David Burnham, president of the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club, competes in a home-built yellow racer fitted with a vintage Maserati engine. [credit:
Gregory Leporati ]
For most New Yorkers, a frozen Lake George signals the onset of winter and some of the year’s most brutal weather. But for a handful of upstate gear heads, the ice represents something completely different: the perfect race track. “This is my favorite time of the year!” shouts Paul Dudley on a chilly February morning. He revs up his ’99 Mazda Miata and peels out onto the frozen lake, running laps along a makeshift course marked by cones along the ice. His stripped-down Miata—”a Miata on an 800-pound diet,” he jokes—is fitted with studded tires that dig into the ice, providing significant grip while kicking a thick mist into the air on every turn.
For Dudley, and more than 100 other drivers like him, these ice races are the ultimate adrenaline rush. They are also emblematic of what the country’s grassroots racing scene has become: a unique but increasingly accessible way for hobbyists to fuel their need for speed.
“This is probably the most economical form of racing,” says Michael Westhouse, the vice president of the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club (AMEC), the local organization that has hosted the races since 1965. “You don’t need a racing license. All you need is a helmet and some snow tires and you’re all set.” AMEC hosts races for nine different classes, including home-built vehicles, modified cars with studded tires, and even street-legal cars, which cautiously navigate each twist and turn with virtually no traction.