SYLVAN LAKE — It was really nice to actually see the spectators for the first time in the 2011 season, says a motorcycle racer from Calgary.
Veteran rider Jim Titmus, 47, was one of about 70 motorcycle and quad racers who gathered from across the province to pit their skills and their studded tires against the cold, hard ice on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Previous races in the 2011 Alberta Ice Race Series have all been run in wickedly cold weather, which forced spectators to watch from the windshields of their vehicles and listen to results on their FM radios.
For the first time this year, spectators were able to watch from the comfort of lawn chairs parked on big berms of snow left around the 400-metre track after it was cleared for the races.
That ring of spectators cheering and waving made race day all that much more fun for the riders, said Titmus, who has been racing motorcycles since 1991.
Glenda Hilborn, who watched from the top of a big pile of snow at the starting line, said she was having more fun than she had expected.
Her two children, aged five and two, played on the snow between heats while the adults watched from their lofty perch.
Inside the oval, race organizer Rhonda Pechout from Second Gear, the host club, said it was great to see so many people come out both to watch and to race.
There had been a fairly serious crash involving four bikes near the start of the races and one rider was taken away in an ambulance.
Early reports were that he had been up and walking around after the crash and did not appear to suffer any serious injuries, although he was taken to hospital for observation.
The crash created a lull in the activities while organizers waited for another ambulance to come on the site.
Racers cannot run without an ambulance available, said Pechout.
Estimating that Sylvan Lake has been on the ice racing circuit for about five years, she said the club has been getting some friction from The Friends of Sylvan Lake, who want all motorized vehicles banned from the lake throughout the year.
Pechout said the racers do everything they can to run clean and that the races are a significant boost to local business, especially restaurants and gas bars.
Ice racing offers good entertainment at reasonable prices, with admission set at $5 per person or $10 for carload and no charge for children, said Pechout.
Titmus, who rides a four-stroke Suzuki, stated that the technology is constantly developing to produce machines that are more fuel efficient. He and a technician who had worked on a solar car project with the University of Calgary are now developing an electric bike, which Titmus says will introduce a whole new element to racing.