There are three kinds of people with racing licenses.
- Racers. They race pretty much every weekend.
- Sorta racers. They race a few races each year.
- Fakesters. They have all the stuff, but none of the “stuff.”
If you promote bicycle races, aside from your obviously miserable financial judgment, your need for public abuse, and the strange satisfaction you get out of dealing with angry/stupid/selfish people, you have one really big need on race day, and it’s that people show up and race. For the most part, we expect you, the promoter, to promote your race. We’ll come if we feel like it, maybe.
This is a stupid model. Sure, the promoter should do his best to get people to race. He’s a fuggin’ promoter, for fugg’s sake.
But full fields have as huge a benefit to bike racers as they do to promoters. Full fields increase prize money. They increase sponsorship. They increase spectatorship. And most importantly, they help the promoter turn a profit, which encourages him to keep living in a tent and to promote more races next year. It’s my belief that fuller fields rather than emptier ones can be accomplished by the bike racers themselves, and in 2015 I’ll be giving my theory a shot. Here it is:
People who fit into category #1 above are the backbone, the meat and potatoes of racing. Guys like Brauch, Tinstman, Wimberley, and Charon are just some of the riders who show up week in, week out, with no prodding or encouragement. They live to race. More about them later.
People who fit into category #3 we can forget. They will never race. It doesn’t matter why; the fact that they’re on a race team, that they have team race gear, that they love to talk and read about bike racing is irrelevant. They would rather do a hundred group rides, team training camps, and century rides, than sign up for a single 45-minute USA Cycling crit. Forget them.
People who fit into category #2 are the rest of us, and we hold the key to successful turnout on race day. Sorta racers make annual race calendars, target certain races, and do lots of actual training. Sorta racers are sorta fit in January and sorta wrecked by late April. Sorta racers have no trouble putting in 15-20 hours a week on the bike, but lots of trouble doing more than a handful of races. Sorta racers have detailed excuses for not racing on race day, even when they’ve planned to race. Sorta racers think a lot about racing early in the season, and focus on kiddie soccer games, “work,” honey-do’s, “the high cost of racing,” safety, and butt pimples as reasons to stop thinking about racing later in the season.
In short, we sorta racers are fence sitters. We wanna, but most of the time we don’t.
The difference between a felony conviction and staying at home is often the difference between a buddy saying “Let’s do it!” and not. Same goes for racing. As any salesman knows, the customer has to be asked to buy. And as any good salesman knows, “No, thanks” is simply an opportunity to ask again with greater skill and persuasiveness.
My best race in 2014 resulted from Derek B. asking me to go race with him. I didn’t really want to go, it was the last race of the season, I’m not good at crits, at age 50 I don’t belong in the 35+ superman category, I was tired from Saturday’s Donut Ride, I didn’t have a good set of race wheels, the entry fee was too high, the race was too short, and my butt pimples were suppurating.
All of those objections were overcome by the simple act of being asked because being asked to go race your bike with a friend is flattering, and it also puts you on the spot. The super excuse of butt pimples sounds awesome when you’re talking to yourself, but not so great when you have to mouth it to someone, especially someone you respect, as a reason for not lining up and actually using your $10k in gear and your 25 hours a week of profamateur preparation.
In short, the people who are committed to going to a race can boost race attendance by sending out three, or five, or ten emails, or even more outrageously by actually telephoning, or even more extremely by asking a pal face-to-face to sack up and go race together. If you’re one of the people who’s a dependable ironhead, make sure you ask a couple of other people to go race, and for dog’s sake don’t limit it to your teammates.
Why ask non-teammates to race? Because one of the reasons that guys who aren’t on big teams don’t race is because they hate rolling alone against the big teams and they need extra motivation to go out and get crushed. Again. Asking non-teammates shows that you value their presence, and it stimulates smaller teams to get their act together. A powerful motivator for people to race is having a rider complain to his teammates that he’s the only fuggin’ one in the race, so please come out and help.
Another reason that sorta racers don’t race is they simply forget. I’m going to this weekend’s CBR race because yesterday, on a training ride, I asked EA Sports, Inc. what he was doing this weekend. “I’m racing, dude. And so are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order, but it was also a reminder as I’d completely forgotten about the race.
If you’re one of the sorta racers who sorta races, on the days when you’re actually committed, make sure you ask several friends to go race with you. This locks YOU in when it comes time to scratch the b.p.’s and prevents you (hopefully) from bailing at the last minute, and it will encourage one or two other riders to join you. (Hint: Asking others to race with you can also involve sharing rides, splitting gas fees, and saving money!! If it’s a CBR race in LA, it means having someone to ride over to the race with.)
Finally, if you’re the leader of a team, have you reached out to every single rider via email and encouraged them to line up? Have you made two or twelve phone calls to the sorta racers who have hogged all your swag and been conspicuously absent on race days? No? Well, get callin’!
So, does it work? I think it does. I’ve sent out about ten emails and had one buddy confirm that he’s in. His comment? “I’m not very fit, but it’s been over a year since anyone asked me to go race, so, hell yeah.”
If you tell two friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, well, who knows? The “problem” of declining race participation might simply vanish.
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