The morning after Red Bull’s first-ever Frozen Rush truck race, all the roads leading to and from Newry, Maine were, in a word, harrowing. In the aftermath of the now-infamous Polar Vortex weather pattern the atmosphere had warmed slightly overnight and it had rained, consequently freezing a half-inch-thick sheet of ice onto every exposed surface in the region. It looked like a frozen-over hell. Salt trucks sort of helped; sanding the roads did a bit more. But what would have really given our puny rental car the grip it so desperately needed were massive off-road racing tires supplemented by 700 ice-hungry studs each. Though we couldn’t wrangle any studded rubber, we did survive the journey after regretfully bidding adieu to the Sunday River Ski Resort, the host of the wintry, spike-laden inaugural race.
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The Off Road Championship (TORC) is a short course off-road racing series sanctioned by the United States Auto Club that usually takes place on terrain more conventionally “off-road” than fresh winter powder. When most folks think of off-road anything, dirt tracks, gravel and mud come to mind, and, as far as the TORC series is concerned, that description is quite accurate. But Team Red Bull driver Ricky Johnson wanted to try something other than pushing these trucks hard in desert climes. In early 2013 he took a modified Pro 4 truck to the snow. That test run that served as the inception of the Frozen Rush race. It’s an entirely different ballgame to operate a racing vehicle (or really any vehicle) in frigid temperatures, and eight drivers were up to the challenge — the high-octane, eardrum-melting, snowy rooster tail-spraying, ramp jumping challenge — this year.
The race was head-to-head, bracketed and single-elimination, and the course was as fast as it was stunt-heavy. A slim figure-eight, the track climbed up a steep ski slope, weaving around lift pylons and skirting stands of evergreens. The trucks blasted through the starting gate and over a ramp, climbing up the hill and hitting the halfway-point hairpin turn before rocketing down the mountain at speeds in excess of 95 miles per hour (really think about that for a moment). Close to the bottom of the course they hit the aforementioned ramp and caught serious air before finishing with a drift around the final sweeping turn that created a massive tidal wave of snow in their wake.
The tires used on Frozen Rush trucks were heavily modified, much the same way Godzilla was a “modified” lizard.
The trucks that compete are the Pro 4 (four-wheel-drive) variety, each based on a full-size production vehicle but severely modified for competition. They rock fiberglass bodies, massive tires on equally massive suspensions that allow for long wheel travel, and engines modified to produce up to 900 horsepower. Should you need a reference point, major power like that means these are roughly (okay, very roughly) equivalent to an off-road Bugatti Veyron. Indeed, these are basically small and very fast monster trucks, their rip-snorting exhausts terrifying small children and sending plumes of steam and fresh powder high into the chilled air.
What makes them bite in the slippery stuff is a set of ultra-engineered, purpose-built truck racing tires. The BF Goodrich FR 2 tire is a 35-inch-tall, 12.5-inch-wide grip machine that’s seen duty on Pro 4 and Pro 2 (rear-wheel drive) trucks for some time. However, the tires used on Frozen Rush trucks were heavily modified, much the same way Godzilla was a “modified” lizard. The tires were designed with grooves made specifically for snow traction — some for steering, others for grip — and manufactured in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For the next major upgrade every one of the scores of tires was shipped overseas to Sweden, where tire-spiking pros drilled through the treads and installed alloy studs, cementing them in place with special epoxy. The tires are mounted on bead lock wheels only when the vehicles are traveling on snowy terrain, since the studs don’t play well with asphalt. Indeed, even the wintry terrain didn’t stand much of a chance. On our brief ride-along on a frozen lot in a Pro 2 truck with Johnson at the wheel, the ice covering the ground was reduced to nothing more than snow cone fodder.
The race itself was outstanding to behold, the sights, the sounds and the frigid temperatures all heightened by the roaring and excited crowd gathered on the slopes. Over three days we witnessed the glory of the trucks racing the clock, rode in one of the ferocious beasts, met drivers and summited the nearby slopes for prime track views. It was hard to pick out a true star of the event: driver Ricky Johnson with his close win, the specially-modified BF Goodrich tires and their grippy ski-slope hijinks, or the stupid-powerful behemoth machines themselves, each capable of incredible speed, wild drifting and vertical shenanigans. All we know is we’re already ready for next year.