Ice racers fly on the edge: rocketlike fuel, no brakes
By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Shawn "The Hurricane" Hurley cracked three ribs last week while racing motorcycles on ice in Idaho. He flipped over on his bike and hit a wall. He could have died.
A week later, Hurley was back at the starting line competing in the 2002 World Cup ICE Speedway Championship Series at the Ice Palace. He refused to give in to pain.
"If you start thinking about the crashes, you should step aside," he said Friday night, still coughing from the injury.
The 31-year-old from Westminster, Colo., was among two dozen racers competing in the motorcycle ice racing event, which drew about 5,000 spectators. They cheered racers as they circled the ice rink on bikes with studded tires and no brakes.
Repeat, no brakes.
"It's living on the edge," said 58-year-old Ken Parker of Port Richey, who used to ride motorcycles on frozen lakes in Illinois.
Each race had four bikers who went four laps at speeds of up to 60 mph. They slid around corners and did wheelies on the straightaways. The smell of fuel permeated the icy air.
The event featured speedway bikes and four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles. To get the most acceleration, they run on nitro-methane, which is similar to rocket fuel.
Competitors said the thrill of ice racing beats dirt racing any day. When you fall, you slide twice as far.
"It's definitely dangerous," said top-ranked Anthony "The British Bulldog" Barlow of Liverpool, England. "It's all about adrenaline."
Racers came from across North America and Europe to compete in this event, a major attraction in a sport often described as the roughest and most dangerous around. This competition began in December and concludes in March. Tampa was the seventh of 12 stops for the racers.
The overall winner in the series earns up to $50,000 and the title of top "Gladiator on Ice."
Mandy "The Wild Child" Brodil of Grandy, N.C., ranks No. 2 in the world in the quad division and is one of the few women in the sport. Donning a pale pink helmet and bike, she nearly lapped the men in her race, earning cheers from an audience that yelled, "You go, girl!"
Brodil, 21, took up riding when she was 4 and has been competing professionally for three years. Her legs still shake every time she starts a race.
"It's a big rush," she said.
Ice racing has been around for more than two decades. It started in California and Arizona as an alternative to dirt bike racing. It's especially big in cold countries, including Russia and Poland.
Brent Densford, whose father, Gary, founded the championship series, says the sport has gained popularity as interest in extreme sports has grown.
"It's the quickest four laps you'll see," he said.
Densford, 21, has been racing most of his life but was seriously hurt in a recent race in Lakeland. The wreck broke two vertebrae and crushed a kidney, permanently ending his career.
Now he watches from the sidelines.
"I can't risk losing my other kidney," he said. "Kidneys are pretty vulnerable in this sport."
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