever will facilitate the necessary turning.
High Pressure Steering
It is easy to cavitate the factory pump when repeatedly going lock-to-lock through tight turns. To combat this problem, most racers use huge NASCAR-style steering pumps and high-volume reservoirs.
A flatfender with an otherwise stock suspension can be considerably faster with the addition of front and rear antisway bars to improve handling. Stock car-type units from Speedway Motors are the norm.
Most competitive Jeeps use V-8 engines and automatic transmissions, with high-revving small-block Chevys being the most common.
Yes, we said lowered. With the simple leaf-sprung suspension under most Jeeps, this is just a matter of adding blocks between the axles and springs and running longer U-bolts. Ground clearance is not an issue on flat ice.
A six-point cage is necessary for any open-top vehicle. Helmets are also required in all classes, and five-point harnesses are mandatory in the Cheater Class. Competition class vehicles must also have an easily-accessible battery shut-off switch like you would see at the drag strip.
It is advantageous to make your Jeep as light as possible, with the weight as close to the center of the vehicle and as low as possible. This allows for lightning-fast turns in the corners.
Like any other form of motorsports, you cannot expect to dominate your first time out. Practice is the key to improvement. Try to focus on being smooth and fluid instead of going as fast as you can.