Burning down the house

People used to ask me directly to promote their stuff. “Could you do a story about …” they would say.

“Sure,” I’d say. Then they’d tell me the topic with their slant on how they wanted me to publicize it and puff it up and I’d go home, sit down on the computer, and do the exact opposite.

It’s not that I was trying to be mean, it’s that I am, like Herr Settembrini in Thomas Mann’s “Der Zauberberg,” a contrarian. If you tell me to go to the front I will slink to be back and shirk. If you tell me to sit in and wait I will dash to the fore and shove all the timber in the fire in the first five minutes of the race. “Go up!” and I’ll go down. “Go down!” and I’ll go up. Etc.

Being perverse in this way meets very basic dictates of evolution. I once read a study, or perhaps I just imagined it, about how if you left a certain kind of trout in a tank he would eventually try to jump out of it. That never ended well for the trout in the experiment because outside the tank was dry ground.

“Why did the trout always try to jump out?” the researchers wondered as they penned another grant application for $5 million dollars. The answer seemed to be that in the wild, a trout stuck in a river pool could only escape by jumping out. There was a chance he’d jump onto dry rocks or dry land, but as often as not he’d flop onto a rock, flop some more, and flop his way back into a neighboring rivulet and then swim happily on his way to spawn more trout babies.

Contrarianism is this way. It will often land you in hot water in the artificial world of marketing and blogging, but in reality, flopping out of the tank into parts unknown is the only way anything good has ever happened or been invented. A committee didn’t invent the light bulb.

Bike racing at the professional level in the USA simply doesn’t exist, if by “professional” you mean “steady job and steady paycheck that you can live on.” If you are a pro racer in America you are living with your parents or girlfriend-boyfriend or slumming on a couch. There’s no way you can make ends meet racing your bike unless the ends are very, very, very, very close together. Which they never are.

So this weekend, March 18-19, there’s the first iteration in the modern era of a US pro track racing series. It’s being held at the Carson/Home Depot/Velo Center/Velodrome and it’s going to showcase some of the country’s best track racers in a race series. Details here.

Whether or not this will work is a very open question because it depends on people caring about something that no one in America has cared about for a hundred years: Bicycles going around in circles on a track. There are all kinds of explanations as to why no one cares, but my favorite is this: People grow up watching pass-ball on TV and watching their parents go apeshit over pass-ball and listening to hours and hours of blather about pass-ball and so they, too like pass-ball. People don’t grow up watching track racing on TV (or curling or badminton or ping-pong or toenail shaving) and they don’t grow up watching their parents go apeshit over track racing and listening to hours and hours of blather about track racing and so they, do, don’t give a crap about track racing.

You certainly can’t fault the mechanics of the sport. Racers speeding by inches from your face dressed in colorful underwear as they sprint for money and glory while bumping and gliding and occasionally falling off their bicycles in thrilling smashemups is about 10 billion times more exciting than watching grown men standing on Astroturf chewing tobacco waiting hours for someone with a stick to whack a tiny ball.

Nor can you fault the sport’s complexity. Unlike stick-ball and pass-ball, which require advanced degrees to even begin to understand what’s happening, bike racing is simple. Fastest guy pretty much always wins. Sure there are points and stuff to clog your brain from time to time, but after a few beers who cares anyway? Keep your eyes glued on your favorite colorful underwear and watch ’em go.

And this is the main point. At a velodrome like the one in Carson you can hang out with friends, have a drink and a bite, and watch some pretty thrilling stuff, and at $25 a ticket it’s slightly cheaper than the $123.40 average ticket price for watching the New York Giants lose another game of pass-ball while drinking a $15.00 cup of beer and eating a $9.00 hot dog and paying $30.00 to park your cage.

I plan on going to the races this Saturday and hope you do, too. We can watch these guys and gals flop out of the tank together.



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14 thoughts on “Burning down the house”

  1. See you there! My 8 year old will be doing an exhibition 500 meter “Cannonball” race with the Connie Cycling Foundation kids!

  2. Might have to go, interestingly, this is the first I read about it.
    Hopefully it will do better than the LA6 decades ago, which was fun.
    So were the Grand Prixs of the United States that Chuck Pranke got together.

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  4. Ha ha ha ‘and park your cage’. Cagers is the best term you’ve come up with. It’s perfect.

  5. Well, I try to be contrarian, but your blog keeps me coming back steadily for more.

    Discovered track riding and racing this year at the tender age of 60 and LOVING it. The Velodrome in Vancouver is 200M as opposed to the official 250M, so the banking is steeper, the sightlines shorter and the Heart Rate Spikes more explosive.

    You can see that in England, where their teams have been winning, Velodrome races are a big deal. Now that the US Womens’ Pursuit Team won Gold at the recent World Champs in London, hoping that this sport will get more exposure in the USA.

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  7. Yeah but how much are the hot dogs at Carson?

    American sports fans love one-day events, just like the Romans. Every other successfully marketed U.S. sport figured this out eons ago. Cycling HAS one-day road races. It’s built on over a hundred years of Classics. How is it that U.S. Cycling promoters haven’t noticed this? With the prevalence of ADD these days one-day events seem to be tailor-made for the U.S. market.

    I rode with Andrew Messick and one of the original financial backers of the TOC a few years back and the conversation centered around the problem of how to get cyclists to go to the Carson Velodrome and buy tickets to watch the event of which you speak. The financial guy just couldn’t wrap his head around why the attendence was so low. I don’t think he understood that aside from Wintertime events in Belguim, cycling spectators are conditioned to spectating in open-air amphitheaters for free, so why would they choose the opposite unless large quantities of cheap beer and bratwurst were the offering(look at Belgium cycling fans; do they look like they actually ride bicycles?(They are actually the American football fan’s alter ego)).

    It’s pretty clear that whoever is marketing Pro Cycling events in the U.S. is foundering. The Big Dog Tour de France gets a (.1) Neilsen Rating for U.S. Viewership; that’s about 100,000 viewers. Neilson Ratings generally don’t start to matter until they are in the multiples of millions. There’s the chicken-and-egg argument, but I think it has more to do with lack of clever, out-of-the-box thinking and innovation in regard to designing and marketing, i.e.: bring the events to the people instead of expecting the people to go to the events. How does the saying go?: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity…

    How about a three-race triple-crown “classic-style” series over a three week time-frame in three significant urban areas where the winner gets a date with Taylor Swift?(I jest, partially). The point is the traditional model isn’t growing the sport. Pro Cycling needs to stop navel-gazing if it wants to break free from it’s financial sufferfest.

    1. Chicken-and-egg problem is a bit different. You can’t market properly without money, and you can’t get the money without effective marketing.

      1. Actually that was exactly what I was referring to. I stepped on my thought process..Thanks for clarifying that point.

        I looked up the track schedule per your link, and being a bmx’r turned mtb’r turned roadie, the track event schedule was Greek to me, albeit a cyclist. Football, etc. are easy for even the layperson to get immediately; move the ball/score a point; and evening of track cycling is challenging even for someone like myself.

        Years ago, I can remember trying to figure out how someone could “attack” by riding away from an opponent…

        Now if it was really all about the beer and hot dogs…but I’m watching body fat percentages…

        1. I once asked a pal who races Madison if it ever got so confusing that he had no idea what was going on. “It never doesn’t,” he said.

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