Anthony Maxwell, 19, participates in ice racing in a program run by Inner City Youth Alive. (photo by Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Drag racing on ice a thrill for city youth

Written by Bill Redekop, courtesy of Winnipeg Free Press

Anthony Maxwell once launched a car into the wild blue yonder, using a snowbank like a ramp, and it wasn’t on purpose.

It was all part of learning the sport. Maxwell participates in ice racing — drag racing on ice — in a program run by Inner City Youth Alive, a faith-based organization that operates out of a building at the corner of Salter Street and Aberdeen Avenue.

“It’s fun,” said Maxwell, who has been part of the club for seven years. “It’s fun drifting it (fishtailing). You feel how it is to slide.”

Maxwell was one of the youths ice racing on a retention pond at the St. Boniface Industrial Park on Saturday. Each lap is about one kilometre. Cars go up to 100 kilometres per hour.

Not only do kids get to drive in the program, called Inner City Motor Sports, but they learn how to work on the cars — which tend to need a lot of work, since they are old beaters that are driven hard in races. As well, two welders volunteer their time to teach welding.

Up to 15 kids, all living within a four-block radius of the North End headquarters, are in the program..

“Ice racing is the best thing you can do to develop driving skills,” said Al Marcoux, ice racing director with the Winnipeg Sports Car Club. “On ice, you have to compensate constantly for the slide. When you drive in the real world, you see what people do wrong. Some guys just stuff it (their car) into a snowbank.”

Andrew Plett helps organize the inner-city program. “Some of the kids have been in trouble with the law, and some come from underprivileged homes,” he said.

Plett, 30, who grew up in North Kildonan, has enjoyed discovering the North End. “Everybody walks everywhere, everybody knows each other,” he said.

The faith-based program gives kids “a reason not to be on the street. If they’re not working on cars, they could be stealing them,” he said.

Instead of the usual decals from car makers and oil brands, decals on their cars come from donors who make their program possible, including Olympic Builders, General Welding, DJN Services (Excavating and Leveling), in addition to motor-related companies such as Peterbilt and Winter’s Collision Repair. It’s an expensive sport and the sponsors are immensely appreciated, said Plett.

People also donate old cars. One is a 1990 Honda Civic with more than 300,000 kilometres that ran into a deer. It’s fixed up and roars around the ice track now.

Warm-up runs are on Saturday and races are held Sunday. The kids can do some warm-up racing but aren’t licensed to race. So they mostly do pit crew work on race day.

It’s difficult for many of the kids to obtain licences. Many don’t have a family car to drive to get a licence. The program is looking into operating a driver training program.

The kids are also involved in dirt-track racing in the summer. Their ages range from 13 to 19. As for Maxwell, 19, his twin brother Joel has rolled a car but the cars are fortified in such a way to make them very safe.

“We’re here to give an opportunity to these kids that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Plett.