(Photo courtesy of Dave Suitor Photography)
MOULTONBOROUGH — Fabian Smith grew up with motor sports. He raced go-karts as a kid in Florida, raced on asphalt at the Star Speedway in Epping and the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine, and on the dirt track in Rumney. Then, a few years ago, he started working for Scott Burns Landscaping, in Meredith, and noticed an old Chevy S-10 parked near the company's workshop. He asked about it, and was told that it was waiting for someone to turn it into an ice racer.
"It had been sitting there quite a while. I told them, I'll put it together for you," said Smith. "Once I started driving it, I can't get enough of it."
His is a familiar story to the other members of the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club, which races on Berry and Lee ponds in Moultonborough each weekend that they have at least 12 inches of ice. Most races are on Sundays at noon, though the highlight of the season is the club's Latchkey Cup, when other ice racing clubs are invited to compete.
The club is hoping to race on Lee Pond on Jan. 29, if club members find enough ice when they check on Sunday morning. They are staying off of Berry Pond so that it will be in prime condition for the Latchkey, which is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4. Check the club's Facebook page for race announcements
The races are also popular with with spectators, who are asked to donate $10 per carload for admission, or $20 per carload during the Latchkey Cup. All donations are used for charitable purposes, such as helping a local person battling a life-threatening illness.
All that the racers get out of it, according to Smith, is "bragging rights and a three dollar trophy." And, to him, that's what makes ice racing so much more enjoyable than other forms, which offer the winners a lucrative prize. On the roughly third-mile oval track plowed on top of the pond, the racers compete with each other until they cross the finish line, then they return to the pit area where everyone acts as one extended family.
"Everybody helps everybody out," said Smith. The cooperative ethos pervades the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club. Often, one person's involvement leads to other family members joining the fun. For example, Linda Cook, the club's secretary, has helped organize races for 30 years even though she doesn't race. She started when her husband raced, and continues even though he no longer competes. One of her sons records the races for his YouTube channel, NEDirtVids.
On Thursday night, after regular business hours, the Scott Burns Landscaping shop was converted into a collective workspace for club members. Matt DeMond, who recently graduated from the club's Junior class into the Adult class, was welding chains onto a front tire for a Dodge Ram pickup truck he was hoping to race in the stock class, while his father James, as well as Smith and fellow club member Mike Horsch offered guidance. Meanwhile, another young member picked up his car after Smith helped fix a worn-out distributor.
Sooner or later, nearly all of the members' cars will pay a visit to the garage, where one of the seasoned club members will lend a hand in getting it ready for race day.
"We want to see them out there, so we all help out," said James DeMond.
Though he still considers himself a "newbie," having only three years of time with the club, Smith has quickly become a valuable club member. Since the S-10, he has converted a Monte Carlo, two Celicas and two other pickup trucks into ice racers. To get them ready for duty, he removes the interior, installs race seats and full roll cages, adds weight by bolting on chunks of old snow plows, and does a "bunch of suspension work." Many of those will be raced, by other club members, the next time the club holds a race.
Smith, though, hopes to compete for the first time in the modified class. Horsch recently let him take a lap in his sprint car – a modified dirt track racer, purpose built for racing with a mid-mounted V-8 engine aggressive, staggered wings designed to both provide downforce and to prevent the car from going too far sideways in the corners. Smith had to have one for himself. Horsch gave him a spare modified chassis, and Smith is currently working on installing a small block motor, with hopes of getting it running in time for the Latchkey Cup. Look for the yellow car with the big number five painted on the wing.
With it being a new vehicle to him, Smith is playing it conservatively, opting for a smaller engine than the chassis can handle. He's not likely to win, but he's guaranteed to have a good time on a winter Sunday, while raising money for a good cause, and that's good enough for him.
"For us to be able to race around in circles and help someone else in need, it's a beautiful thing," Smith said.
Fabian Smith, of Meredith, hopes to get his modified race car ready in time for the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club's Latchkey Cup, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 4. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)