Greenville woman making her mark as ice racer
GREENVILLE JCT. — Nikki Hamilton has always been an athlete. When she was a kid you’d likely see her exploring the woods, playing sports or riding her horse Blackjack. No sitting around indoors for her! One winter when she was 12 years old her dad, Kirk, encouraged her to consider ice racing.
For the past 20 years or so racing cars on the ice on the West Cove of Moosehead Lake has been a sport attracting young and old. Nikki thought it would be fun to try.
“My Uncle Bob went inside the house and told my Aunt Sandra to fork over the keys to her Subaru because I needed a race car, and she did!” Nikki laughed. After a few instructive trips around the track with dad, she discovered she loved it. “My dad was a racer and I wanted to be like him. It’s a blast! I love the adrenaline of racing!” she exclaimed. She raced for four years in the Youth Division and did very well. “I was a three-year champion, and then I had to race the men my last year and I placed third.”
“Once you get your driver’s license, you’re not considered a youth racer anymore,” she said. She was in high school by then and busy with school sports. “I kind of gave it up for a bit,” she confessed. After she finished school she ended up bartending at the West Cove Lounge, home to the founders of ice racing on Moosehead, the West Cove Ice Racing Association. It wasn’t long before her friends there convinced her to pick up racing again.
One of the secrets of ice racing on an oval track is understanding how to take the corners. “That feels pretty unnatural the way that you have to turn because it’s not driving, it’s drifting,” she explained. “You start your turn way before the corner; let up on the throttle a little bit and you start to slide through the turn; then you give it the gas and pull out of the turn. It’s all about rhythm, throttle control and drifting.”
Nikki uses over-the-counter V-bar chains on her Chevy racer, aptly named the Polar Express. “I’ve never run spikes before,” she said. Spikes are drilled into the tires like studs, only the spikes are longer and pointier. “We have a spike division,” Nikki said. “And we’ve talked about building a set of spikes. There’s a few members of the club that would like to get that going and I hear that’s more like driving around a regular track because you’ve got so much grip.”
This is Nikki’s third year back racing and every year she has gotten another car from C.I.A. Salvage in Saco. The cars are pretty close to drivable when she finds them. “Like this car,” she said about her green VW Golf. “It had just lost its inspection sticker. We had to replace the radiator but that was just about it. It was in mint condition.”
Nikki hopes other racers in Maine will discover the West Cove track. “You don’t need to smash out the windows like you used to have to do so it’s not as frigid,” she said. “And, you aren’t required to have a roll cage. You just have to have a five-point harness, a fire extinguisher, a helmet, and window nets, and of course chains.”
Any car’s okay to run as long as it’s got four cylinders. There is also an open class, which allows more cylinders and wider options. At this time there are currently three races held every Saturday starting at noon. There’s the Heat, the Feature, and the Open. Racers take 10 laps for the Heat, 15 laps for the Feature and 20 laps for the Open.
“One of the things I like about being out there is to be an example and show other girls that you can do it. You can be the only girl out there, like I am, and shine!” Nikki smiled. “I like to get down and dirty with the boys during the day, playing with these cars and then I dress up at night for the girls when I bartend at the West Cove.” She recalled a little girl asking for her autograph after winning a race. “I was thrilled!” Nikki declared.
Races are held every Saturday during the winter, weather and ice permitting. Dedicated volunteers from the West Cove Ice Racing Association maintain the quarter-mile oval track. Spectators are encouraged and there is a $5 donation for cars to defray the cost of insurance – you can drive right on the ice at Greenville Junction Wharf for a good view of all the excitement. Nikki placed second and third racing against the men on January 12 driving on ice about 18-inches thick. Sponsors for these races include Casco Bay Transportation, West Cove Lounge, NAPA Greenville, Mount Battie Car Care, Buz Brewster Appraisals, CIA Salvage, Northeast Heat Pumps, PMS Motorsports/Pudgy’s Lawn Care and Rockwood Bar and Grill.
“We are so grateful to businesses in the Greenville area for helping to support these races,” she said. The West Cove Ice Racing Association has a Facebook page where you can check out the latest racing schedule. If you are thinking of racing yourself, you can private message the association your address and they will send you a rulebook.
“Get a car going,” Nikki suggested. “Or come for the races – you can make a day of it. Ski a few runs at Squaw Mountain, enjoy the races in the early afternoon and visit West Cove Lounge for a great meal. You can probably meet some of the racers too, including me,” she added.