With the Lac La Biche Winter Festival of Speed coming up, and most of the racers getting ready for the big day, one of them has quite a bit of home-ice advantage ... having created the track on the frozen surface of Lac La Biche lake and organized the big event for almost four decades.
Ken Staples, a 75-year-old fearless ice racer, will be taking to the track once more this winter to compete in the Western Canadian Ice Racing Championships at the unique winter festival - the event he developed about 37 years ago.
His first ever ice race he participated in was back in 1972, and Staples never looked back. Staples immediately took to ice racing, and is even in Western Canada Motorsport Association's (WCMA) Historical Track Records. He won a qualifying lap record for Race City (Long Track) back in 1991.
Ice race driving is a difficult sport, one that not everyone is cut out for.
“It’s hard to define what makes a good driver, it’s almost easier to say what doesn’t make a good driver,” says Staples. “Some people just have that feel for it. Obviously you need good reflexes, vision, good physical and mechanical skills, and good hand-eye coordination. It’s extremely demanding physically.”
Even though there are a lot of risks that come with ice racing, Staples doesn’t let anything get in the way of doing what he loves.
“It’s very rewarding and very challenging,” says Staples. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it," he says, of both the driving challenge as a long-time veteran racer and also as a course designer and event planner of the giant weekend that includes an on-ice airstrip for aircrafts, a championship snowmobile drag racing strip, local vendors and exhibits and this year a vintage snowmobile rally. "It’s a skill, and some people have that certain flair for it and some don’t.”
Staples has had it for a lot of years — but he's looking to hand off the icy torch to others. This year, the organizing committee that works with Staples is taking on more of the responsibilities as he plans for a graceful exit from the driver's seat of the event.
To be able to watch Staples race at the next Festival of Speed, tickets are available online, and at the event on February 22.