Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My first State Championship Road Race since the ‘90s

Moto official behind one of the women's fields
A whiff of the past: Mother Neff State Park, 8 miles, said the sign on my drive down toward Temple (where I stayed with Martha and Alan in their new home). Mother Neff SP  was the site of the last Texas State Championship in which I participated as a racer, and that was sometime shortly before the turn of the millennium. Now it is 2013, and I just finished two days of working as an official the premier (at least from a boasting standpoint) bike race weekend of the season.
The Juniors are lining up for their race start
Andy Hollinger, the promoter of this event and publisher of The Racing Post, had asked me last fall why I never worked any of his races, and I told him that the long drive (and the associated mileage charge) was pretty much the deal killer for most road races, where more often than not the organizer takes a financial hit when fewer racers show up than expected. But Andy had responded that for this race he had lots of financial sponsors and that he could afford bringing me in. Mind you, a road race requires a much larger number of officials than a mountain bike race or a triathlon, and the costs are staggering. To give you an idea: We had a crew of 15 paid officials for a total of 849 registered racers over two days. For the HHH mountain bike race, we had two paid officials for about half that number of racers. You see the financial ramifications for an organizer.
RD Andy discusses race results with some finishers
For the past few years, Andy has organized the State Championships (both skills- as well as age-based) in the perfect venue: the largest military reservation (in the free world, as was mentioned by several people this weekend), Fort Hood. For two days, racers have access to the car-free roads of this truly vast installation, which covers something like 160 square miles. Our race loop was a whopping 33 miles long, completely closed to traffic and with wide, well-paved roads. Go government, go. Of course, you better stay on the road since there are unexploded bombs waiting for the unsuspecting civilian, or there could be some live ammunition exercise in the underbrush. Ample signage lets you know that this is, essentially, a war zone. And somehow Andy managed to secure this venue for the benefit of all Texas racers.
Doesn't need a comment, does it?
I was thoroughly reminded (no, it wasn’t a reminder, it was a cold slap in the face) that not everybody in this country has a pacifist, why, even liberal view of the world; you need to understand that as somebody who left his home country partly to not serve in the military I have a somewhat dark view of everything having to do with guns, tanks, and yes, soldiers as well. So it was not an easy three hours with one of my drivers who quite obviously had convictions diametrically different from mine. A self-proclaimed red-neck and lifelong construction worker she continued to complain about the high price of ammo, the impending take-over of law-abiding civilians by the government, and the fact that Glocks jam too easily when you fire too many rounds. Whenever I tried to direct our conversation back to bike racing, she’d manage to find a link to her life: “By the way, the first-prize winner in this race is going to get something like $400 or so.”— “Hell, with that I could rebuild my M4.” She was a tough woman, obviously, and her anger-management program for her teenage son consisted of buying a watermelon or a pumpkin and his using one of his two swords to “slice ‘em up.” Or she’d just take him to the shooting range, but you know about the price of ammo because of that President of ours…. 
With these ...
... they blow things up here: Little Baghdad, as it is known, replete with fake mosque
So, that was the cultural component of my trip. In all fairness, my three other local drivers were not made of the same survivalist wood as she or spouted off racial and sex-oriented epithets. But Ft. Hood certainly has an influence on the area, as I found out during those long hours of conversation while sitting behind a slow-moving field of racers. Interesting stuff, I tell you. 
One year, Apache helicopters flew a strafing run right next to the race. Seriously.
Apart from learning a little more about an area one hasn’t really visited before, races also present the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, and a state championship attracts its share of familiar faces. The names may not mean anything to the casual reader, but some have featured before and I certainly don’t want to forget about whom all I saw: Of the old guard, there were the ageless Fred Schmid and his wife, Suzanne; Jack and Esther Weiss, who had just sold their triathlon production company; Todd Mann and his former roommate, Stephen Crewe (who’s been married for 7 years and has a darling 3-year-old daughter);  Cath and Ian Moore with their wild daughters, Daria and Sophie; my former student Bridget Alford, who is either married or strongly liaised with Lucas Brousseau, one of the TMBRA regulars back when; Jim Slauson;  and finally all those guys against whom I used to race, among them Willie K. Allen, Frank Kurzawa, Tom Bain, and George Heagerty. There were others, of course, but with all these I exchanged long handshakes and often hugs, and we were able to catch up with one another, time permitting. It was interesting when the chief mentioned to me that lots of people had said to him, “Oh, Jürgen is here—I recognize his car and coffee cup.” 
Part of the crew at lunch on Day 2
Incidentally, Sunday was the 3-year anniversary of Judy’s departure. Lots of people mentioned her, not realizing that this was the day. She still lives on in people’s memories, and she still elicits a smile and a heartfelt “we miss her badly.” As do I, and not only on race weekends.


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