Now that the holidays are behind us, the majority of the gearhead community is settling in to wait for spring. There are some who have the benefit of heated facilities to continue work on a project, and there are those who are just zealous enough to get out there and brave the elements for the sake of getting the next thing done.
Those who reside, vacation, or possibly “snowbird” to the southern reaches of North America can still enjoy a temperate climate that is warm enough through the winter to enjoy the outdoors. They can ride their motorcycles and drop the tops on their convertibles, if only for a few hours on a given day.
Then there are those gearhead souls who either by birth or choice, inhabit the upper reaches of the continent. Places where the temperatures plunge and the ground gets a regular blanket of that white stuff called snow. I have noticed during my life that snow has a profound effect on humans in many different ways. Here in central Virginia, snow is generally a once a year occurrence, anything more than that is considered a harsh winter. Mind you, we are only talking about a scant few inches when it does fall, and even then it rarely lasts more than one to three days max.
The forecast of three inches of snow in my area starts a level of madness and havoc, with people scurrying about in desperation to fill the gas tanks on their generators, and buying enough milk and bread to feed a small Eskimo tribe for a month. Last year we had about a six inch snowfall that lasted over a three to four day period, part of which was a Christmas shopping weekend.
When all was said and done, the Virginia State Police reported there had been over 3000 traffic accidents attributed to the inclement weather. Long story short, no matter if you own an all wheel drive, four wheel drive, cheap or fancy SUV equipped with all the right features such as ABS, traction control or stability control systems, it will still slide on snow and ice. The lack of respect for winter elements around here is astounding sometimes.
There is another kind of madness that is brought on by the flaky white stuff, and that is winter sports. Every four years the Winter Olympics is a showcase for an army of athletes who draw a very fine line between bold and just plain crazy. I can respect the adrenaline thrill of speed and power to be sure, and I can also truly respect the kind of athletic prowess it takes to generate these thrills from human strength combined with a total absence of the fear of gravity.
Ski jumpers immediately spring to mind as the epitome of this concept. If someone offered me an all-you-can-carry shopping spree through Fort Knox in exchange for strapping on some skis, blasting down a ramp as steep as many cliffs I’ve seen, only to be vaulted skyward at the end so that I could slowly watch my own demise approach a few hundred feet father down the same slope, I would be forced to ask if skydiving was an option instead. At least jumping out of perfectly good aircraft with a parachute suggests a level of survivability.
The contestants who ride the Luge are also a bunch who strikes me as slightly askew. Watching these people run and jump onto what looks like a sled made for a small child, and then racing down this track of glare ice carved out of mountain, begs the question in my mind of what would be an automotive equivalent? The only thing I can think of that comes close is asking Danica Patrick if she would strap me to the nose of her Indy car, and then let’s take a few hot laps around Laguna Seca raceway with some special emphasis on the dreaded “corkscrew turn”.
Being more in tune with actually driving a vehicle at speed, one would think that I would relate to those who pilot the bobsleds. Yet here again is a wild departure from anything remotely car-like. The driver of the bobsled has the singular responsibility of steering, while the contestant in the rear is the one who controls the brakes. What horror story addict came up with this arrangement? Did someone realize early on that if the driver actually feared for his life that he might slow down?…so the solution became giving the brakes to the man behind so he could feel somewhat secure in the knowledge that the driver would smack the ice wall first, therefore increasing the chances of his survival?
I won’t even begin to enter into the thinking of the four-man sled, which adds two more unfortunate souls purely as ballast. Tell me, how does it feel to be a human sandbag?
One only has to visit some of these locations where prolonged winters can drive gearheads to embark into edgy competitions of motorsports to see this type of madness slowly taking hold. The most glaring in my mind is snowmobiling, which for all purposes is a motorcycle for the ice and snow. For many years, this concept looked very appealing to me, that is until I began discussing the warnings with my wife’s cousin. At the time, he owned a cabin in northern Vermont, and he purchased himself a nice used snowmobile that he carried up from his home in Connecticut for some winter weekend fun.
He related to me the stories of the fierce cold at speed, and how some snow trails went across frozen lakes and rivers. He went on to explain how these areas are taken at full throttle, and if your buddy next to you suddenly drops out of sight, then don’t dare let off the gas, since this means you die too. I realize that driving fast cars has always had its own level of risk, but running off the track doesn’t usually mean throwing off the mortal coil.
Then one day I watched in amazement on television as two snowmobilers rocketed down an icy track which ended at a pond. This water was not frozen over, and the intrepid racers continued off the snow and across the water, with their machines skipping along like flat rocks shot from a cannon. One racer made it all the way across, while the other for some reason was not able to maintain enough speed to stay above the surface (can’t imagine why). While his machine quickly sunk, a small boat came and scooped him out of the freezing water before hypothermia set in. Isn’t it humiliating enough to lose your fine racing machine, but to then add threat of death to your bruised ego might be considered extreme. How would it be if the next winner of the Indy 500 got ice cold milk to drink, while the second and third place finishers got an ice bath that may or may not induce pneumonia? It certainly might raise the level of competition…then again it may impose a distinct desire to crash rather than finish second or third.
I’ve seen snowmobile round track racing, motorcycle ice racing, where the tires on the bikes wore huge spikes in order to give them traction. Woe be it unto the poor fool who has a wipeout and gets run over by others in the pack. The list of winter motorsports goes on, but the general feeling of going fast over the ice and snow to me is just this side of dancing with the devil. I’m sure that many would see motor racing in any form as having this quality, but to me throwing in the winter aspect ups the ante more than I care to play with. I tip my racing helmet with honor to those who do, but I still wonder if the more time you spend in cold and snow, if this is the lasting effect it has on just about any gearhead.
Each Christmas season I catch myself doing image searches online for a custom sleigh, done with a hot rod kind of theme. The Beach Boys classic Christmas tune, “Lil Saint Nick” is without doubt one of my all time holiday favorites, and any picture I can find that follows that is one I like to keep on file for future use.
This year I ran across a real gem, a snow going hot rod built by a guy named Lars Eric Lindberg of Sweden. Obviously, Sweden is one of those places endowed with a long and deep winter. Lars appears to be a true hot-rodder at heart, and must have been suffering from either cruising or drag racing withdrawals. The ‘snow monster” he has created is a winter hybrid of a snowmobile and an old fashioned Model “T”, or T-Bucket as they are often called. The wide back tires have been traded for a pair of Polaris tracks, covered by some slick looking custom fenders, and what looks like a dropped axle up front has been flipped over and rigged with set of skis in lieu of front tires. The crowning jewel is a blown Chevy 454 big-block, which, I’m sure, provides more than enough horsepower for anyone at first glance to call Lars’s hot rod a “deathtrap”. Granted, I would have chosen a Hemi instead, just for its visual impact alone as well as its threatening exhaust note.
This dedicated winter hot rod gives “dashing thru the snow at frightening speed” a whole new meaning, and is proof positive that gearhead is deep in the blood, no matter how cold it gets or how long winter lasts. If I ever wind up living in some area where winter comes heavy and stays for months, I shudder to think how it may mutate my car-guy habits, but Lars Lindberg is proof the hot-rodder will find a way to survive…without jumping off mountains.
– T. August Green