Will track racing finally find a home in Sacramento?

The goal is a velodrome – a smooth surfaced track with banked corners used for bicycle racing.  Unlike outdoor road or stage bicycle races – more commonly known in mainstream America – track races are much friendlier to spectators.  In road or stage races, the setting is outdoors and you can’t see the riders until they pass by your vantage point.  In some race formats – like the Tour de France – that happens exactly once.

In contrast, track racing takes place in a stadium-like environment, where spectators can watch all of the action as it unfolds.

I stopped by Rex Cycles in Sacramento to speak with Steve Rex and Dean “Dino” Alleger, two guys who just happen to know a thing or two about getting a velodrome facility in the Sacramento area.

Sacramento was home to a wooden outdoor velodrome in the early 20th century, so this wouldn’t be the first time track racing took place in the area.  It is also not the first time there has been a concerted, organized effort to get a new one built.

Steve Rex was involved in an effort in the early 2000′s to get a facility built at Mather Field.  The idea at the time was to build a national-level track facility, and include that as part of the Northern California’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics that was still in play at that time.  According to a Feb, 2002 article in the Sacramento Bee by Matt Peters:

The feasibility study is expected to be completed in late summer, at which time the group will begin attempting to raise the estimated $1.5 million needed for construction. The entire facility is expected to cost $3 million to $4 million. The goal is to complete the track in time for Sacramento to be host for the Masters Track Nationals in 2003.

Obviously things didn’t work out for that effort, however.  When asked about the what happened, Rex pointed to the findings of the feasibility study as a huge roadblock.  A consultant hired for the study came to the conclusion that, to be successful, the facility would require a specific type of organizational  structure:

(the consultant found that it would require) …professional management, like Trexlertown.  Based on that assumption, we would need a massive endowment like Trexlertown has.

As Steve Rex disappeared into the back of his shop to attend to shop business, I continued to speak with Dino Alleger.  Dino is currently in the drivers seat of the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association.  We spoke about the association while he wrenched on a customer’s bicycle:

JustAnotherCyclist: So how do we fast forward [from 2002] to where we are today?

Dino: Mary Maroon … and I started racing criteriums around the same time together, so we were coming up on the River ride together.  She got the bug to start racing down in San Jose and invited me to come down.  And she said “We gotta build a velodrome in Sacramento.  I’m gonna move to San Jose and figure out how to do it”  So off she went.  She went on to be a national level road racer, and isn’t racing track any more.  But I caught the bug.  … So I just got into it.  Got hooked on the energy in the infield of all these kids racing after all that [prize] money and started think about how we could get more kids into it.

JAC: The effort that’s going on now, how is that different from the effort that was trying to get this going out at Mather Field?

Dino: Instead of trying to get a bunch of people at the top, to build the pyramid down, I’m trying to build an association with several hundred volunteers and racers and build the thing from the bottom up so that we can start running juniors programs, kids events, community stuff and be able to attrract the base that we need to keep it going.  If somebody says “you can’t do this” well, then, we’ll just figure out a new way to do it.  There will be enough energy and momentum behind it that, if it takes me 10 years of running twilight races to get it built, than that’s what its going to be.

JAC: Are any of the plans concrete enough?  Are we talking indoor, or outdoor?

Dino: It needs to be outdoor.  The velodrome down at ADT at Carson, California in LA is an indoor, worldclass track, and its close enough that we can send people down there if they get to the level where they need to be with the Team USA.  The drawback of it is that wood is fragil.  You can’t have beginners crash around on it.  Every time they chip a board they’ve got to replace it.  And the other thing is its sensitive to the environment.  And they have to run the air conditioner 24/7 year round.  And that costs right around 30 thousand dollars a month for heating and air.  To put that into perspective, San Jose’s budget for their entire season is 25 thousand dollars.

JAC: Is San Jose kind of the model to look towards?

Dino: In some ways, yeah.  Its a municipal property, so the county has rangers, and maintenance in the park.  Its a non-profit association that runs all the programs, and they get some private funding to keep things rolling and to do the big money races and stuff.

JAC: Unless you are into track racing, you don’t hear a lot about track racing.  What’s Sacramento like?  Is there talent here?

Dino: There’s about 10 of us from Sacramento and Davis and Folsom that go race down in San Jose on a regular basis.  But if you look at the other kinds of racing that we have here, the BMX out in Roseville – they had Nationals here one or two years ago and they had 500 entrants.  There’s the cyclocross series that has totally blossomed, and that has probably grown several hundred percent over the last 10 years.  They have hundreds of entrants to each race in the series.  The other one is the Prairie City mountain bike racing.  They get anywhere from three to five hundred racers every Wednesday night throughout the series.  So yea, there is a lot of local talent and desire.  The thing about trying to raise Olympic and world cup kids is that you need to get them on bikes when they’re about 10 years old.  And you need to get them riding – it doesn’t need to be there main focus, but there needs to be some kind of program so that the fast ones have a place to work out in a safe environment, and the proper banking.  We want to build a 250 meter track, because that’s the Olympic standard.  250 meters with a 40-some-odd percent banking in the corners.  America’s full of great talent, they just don’t – there’s no pipeline.  USA Cycling looks at results from kids across the country, and then they go with the kids.  Rather than getting hundreds of kids in the ten to twelve year old range to come through and have the ones that take to it or have the motivation to carry on.

JAC: You can’t help but wonder, with track or fixed gear bikes becoming something of a fashionable thing more than they ever have if we might be able to identify talented riders a little easier.

Dino: Yea.  Totally.  Down at Hellyer at San Jose they’ve got messenger races.  You don’t have to be a messenger, but they all have tattoos and messenger bags, you know?

JAC: So what can the average Joe out there that’s a recreational cyclist or just likes watching track racing, what can they do to help this effort out?

Dino: Well, the first thing is to come to our roller races for the next four weeks.  The one on Sunday we had a kid come up from LA that was raised on the track up in Portland.  He’s now on Team USA.  He’s an Olympic hoepful, so he’s living down in LA and training and racing down there.

JAC: So far are there any significant obstacles to making this happen?

Dino: I’ve been working on it for like 4 years now and its pretty solid in my head about how to funnel the energy.  I’ve filed for Articles of Incorporation with the state and I’m waiting for them to come back and if they say its OK for me to go forward than I can get a Tax ID and really start fund raising.  And at that point I’ll try to get maybe 100 people to pledge 1000 dollars and say we’ll collect it in the next year just to show another level of commitment.  Have you been to any of the roller races yet?

JAC: Yea.  Actually I was there last Sunday, and a couple of Second Saturday’s ago I was down here [at Rex Cycles]

Dino: Its highly addictive.  And the track racing is the same.

JAC: When’s the next one?

Dino: Two weeks.

JAC: Is that down at Hot Italian again?

Dino: Yea.  We’re doing a series of six of them, and on March 20th we’re going to have a championship event with prizes.  You can snoop around on sacvalleyveoldrome.org and see some of the stuff.  There’s standings on there.  There’s information … there will be 500 hundred dollars cash up for grabs.

JAC: If this all comes together what do you see your role being after its all built and everything?

Dino: My role?  I’d like to continue on.  Stop being executive director and continue on as a program director that can deal with the juniors.  Specifically the 10-12, 13 years old.

JAC: You sound optimistic.

Dino: Well, what else is there to do?  [laughs]

JAC: I imagine if you thought it wouldn’t work you probably wouldn’t be trying.

Dino: Yeah.  I gambled 20% of my yearly income on trying to get the thing to come off the ground, you know?  The roller race thing.  I bought the domain name, and the web service.  You know, I rolled the dice.  My wife is totally into it.  She races too.  Let’s do it, you know.  It probably would have been a little more financially conservative to wait another six months, but doors just started opening and we had to go through so here we are.  But really, with a good grant writer and all the people we know with non-profit and foundation experience I don’t think getting the money to do it is the problem.  The problem is organizing people.  And so far I seem to enjoy it.

Dino later spoke about desire to also ensure that women have equal representation and access to racing events.  This comes through in his roller racing efforts that are helping to drive awareness and funding for the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association, where you will see women pouring their efforts into the stationary bikes just as zealously as the men.  You can see, and participate, in these events at Hot Italian in Sacramento.  See the Sacramento Valley Velodrome Association website for event schedules and details.

Steve Rex is a custom frame builder and owner of Rex Cycles in Sacramento, CA.

Dean “Dino” Alleger is a Cat 3 road and track racer from Sacramento, CA.

Information on the Sacrament Valley Velodrome Association can be found at http://sacvalleyvelodrome.org