Watering the grass roots: Victor Sheldon and Jim Miller
March 12, 2021 § 3 Comments
The Quick-N-Dirty mountain bike series in San Diego, born of necessity, has become a linchpin on the racing calendar. Its alumni include junior national champions as well as legends of the sport such as Ned Overend. I spoke with Jim Miller, announcer and longtime associate of the series, and with Victor Sheldon, the race organizer, about this popular grass roots racing event.
Seth Davidson: Tell me about the race series.
Jim Miller: Quick and Dirty had been up and running for a couple of years when I got involved. It helped launch my side hustle of announcing at bike races and events. I was working at SPY and Victor said his announcer was sick one day and asked me to fill in. Then his partner moved to NorCal and I fell into the role of being part of the crew to set up, get it going, and stay there til the bitter end when the van is locked up! It’s been a thrill to watch it grow and become a genuine and caring group of people who come together to race. On Thursday nights we’ll have 300 racers in the summer, people who drive two hours from Ensenada in Mexico, they bring the whole family, and everyone racing and barbecuing. We’ve crated a cool community of people with a positive vibe. Now there are bigger 1-day events throughout the year, as we’ve relaunched the Sagebrush Safari. And with a new facility in Barona Oaks where Victor dug out trails, we have a new dedicated track to race anytime we want. For two months he was living in his van digging the trails!
Seth Davidson: What is the rider demographic?
Jim Miller: Kids race on Strider push-bikes before every main race. It’s a half-mile course, and with main race we have schoolboy and schoolgirl categories which are always our biggest categories, 60-65 kids from age 12 to 16. It’s phenomenal. That’s our greatest opportunity to train and teach young riders. We’ve had instances where the regular category riders get passed by a kid and the kid would say something inappropriate so it’s been a great teaching moment to tell kids, “That’s not how racers race and it’s not how we do it.” We give space and have a talk and that teaches the young riders the supportive and encouraging environment will be across all categories. You’re coming up new and this is how you race. We have on the other end of the spectrum some of the 50-55 riders that are some of the fastest guys around. Ned Overend races with us, competes and wins.
Seth Davidson: How is this different from the road racing scene?
Jim Miller: The vibe at an MTB race always has a little less of that alpha mentality. People are intense and they come to race to win. But the vibe is way less “Hey look at me, my bike costs x.” Afterwards we sit down and have a beer and laugh at your legs and their dirt sampling, they don’t throw their bikes in the back and leave. It’s way more communal post-race. People stick around and in the summer series it’s 9:15 and we’re having to push people out because a barbecue is going and people are having a great time hanging out with friends. That’s a hallmark of our races and MTB in general.
Seth Davidson: Is MTB racing a threat to road racing or does it complement it at some point?
Jim Miller: It’s not a threat but in some ways it attracts a different type of person. Some people toggle and enjoy both but I think it pulls a different personality style. Some of the people who race MTB show up with no chance of winning and that’s not important to them. They show up to pin on a number and go as hard as they can, turn themselves inside out to race. People come not knowing what to expect and they go out and get their ass kicked and come back and look like they just went through hell and they’re back the next week. That’s the best part. We have kids who have come up through kids, schoolboys, and are now winning national championships. Mason Salazar, Raulito Gutierrez are now racing at an elite level on the national scene and are contending every time.
Seth Davidson: Does MTB groom kids for road racing?
Jim Miller: I really think it does. It helps build an explosive engine off the line, but more than anything it teaches you how to handle your bike. Some of the stronger MTB riders are so much better on the road. A guy like Brian Scarborough has a great engine but is so technically adept that it keeps him out of trouble.
Seth Davidson: What is Quick ‘N Dirty’s diversity plan?
Jim Miller: We do everything we can to expand our reach whether that’s promoting skills/clinics, encouraging new younger riders to get involved. I can look around at the start line and we’re a microcosm of the sport as a whole but we would encourage riders everywhere. We are in San Diego so it’s hard to draw from LA/Orange County because of the driving distance. The weekend events are more diverse but even that we have a large contingent of Hispanic riders, our women’s fields grow every year, we consistently have 25 women in our beginning women’s categories, used to be 5-10. We have demo bikes from Specialized and Giant and Haro and we can get kids on bikes.
Seth Davidson: How can MTB increase black participation?
Jim Miller: That’s as important an issue as can be raised. We don’t have a particular plan to court black riders but I think we could utilize in a more formalized way our brand partners to let people know we have bikes. It’s more of an exposure thing. How do we show people in the black community that we have this? You’re out in nature and don’t have to worry about cars. We know that once people get involved they’re going to love it.
Seth Davidson: How has covid affected Quick ‘N Dirty?
Jim Miller: It wiped out 2020. We couldn’t run Sagebrush Safari which is on state and national property, the Summer Series had to be canceled because it’s on Lake Hodges, city property, in the fall, same thing, and it wasn’t until Victor dug in at the Barona Oaks course that he was able to have a 1-day event in December, the Dirty 30, and a 3-week mini-series. I’m doing newsletters and providing other support but there are going to be 350 people at the next event. This year we’re hopeful that with numbers trending the way they are we will be able to get back to our normal schedule, though Sagebrush won’t happen. The Summer Series and 1-day events will happen in the fall.
[After Jim and I spoke, I called Victor and continued the interview with him.]
Seth Davidson: Why did you start Quick ‘N Dirty?
Victor Sheldon: Because Michael fired me. I started scrambling and threw out some ideas, one of my friends here who had been in the industry forever, I was pushing on him to get it started, relentless trying to get my idea into place. It stemmed from not having a job at the time.
Seth Davidson: Tell me about the first races.
Victor Sheldon: We were going to do three races, the Winter Series Warm-up, and we had over 100 people at our first race, 50 people more than expected. And it started taking off. I was overwhelmed with people wanting to come check us out and it has grown from every race we have done since we started, 12/17/2013, from that date we’ve grown every race.
Seth Davidson: What explains the success?
Victor Sheldon: Putting in hard work and always being organized and always giving people something to go home on a positive note. We’ve tried to have organized races, and our mission statement has been to put a lot of people on the track to race.
Seth Davidson: What has been the biggest challenge?
Victor Sheldon: In the past it has been great with the city and county, they’ve always been super helpful and supportive. But the biggest hurdles have been trying to figure out what people want.
Seth Davidson: What do people want?
Victor Sheldon: That’s the hurdle.
Seth Davidson: You’re doing something right.
Victor Sheldon: We’ve put together a good team locally. Joey Rodriguez has been our registration and timing guru since Day One, Jim Miller has been by our side, Jay Isabel has stepped in to help with some of the logistics as far as staging, sound systems. Our team is a big part of BWR as well.
Seth Davidson: How so?
Victor Sheldon: Everyone has either worked on it or is working on it.
Seth Davidson: What is your cycling and athletic background?
Victor Sheldon: I’m a two-time national MTB champion, one-time national cyclocross champion, I won Sea Otter every time I raced it, 6 or 7 times, I’m a die-hard competitive individual.
Seth Davidson: Before bike racing?
Victor Sheldon: Before this I was a professional jet-ski racer from the early 90s to the early 2000s, almost 23 years.
Seth Davidson: You had some pretty notable results didn’t you?
Victor Sheldon: I won 8 national and world championships. That’s where most people know me from. And jet-skiing has molded me into the person I am today.
Seth Davidson: How so?
Victor Sheldon: Just it has made me the competitor, as you know being a competitor brings out a lot of good in a person because they are relentless, they always try, they don’t like to give up, they give it their all. If you’re a champion you have that mentality to be successful.
Seth Davidson: Why is MTB popular when road racing is in decline?
Victor Sheldon: The technology in MTB has come a long way.
Seth Davidson: Why is that important?
Victor Sheldon: It’s safer. Better suspension means less injury. MTB is safer from vehicle traffic, that’s probably biggest, and on top of all that since there’s less road racing due to permitting, there are more MTB races, people want to race their bike, road is out, so they think, “I better get a mountain bike.” Those are the times we are in right now. People really like gravel, being off the paved roads. I do a lot of miles on the road but a lot of people do mind being on the road. So many high school kids have mountain bike classes or mountain biking rather than high school road riding. That’s part of the growth, too, the youth that’s coming into it. 3-4 years ago we wouldn’t see as many kids as we do today at our races. It’s our biggest class now. It’s really cool. The parents come, they bring sister and grandmom, it’s become a family outing. Dad races, kids race, mom races as well, or mom races and dad supports. It’s cool to see the whole family getting out.
Seth Davidson: How do you think this benefits kids?
Victor Sheldon: A lot of parents are doing whatever they can to get their kids off phones and get them outside. And with the pandemic families are coming together and using bicycles to get everyone together and it’s morphed into the next step. First they got on bikes, junior likes to go faster, and then his friend is racing, and then they hear about local mountain bike racing, and they jump on. We make our races friendly to all skill levels.
Seth Davidson: Is MTB safer than road racing?
Victor Sheldon: They’re both dangerous but I like both; we promote MTB but we are about cycling as a whole.
Seth Davidson: Any thoughts about getting more blacks into MTB?
Victor Sheldon: It’s starting to come around. We’re a small organization and we try to reach out as much as we can and support any color of racer to come and race, whatever we can do to bring all people to our sport, we’re supportive of that.
Seth Davidson: Do the demo bikes help get people into racing?
Victor Sheldon: As of now many companies don’t have demo bikes because they’ve had to sell all the bikes due to the shortage caused by the pandemic. Once that opens back up and we have a demo fleet out again, that will help us reach out to people to help them have a bike to ride.
Seth Davidson: Where would you like Quick ‘N Dirty to be in ten years?
Victor Sheldon: I don’t know if I can do it ten more years! The pandemic has put ten years on me. It’s been so hard trying to come up with new things to do, virtual rides, or competitions through Strava. We’ve had to do stuff differently to survive and we’re still trying to put races on and it’s still really hard to be able to do that.
Seth Davidson: Do you feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives?
Victor Sheldon: 100%. I know that for a fact because we see people the first time they come out they’re asking all sorts of questions, maybe overweight or new to the sport, a year later they’ve changed their whole outlook on cycling and it’s cool to see and to get the compliments from those people. Sometimes it brings tears to your eyes because you’ve helped people get to the next step in their life.
Seth Davidson: What is it that drives you?
Victor Sheldon: I might take it for granted a little bit because I don’t know any better and I think the thing that drives me is changing someone’s life. Seeing a kid who started racing as a toddler and then winning a national championship. We have four or five kids that started racing with us and they have won, and that helps drive me to keep doing it and moving forward. The thing I’d like to promote for anybody is the idea of follow through. If you dream of it, follow through even if it’s not successful. So many times people don’t follow through and they’ll never know whether they could have done it or not. As long as you’re trying, that’s what’s important. They always have to keep trying to do something that’s productive.
Seth Davidson: Thanks, Victor!
Victor Sheldon: You’re welcome.
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