Engines roar, mud flies for Snow Shoe fire company

Volunteer track official Patrick Stania watches as Rodney Smith pilots his Ford pickup truck around the Snow Shoe mud track during the Snow Shoe Mud Race on Sunday.
Volunteer track official Patrick Stania watches as Rodney Smith pilots his Ford pickup truck around the Snow Shoe mud track during the Snow Shoe Mud Race on Sunday.

It was a beautiful day for some muddin‘.

Though the forecast for most of the week showed rain on Sunday, no rain fell outside Clarence for the annual Show Shoe Volunteer Fire Company Mud Race. Spectators gathered to cheer on the cars and trucks as drivers attempted to run their best time and not fall prey to the pits of mud and water.

The fire company has been running the race for more than four years now, firefighter and race organizer Samuel Rees said. The track was once host to a national mud race in the 1980s, but by the ’90s, that show had died out.

“We decided to redo the track,” Rees said. “I work for Tobias Machining and Welding (of Snow Shoe), and my boss let us use all his equipment to reshape the track.”

Tobias owner David Tobias also typically drives in the mud race, he said, but was unable to participate this year.

What was once basically a one-lap track, Rees said, became mud-racers paradise as he added twists, turns and mud holes. Racers used to only be able to run one at a time, he said, but now, two trucks can race each other and several cars can race at one time.

The vehicles that raced Sunday resembled something out of a “Mad Max” film — cars stripped of their entire interior save for a driver’s seat, steering wheel and seat belt. Rees later said this was in case a car would catch fire, there would be nothing inside to burn.

Some vehicles sported elaborate exhaust systems or air filters fitted into the dashboard, all to prevent the sheer amount of mud and water from entering the vital parts of the engine and stopping the race. However, for some drivers, an unsatisfactory race time was simply due to getting stuck in the mud.

Chris Caldana, who races a modified 1999 Jeep, was slowed by mud several times during his first race, but was able to make up the time later in the day. Caldana said he got involved in mud racing after some friends, who also raced, encouraged him to take up the sport.

“It looked like fun,” he said. “Plus I have some good friends who helped me as my pit crew.”

Keeping on top of a mud race is no easy task, he said, as his truck presents him with numerous problems every race. Broken down alternators and dying batteries are the norm, and when a driver’s windshield wipers fail, it can leave him practically blind.

Caldana said he was happy with his performance Sunday, despite a rough start.

Rees, who races a Buick car, also had a good day, as he took first place in a race between himself and three other drivers in the “backwoods” category. Rees, who had been fighting for second throughout the whole race, found himself in first after former first-place driver, Dustin Sipes, blew one of his front tires.

“That’s a big improvement over last year when he rolled his car,” Rees’ wife, Jenny, said.

Crowds cheered the loudest whenever a vehicle would catch some air over a jump or cause a big spray of mud. Katie Watson, of Pleasant Gap, said she’d been coming to the races for about three years because she loves the excitement.

“My favorite part is watching the mud fly,” Watson said. “But it’s also important for raising money for the fire company. We have to support them, you know.”

The race benefited the Snow Shoe fire company, Rees said, and has brought in about $5,000 in previous years. The funds typically go toward the upkeep and purchase of new equipment.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews