Well, folks, it looks like I owe you all an apology. As some of you may remember, back in November I showed you the Thunder Road Speed Bowl and its frankly epic endurance race: a 200-lap, carnage-laden spectacle of epic proportions. While this part may not be in print, I may have, from time to time, also referred to it as the pinnacle of motorsport. On the 20th of January, in a small New Hampshire town, it became apparent that, for the first time ever, I was wrong. For that, I apologize, and I hope you guys can forgive me.
You see, in northern New Hampshire there’s a town called Groveton. In Groveton, in a field next to the Connecticut River, sits a little paved oval known as Speedway 51. During its normally scheduled season, you’ll find the same great racing that you’d find at Thunder Road, with many of the same drivers and cars — though it has a couple subtle differences, like an increased track length and different corner banking. While the longer straightaways normally allow racers to reach higher speeds, speed isn’t really the name of the game for this adventure.
That’s because this adventure is called the Winter Blast 100. This is pretty similar to the endurance race I described back in November, though it has two important distinctions. One, the rules are a little more relaxed (more on that in a minute), and two, the event was held in New England during the month of January. I’m guessing you can see where this is going. They may run a plow truck around the course, but I’m not sure they actually did. Endurance Racing On Ice (well, snow).
Before we talk about how the event went, let’s take a look back at this phrase: "The rules are a little more relaxed." How much more relaxed could they possibly get? Well, let’s see how small of a space I can fit all of the actual requirements in:
- No chains, studs or loading your tires. (I assume "loading" means adding weight inside the tire)
- If your car is 4WD or AWD, it must be disconnected.
- No sanders if you’re bringing a school bus. ("school bus," you say?)
- Working seat belts (this sounds like a good idea)
- Remove all glass except the windshield.
- Chain or weld shut your doors.
- Cut a 16-inch hole in your hood (presumably to aid in extinguishing fires).
- Put a fire extinguisher in your car (presumably to aid in extinguishing fires).
- You must wear a helmet and gloves
- No reinforcing anything other than the passenger compartment
- No alcohol (presumably to aid in not starting fires).
- Secure your decorations and keep the battery under the hood.
Other than some additional recommendations, that’s it. A dozen rules. Here’s the full rules and regulations page.
Now, let’s talk about this particular event. An incredible motley crew of one hundred and five cars entered the ring of doom. They ranged from a Toyota Yaris that was being driven like a battering ram to a 1970s Suburban that, without its 4WD system, found itself buried in the infield, to pretty much everything in between. Perhaps not surprising to anyone, there was a huge amount of carnage, a large portion of which occurred in the first 50 percent of the race.
There were plenty of highlights, though! For instance, one Buick Roadmaster wagon caught fire. While trying to get to the car, the tow truck on the scene managed to get stuck, too. After the race began again, two cars (an EG Civic hatchback and a second-generation Nissan Altima) were neck and neck. Since the field had thinned out considerably by that point, some actual honest-to-goodness racing occurred as they fought to secure the lead. For a dozen or so laps, it was a great cat-and-mouse game, with infield passes and traffic getting in the way, until a front tire gave out on the Nissan and slowed it down considerably. The edge of the track surface where it met the infield was accidentally (intentionally?) turned into a jump, so it was a pretty rough ride every time you were forced to dive for the center of the track.
Between the terrible surface and the infield jumps, this race was torture on tires and suspension. There were a large portion of cars whose major failing was blown tires. One Impala blew its tire clean off the rim, which worked fine until it became bogged down on the front straight and couldn’t move anymore. Many others just shuffled their way into the middle. Some broke more than just the tire and ran as long as they could with the front tires pointing in different directions. None of these failures were quite as epic as the Buick pictured below. This car ran in that configuration for about the last third of the race. And ran well. It passed many cars, and it was even still going strong when the race ended — where it was only 6 laps behind.
In the end, 17 cars survived, and it was the same EG hatchback that was fighting for first midway through the race that took the win, this time in a heated battle against a Pontiac Grand Prix.
So if you were ever wondering what it took to top the fabulous endurance race, the answer is: Add snow.
While at the event I took a few videos, which I’ve stitched together here for your viewing pleasure, as well as the photo album Find a car for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.