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Dirt bikes on ice

Brody Larsen races during at a post-Christmas party for the Carlton County Riders Club. The group includes off-highway bikes, who also enjoy some ice racing in the winter. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 3
A trio of dirt bike racers spin as they round a corner of the oval track plowed on the St. Louis River in Scanlon. The group was a part of 30 or so bikers racing at the Carlton County Rider's Club Christmas party Saturday, Jan. 20. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 3
Joe Erkkila races his dirt bike on the St. Louis River on Saturday, Jan. 20. The event was part of the Carlton County Riders Club post-Christmas party at the River Inn Bar and Grille in Scanlon. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 3

The sounds of "braaappp" filled the air as enthusiastic riders started their dirt bikes, put their helmets on and got into position in the pit area the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 20. They were preparing for the dirt bike ice races to begin on a large oval track plowed onto the St. Louis River.

There was an unexpectedly large turnout for the races, which were planned as part of a small post-Christmas party for the Carlton County Riders Club members at the River Inn Bar and Grill in Scanlon. What started out as a few guys goofing off on their dirt bikes grew into about 30 riders racing in front of a crowd of about 150 spectators, complete with loud music, families and fun.

While dirt bike racing on ice is not a new concept in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it has been several years since the weather cooperated, according to CCRC Vice President Aaron Vigliaturo.

Brody Larsen, 7, of Cloquet said he enjoys racing his dirt bike. There was a race for kids during the party as well as different levels for adults. Larsen's favorite bike is his 110cc, but he also has two smaller ones he races.

Joe Erkkila, 21, has been racing four years. He is a member of Midwest Ice Racing Association (MIRA), based in Wisconsin, and participates in several sanctioned races each winter with his 250cc 2 stroke dirt bike. This race was not sanctioned.

"I race because it's fun. I am laid off of work and thought I would come out and race," Erkkila said. "If you have a bike, bring it on down and start racing."

After weeks of below freezing temperatures, outdoor enthusiasts were excited to get outside and watch after word spread about the unusual event.

In order to ride on ice, the bikes are fitted with IceBerg tires, handmade by local rider Jeff Berg. According to Vigliaturo, it takes Berg five to six hours to build two tires. He installs 1,000-1,500 Kold Kutters screws going in all directions on the back tires alone.

"Safety is the main thing," Vigliaturo said. "And then, putting on a good show."

The group also practices racing on local lakes, which is not always appreciated.

"The River Inn is convenient and there are no (ice) fisherman on the river," Vigliaturo said.

Club President Eric Senarighi said the event was a good learning lesson and an eye opener for the fledgling club of more than 60 members.

"It was a lot of work," Senarighi said. "If we decided to do a public event in the future, we would hire an organization with experience to work the event."

The club welcomes all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles (also called a "side-by-side" recreation vehicle, like a golf cart) and off-highway motorcycle riders. They have been working with area cities and Carlton County to improve and build new recreational trails for the various vehicles. They are also working to have new youth rider trainers educated to train the younger riders about the area's rules and regulations. Currently, there are not enough trainers and the classes fill up early.

"We're a new club, trying new things," Senarighi said. "We're learning along the way what works and what doesn't."