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A Constant State of Sliding

For a very Minnesotan team-building activity in the Twin Cities area, drive a go-kart with 460-cc engines and studded tires on a frozen racetrack.

By Todd R. Berger

In 2019, with the help of a friend fluent in online marketing, professional go-karter James McMahon sought to gauge interest in his idea for on-ice go-karting in Minnesota.

A constant state of sliding with Karting on Ice Minnesota
A go-kart driver navigates the frozen racecourse.

Karting on Ice Minnesota

“I ended up taking a video of ice karting from a track in France and from a guy in France with their permission,” McMahon says. “And we ran it as an ad on Facebook a couple of days, and the reception was just ridiculous. We got just over 2 million views. So, I’m like, ‘What if we made this available to the public?’ And that’s kind of where the idea came from. And I mean, what better place to do it but the Twin Cities? I mean, that’s a no-brainer, right?”

McMahon founded Karting on Ice Minnesota and planned to set up a track on a frozen lake, but the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic led him to change plans: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources put the kibosh on lake-based go-kart racing at a time when gatherings of any kind were discouraged. McMahon used the alone time to plan a ground-based ice go-karting course, laying out the track using Google Earth images and what he calls “digital finger painting.”

After delineating the track for the location he secured at the Washington County Fairgrounds near Stillwater, McMahon built his first track in late 2020. The base is like that of a snowmobile trail, set in place with a homemade groomer that packs down the snow. Then, McMahon sprays water in thin layers, allowing each layer to freeze before starting another. In winter 2021, McMahon says his water bill was $6,000, and he used 60,000 gallons. He plans to double the track length this winter, and, thus, double his water usage. This winter, he will open the track for six to eight weeks beginning the second week of January 2023. Although McMahon is a professional go-karter with vast experience driving, he is wowed by what he has built.

“It looks like it’s something from another planet,” he says. “And you’re driving around, and you’re in this constant state of sliding but under control. It feels magical.”

Participants share McMahon’s enthusiasm. “I have people who have never driven a go-kart before, and they come off the track giggling,” McMahon says. “I’m talking 56-year-old people, and they’ve just got a grin. It’s amazing. It’s just incredible. That’s what’s kept me going. I’ve never heard grown men scream like this before.”

But is it safe? McMahon notes, “The operations are pretty simple, and it’s fairly intuitive to people. It’s not difficult to have fun with it. In terms of skill, it’s suitable for anybody who is responsible.” Karting on Ice Minnesota rents sanitized helmets and goggles, and you can also bring your own. Helmets and goggles are required, and waterproof gloves, snow pants, and a warm jacket are essential.

McMahon charges $79.97 per driver to navigate the course, but he also allows groups to book the slippery racetrack for themselves, with 8-10 go-karters driving at a time. The track is open to the public Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with private groups typically racing Tuesday through Thursday. The Washington County Fairgrounds also has a hall available for rent. All go-karting must be prebooked on the Karting on Ice Minnesota website.

“I think people should really try it. It’s just surprising to me that it seemingly hasn’t been done in Minnesota already, although as I do it more and more, I’m beginning to realize perhaps why nobody has done it. It’s a lot of work,” McMahon says, laughing.

epickartracing.com

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