Off to the Races!
Thursday evening I moseyed on down the Southern Walnut Creek Trail to a small racecar track in southeast Austin. It was bike night, and the races were on. I rolled up to a small sea of cyclists milling about, and a group of maybe 60 riding on the .62-mile track. Held from April to September each year, the Driveway Series (or just the Driveway, in Austin) was selected as the best races in the United States, according to a chat I had with the congenial and sometimes funny announcer Logan. A former racer, he’s very familar with the sport and most of the riders, and was happy to share details between laps.
Sanctioned by USA Racing, these are the real deal. There are different levels, 4/5 (beginners), 1/2/3, Masters (over 35), and Pro for men (which some women race in) as well as the same for women. But it’s also a festive atmosphere with beer and food trucks, repair vans, sponsor tents, and music playing on the loudspeakers. There were serious-looking cyclists from the not so fit to the super skinny lean young guys, and the super-strong beasts and some very nice and expensive bicycles. Come along for a short lap!
Great People Watching
While it’s interesting watching the race, another fun thing about the Driveway the people. I spotted and chatted up cycling lawyer Brad Houston, who sometimes still racer but as a sponsor just likes to hang out. There are also non-racers like Carrie, whom I knew from Bike Night at the Circuit of the Americas (a Formula 1 race car track outside of Austin). She said she “values her collarbones too much” so doesn’t race.
There was also someone I’d “met” on Strava, email and text. This person shall remain nameless for now, but we’ll call them Racer X. (Why, you ask? Sorry, but that information is above your security clearance!). This rider had already raced earlier in the day but came to hang out, observe, and support their fellow riders.
One also meets new people, like Lydia, who sat near me while watching and cheering on her team captain husband Mitchell race. She talked to me a while about what’s involved with racing — lots of preparation, various tactics depending on the goals, riders and how they felt that day, plus the travel. Paul told me about the ins and outs of racing: yes, crashes happen, but most people quickly learn how to ride in a group. He said speeds in the top-tier can be 30-miles per hour over 50 minutes; that’s pretty darn fast (I’m an average of 13 miles per hour on an average commute).
Not Just Riding Your Bike in a Circle
There are various distances, depending which track configuration they use. Amateur and pro cycling teams use the Driveway for training and competition. Racers have to register and pay to race, get a number, and the results are recorded and tallied at the end of each race and the season. There are up and coming stars like Preston, formerly of the University of Texas cycling team, who’s just 21 but is often a favorite to win, though he didn’t this time. The occasional pro turns up, although if there were any there tonight I didn’t know about them.
A miniature version of an all-day professional grand tour, there were various tactics. Some riders would work for a chosen teammate by helping them draft, or ride in front to reduce the wind on the selected rider. Some might just try to win the whole ride or have other goals like maintain a certain cadence or speed. A number of riders might even try more than one race. I didn’t do a whole interview about it, but undoubtedly there are alot of technical details. What bike to use? What gear ratios? Shoes? Food? The choices are infinite. But in the end, it still comes down to riding.
Another aspect of the races is “premes,” short for premiums. At certain times in the race, when the riders would pass the start line and the announcers booth, Logan would announce a preme lap. Maybe it was a gift card for beer or pizza, or some bike gear, or something else from a sponsor. So, some riders might go for a preme. Many were just there for the fun and excitement and the remote chance of winning. Fortunately, there were no wrecks tonight, although a few riders exited early for various reasons. Maybe a mechanical, sometimes they might strain a muscle, or just have an off-night.
For those really into cycling, it’s definitely a destination and an accomplishment to race well, not wreck, or even win a race or especially the entire season. While it is super-competitive by design, most everyone seemed to be having a good time on a beautiful cool spring evening in Austin, Texas. I know I enjoyed it, although I wished we could see the entire track. A different set-up does have better views, so I may return for that. Regrettably I showed up for the last race so did not get all the shots I wanted, but there’s enough here to give you the feel.
A Dude is Not in A Hurry
No one ever told me you could race bikes, so after I got a car so I could work in high school, I never looked back. Thirty years and thirty pounds ago it might have been fun. But A Dude’s bicycling is about transportation, fitness and recreation. Sure, I feel the need — the need for speed — just not with dozens of other cyclists so close that one mistake could mean a trip to the hospital. But who knows? Maybe my power to weight ratio will magically improve, I’ll get a fancy new $4,000 carbon bike, join a team with a coach and sponsors, and catch the racing bug.
But for right now the only race I’m participating in is the human race, and I’m no hurry to win. Which reminds me of a quip by legendary comedian and actor Lily Tomlin: “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat!”
To learn more about the Pure Austin Driveway Series presented by Intelligensia Coffee, go to their website: www.DrivewaySeries.com. If you’re in town, get in touch and we’ll bike on over sometime! Race ya there! Or not.
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