One of northeastern Alberta's biggest sporting events is just around the corner — probably a high-speed corner just before a chicane and right after a straightaway.
On the weekend of February the 22, Lac La Biche’s Winter Festival of Speed is on for its 37th year.
This two-day family-friendly event is jam-packed with high-octane ice racing action of racecars, snowmobiles, and the Western Canadian Ice Racing championships. The event also features an on-ice airstrip for a two-day fly-in show and shine, as well as a vintage snowmobile rally, interractive displays from the Alberta Trappers Association, a chance to ride-along with an ice race driver, and many more winter-fun events.
“There’s a whole variety of outdoor events that take place,” says Ken Staples, who started the event back in 1983. “The two key anchor events are the Western Canadian Ice Racing Championship event where we race cars on a track built on the ice, and then there are snowmobile drag races on the circuit that the snowmobile racers follow.”
There will be roughly 30 to 40 race car drivers, and Staples is one of them.
At 75-years-old, Staples shows no signs of slowing down, and is currently in the top of the standings for the ice racing league. Where he would like to tap the brakes a bit, however, is the organizing of the event. He’s hoping this year he can slowly ease out of the organizing driver’s seat and pass the control onto another local group. With a strong core of volunteers on the organizing committee, Staples plans to help wit the event in coming years — but he won’t be in the driver’s seat.
“It’s time for some new blood,” said Staples, last week as he put the finishing touches on some of the final plans involved in the long-standing weekend that turns the frozen surface of Lac La Biche lake into a motor-fueled racing stage.
Included on that stage again this year are 100 to 120 snowmobile racers competing for prizes and standings in the Alberta sled racing series.
With categories ranging from stock to super pro-modified, the snow machines will race down a straightaway 660-foot track topping out at speeds well above 150kmh.
But not everything is about horsepower that grips the throttle, the weekend will also feature the natural horse-power of horse-drawn sleigh rides.
The snow will also see the grooves of wheels on a specially-built on-ice airstrip where pilots from across the region are expected to touchdown for a winter visit. Also on the agenda for the busy two days are helicopter rides, trapper displays, an on-ice trading show, axe throwing, racecar ride-alongs, and more.
“We have a lot of family-oriented events. We are going to have a skating rink, we are looking at putting a broom ball court on the lake, curling rink, and we are looking at putting a giant-sized crokinole board on the lake for something really different,” says Staples.
Dinner and music
For those that want to join, there is also a dinner at the Bold Centre both Saturday and Sunday where attendees can dine with the race car drivers.
There will also be live entertainment at the Bold Centre with local singer Erin Berland opening for Calgary-based singer Sonia Deleo.
Third winter race
The car races over the weekend will be the championships of a very short racing season this winter. Only two racing weekends in the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club’s winter racing series will be held prior to the championships, due, says Staples, to poor ice and snow conditions and frigid temperatures in the middle of January. The racers were at Roy’s Lake near Spruce Grove over the Feb. 7 weekend, and the lead up race to the Lac La Biche event will be on Feb. 15 on the lake at Alberta Beach.
Motors and money
As with every year, the proceeds from the Winter Festival of Speed go right back into the community. Collectively over 37 years, the Festival of Speed has given $193,000 back into the community, says Staples, who is pleased that this year will put the tally over $200,000.
“It’s a wonderful event, and we are hoping it’s going to be our biggest and best,” says Staples.
Admission onto the multi-race area, plus the airstrip, concessions and trappers displays is $10 per person. Children under five are free.
Tickets for the Saturday night concert can be found online at www.sidedooraccess.com