75 miles north of Portland, Maine lies the small, secluded town of Newry. With a population barely in the 300s, and the Sunday River ski resort as the town’s only notable attraction, it’s the last place you’d expect to see any form of motorsport. Yet, come early January you can hear the savage howl of racing V8s resonate through the ski slopes and there’s the smell of combustion in the air.
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It hasn’t taken long for the handful of 900 horsepower Pro 4 trucks to rev their engines at the starting line of Red Bull’s Frozen Rush. The event dates back to 2013, when Red Bull asked team driver Ricky Johnson to try demonstrating the abilities of his Trophy Truck out in the snow. “Two years ago we went out to Sierra Tahoe and said, let’s just see if it can do it. It might get stuck — [the truck] is 4,000 pounds — we don’t know if it’ll look stupid”, Johnson commented.
I went out there and had the time of my life, so last year we said, let’s come to Sunday River, get eight of the best guys in Pro 4 out and go racing.
Apparently the Red Bull team liked what they saw. Johnson says that “it looked good, it sounded good — just the sound of the motor going up the hill, and speed going up the hill is something different that you don’t normally see.” After what might have been the world’s most entertaining R&D, Red Bull decided to take it a step further: design a track and do an exhibition at Mount Snow in Vermont, where Ricky Johnson would once again see what the 900 horsepower behemoth could do. “The whole idea was don’t tip the car, don’t do anything stupid so we can progress the program. I went out there and had the time of my life, so last year we said, let’s come to Sunday River, get eight of the best guys in Pro 4 out and go racing.”
But you don’t just run 900 ponies on ice and snow and expect to get anywhere any time soon, as Johnson quickly found out. “We went there and I said, I want to try with no studs, I think I can just do it. It didn’t work. I went about five feet and I buried the thing to the axels.” Traction was one of the team’s biggest hurdles, but a solution came in the form of BF Goodrich rubber that looks more like a medieval torture device than a tire. They’re unlike any other tire used in any other form of motorsport — each has 700 metal studs that are twice as long as those used for snow and ice stages in WRC.
Number of Competitors: 9
Notable Drivers: Ricky Johnson, Bryce Menzies, Brian Deegan, Rob MacCachran and Scott Douglass
Format: Single Round Elimination, Head to Head
First Round Laps: 2
Semi Final Round Laps: 4
Final Round Laps: 6
Course Length: .75 Miles
Total Jumps: 12
Avg Lap Time (In Qualifying): 48.4 Seconds
Normally, when you put down a lot of power on ice, you get a lot of revs and wheel spin but not a lot of speed. However, when you have 700 weapons of mass traction sticking out of your tires, power is instantaneous and the Pro 4 trucks can hit 60 in 3 seconds. But one man’s boost is another man’s bane. Since each wheel becomes a high-octane Italian Ice machine, they kick up a lot of powder and ice chunks. The problem is twofold: a rooster tail of frost gets in the helmet of the driver in chase, hindering visibility (this is combated by mandated flaps behind the wheels, though it doesn’t solve the problem entirely), and as the day goes on the track gets chewed up, and piloting the course becomes increasingly more difficult.
“When you gas at first, the 900 horsepower just wants to dig in”, notes motocross legend Brian Deegan, who was one of the newcomers to this year’s Frozen Rush. “You know, you’re sliding, pushing, the traction is not as good and [the course] changes every lap, so you really have to adapt.” The unpredictability of the track’s surface just becomes another element among the course’s many tribulations.
But uneven surfaces aren’t the only factor at play here. Keeping a solid frame of reference can spell the difference between a devastatingly quick lap time and a devastating accident. “The thing about snow is that the color is so consistent: it’s white, it’s white, it’s white unless we get close to mud and it becomes dirty”, Johnson says. “It’s a lot harder to read, especially at these speeds.”
When you’re given a few SnoCats, a ski slope and free reign to design a challenging track however you please, things begin to look a bit like Mario Kart.
The last portion of the course at Sunday River is a long, downhill straight where the highest speeds are reached, somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 to 100 miles an hour. Though it may seem slouchy compared to more traditional forms of motorsport, Frozen Rush’s course is more like an obstacle course than a race track. When you’re given a few SnoCats, a ski slope and free reign to design a challenging track however you please, things begin to look a bit like Mario Kart. The end result includes several large gap jumps, chicanes and slaloms, and spectators and drivers alike have plenty to get excited about.
Everything about Frozen Rush feels as much spectacle as it does race. Laps are now run head to head (last year staggered starts kept the two trucks at a safe distance), so trading paint isn’t uncommon. The crowd goes insane when one truck flies over the other at the aptly named “jump over” section of the track. Drifts are accompanied by massive clouds of powder. Throw in several of the world’s greatest off-road racers competing for bragging rights, and baby, you’ve got yourself a racing series in the making.