“Pretty much everyone that does this for awhile has flipped a car,” says Pat Stringer. Weather permitting, Stringer’s been racing cars across Lake George’s frozen surface every winter since 2005. “Everyone runs out and tips you back over and you drive away,” he continues, nonchalantly.
Stringer is a member of the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club (AMEC), a group of amateur race car drivers that annually show up on the ice-packed shores of Lake George with anything from clunky street cars to personally-modified racing vehicles, ready to show off their driving and mechanical prowess in makeshift race courses set up on the ice. “It’s about one of the safest forms of racing you can imagine,” Stringer says. “As far as racing, probably the biggest danger is slipping and falling on the ice when you’re not in the car. The folks out there in the race cars are certainly the safest people on that lake.”
Hard to believe, but Stringer’s got stats to back himself up. Since AMEC formed in 1954, injuries have been rare among the 50-120 competitors that show up on any given weekend. Stringer vaguely recollected stubbing his toe sometime in the past decade of racing, but that was about it. This is in part because AMEC has strict safety precautions; it abides by regulations put forward by its insurers, meticulously and continuously checking Lake George’s ice levels and requiring all participating vehicles and drivers to be outfitted with racing safety gear (fire bottles, racing harnesses, racing seats, top-of-the-line helmets, roll bars, rear- and forward-facing lights for tough weather conditions and all the other accoutrement a professional driver might need). Another factor that makes the affair super safe? Unlike conventional racetracks, Lake George’s spans across a wide-open space. That means racers who lose control can shoot off the track, spinning and tumbling, without slamming into cement walls.
Of AMEC’s early years, President and Club Historian Dave Burnham says, “It was a bunch of guys that got together that had sports cars—I think most of them worked at GE—and they wanted to form a club. They did all kinds of things like road rallies and dirt time trials…but then in 1965, the Lake George Winter Carnival asked us if we would hold races at the event, and that’s where the ice racing started.”
There are nine different classes of cars that can participate in wheel-to-wheel racing. Some are street legal; others are full-blown ice race cars designed specifically for frozen tracks. “The street legal cars are actually our biggest class,” Burnham says. “Those people can drive their car to the lake, put on a helmet and race…we’ve had $100,000 Porches out there.” That said, drivers aren’t regularly signing up to sacrifice their Porches: Street car races are strictly noncontact. “There’s penalties if they hit each other,” Burnham says. “But then again, they’re racing and it’s on ice, so stuff happens.”
And what do AMEC’s boldest drivers receive after emerging victorious from a treacherous race across the ice? “Nothing!” Burnham says. “Winners get glory. Points. A plaque if they did real well. It’s true grassroots racing for the fun of it.”