For years the heart of tracking racing in the United States has been the Lehigh Valley Velodrome in Trexlertown. T-Town, as it’s commonly known, has benefitted from a combination of strong financial support, local interest, well managed grass roots programs and international level calibre racing. In recent years that leadership role has started to shift to the west coast as the popularity of fixed gear culture and racing has sparked new interest in the Western states.
The epicentre of this revolution can be traced to the emergence of the ADT Center located in Carson City (an inland Los Angeles ‘burb) as the pre-eminent training and racing facility in the US. With a strong program run by Roger Young – a former Olympian himself – ADT has provided an indoor facility which has supported World Cup level events with world class crowds. The track itself has been home to most of the current crop of Elite US Athletes including Sarah Hammer, and the Hawk Relay Racing team.
The other major west coast tracks include Hellyer Velodrome outside of San Francisco in Silicon Valley, Alpenrose located in Oregon, Marymoore located outside of Seattle and Encino Velodrome located in San Diego. All of these west coast tracks have put together strong weekly grass roots programs aimed at attracting riders of all levels. Tracks such as Hellyer have even started to produce world cup contenders from their weekly programs with riders such as Daniel Hollaway (Garmin-Slipstream) and Shelly Olds (Proman).
Alpenrose & Marymoore – joined by Hellyer in 2006 – all produced elite level races with larger purses as part of in the nascent American Velodrome Challenge series. While the series did not take off, the races themselves have each grown in identity and draw participant and spectator crowds who come to party as much to race. Camping at Alpenrose is as much of an event as racing the boards, and the rave like atmosphere Hellyer puts on for their Friday night races is as much a Facebook phenomenon as their promoter who goes by the moniker “Hernando.”
Despite the growing interest with fans, these larger regional races draw local stars and not the world class fields seen at T-Town. Robin Horowitz owner of Hawk Relay racing, and a Hellyer racer, summarized the situation like this “There are no elite level races, so since there are no elite level of races there’s no opportunity to really draw in fans. I don’t think fans want to watch a masters race, so we need to create 2 separate type of races. One where we all focus on grassroot level of races, that’s the strength of Hellyer, but… it, has its limits on popularity growth.”
Lack of international fields aside, the west coast tracks are producing some of the best US talent. Brian Peterson President of the Hellyer Velodrome Association and former US Masters Track Champion put it like this. “The level of talent is very deep across all categories, elite men, elite women, masters. Nor Cal riders won over 50 gold medals at Masters Nationals in 2008! We also have some of the top domestic pro’s racing on the west coast tracks. Ben Jacques-Maynes, Andy J-M, Roman Kilun, Rasahn Bahati, Daniel Holloway, Shelley Olds…the list goes on. Not to mention we are home to champions of the past like Jeff Solt (former national sprint champion) and Mike McCarthy (former world pursuit champion) who comes out, hasn’t been on the track in 10 years, and rips it apart in the 3k at Masters Nats.”
The combination of depth of the fields, better weather, and cost of maintaining out door tracks means that the racing at venues such as Encino and Hellyer is hard and fast all year round. Combined with the enthusiasm of the promoters at tracks in Alpenrose, Marymoor, and not smaller indoor venues like Boulder Cycle Sports the west coast velodrome scene is emerging as one of the exciting hotbeds of American cycling. A bumper sticker at a local Northern California race said it all…”Track is the new cyclocross.”
Photo credit – Velo Steve on Flickr.