Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Junk Yard Dog

This past Saturday evening, Katherine and I went to Avoca, IA (pop. 1500) to watch the main event: a junkyard car derby. Awesome! Katherine's friend Shannon is from Avoca and her boyfriend had built a car for the race. Man, that was fun. And LOUD, too.

For the inexperienced, a Demolition derby is an event where automobiles engage in a battle of attrition against each other. It's essentially a cross between the two Rs: racing and 'rasslin, and is a favorite at county fairs. No offense, but other than the 4-H youth who hand fed Wilbur into a hogzilla, who really wants to see the prize hog? Indeed, nothing beats Car Wrestling at the mud track.

Apparently the rules state which type of cars can be entered and how and where they can be reinforced for safety purposes. What it comes down to is choosing the best type of frame that will naturally protect vulnerabilities: radiator, wheels and engine. A 1995 Camry like the one I drive would be a poor choice because it's small, under powered and has plastic bumpers rated at 5 mph. What you need is a steel behometh with some punch under the hood. It appears that station wagons built in the U.S. of A in the 1960-1970s fit this bill best. I wondered more than once how mom and pop's 1976 Catholic Cruiser (Pontiac Grand Safari) would have fared.

While the smell of funnel cakes wafted through the air, I noted the tactics of the better drivers pruning the others with minimal damage to their own. A car smashed another into the wall and the crowd jumped back. My mind then drifted to volunteering at last week's Papillion crit, where a race course official cautiously stepped back from the haystacks and said, "Here comes the Cat5 on their first corner - better give them some space." That's when I had a revelation: there's a lot of derby tactics that can be applied to Cat5 bicycle races.

Cat5 riders are notoriously squirrelly riders. Any time you get 20+ amateur cyclists, much less entry level racers starting from a bunched up state, you're likely to have bedlam. Except for the mud, the noise and carney food (beer-drinking fans exists at anytime of the day), I figure Cat5 racing is not unlike the junk yard derby. So here are my racing takeaways:
1) Turn (lean) into a competitor crashing into you
2) Protect your wheels
3) Position to the inside during turns
4) Get the hell out of the way if somebody's about to T-Bone you at high speeds

Finally, I picked up a few maintenance tips.

A sledge hammer (see yellow circles) is a excellent way to straighten out that frame after a wreck. Sure, dentists will probably need some of Munson's duct tape to get their carbon fiber bike reassembled, but the majority of Cat-5'ers are more likely riding croMoly or aluminum jobbies that could use some good ol' fashioned persuasion to prep them for the next road race.

On paint: I'm sure that many have deeply longed to put a custom touch to their rig's paint scheme but just didn't feel they had the permission. I say go for it. Forget Tom Boonen's Tornado emblem or Ricardo "The Worm" Ricco's Cobra decal that might have come from a box of Cracker Jacks. What I'm talking about is making a statement that really stands out, like car #32's "I like girls that like girls" slogan. The problem of a bicycle not having enough real estate for such a message is overcome with a homemade FOTL and magic marker jersey. Imagine the pizazz! People would show up every week if only to see what Fredcube was pimpin' (and to drink beer (which they do already)).

Anyway, armed with my copious notes and pictures, I say to my fellow Cat5 riders: "Let's get ready to rrrrrrrrrrumble!"


  1. The only thing squirrelier that a Cat 5 rider is a Cat 4 rider. Not the rider so much as the group. Since the qualification to upgrade is 10 race experience, the skills are not necessarily there, but some of the fear is gone (and it should not be). There is a real hesitance in cat 5's which actually makes it safer in general. One exception though, If you're in the front of the cat 4 group, with those who are as skilled as cat 3's (like my new hero Bryan), you're much safer than in a cat 5 race - except that in a cat 5, you could probably just ride off the front, what with your skill and everything.

  2. fred is ... gulp ... right. A teammate told me this when I upgraded last year: "Cat. 4s think they're the cat's ass since they upgraded. In reality, they're just faster, meaning it hurts more when they slam into you."

    But in the front group, all is calm. The only time I've felt even slightly in danger is during road races, where the whole peloton stays together for a long time. Plus, when I get blown off the back next year, I'll also be safe ... riding by myself.

  3. My Cat 5 experience was interesting: several lurkers, several conspirists, several dorks, and several unshaven middle age guys like me.

    By group:
    -The Lurkers didn't say anything, sucked wheels the whole time and sprinted at the end
    -The conspirists were talking in hushed tones at the end on when they should team up and attack at the last big hill.
    -The dorks talked a lot, one caused a crash by trying to sprint at the start out and off balananced himself into another guy
    -The unshaven guys all kind of bonded together with the collective, "what a bunch of tools are all around us' feeling about the peleton.

    Then I learned that being in the front pack with 500m to go, and thinking of the podium finish is a pipe dream--the lurkers, conspirers and a few of the dorks can all flat out sprint. I remember being surprised watching them all take off like a rocket while my dead legs just couldn't keep up. (Did pass a few shaved leg guys though)

    Also--I was the only guy there without a spare wheelset.

  4. I started as a lurker and progressed to a conspirist. I stopped being a conspirist when I announced an attack about a half-mile before going. At that point I think I just became a jackass. Two or three guys came along and that was pretty much it.

    And then I got smoked in Cat. 4 for a few months.

  5. Bryan: put the big gulp down before reading fred's comments. I've studied your racing tactics too you know. I think you'd excel at the JYDerby!

    Fred: seems like bicycle racing categories is not unlike high school. (I know, right?). Anyway, as a HS Frosh, I kept my nose clean. In fact, I didn't even receive one demerit, much less a Justice Under God (JUG), that year. And then in my Sophomore year, 15 out of the 16 student council reps were suspended for breaking into the the altar wine (sacrilicious!!!) during a late night bonfire on our STUCO retreat. Guess who wasn't suspended? You got it: Mr Steel-cut. I saw a bad thing coming when my fellow sophomoric classmates decided to try and pull one on some Jesuits. You don't mess with the Army of the Pope, man.

    Basically, what I'm saying is that I think that I'll be chicken shit for the entirety of my pending racing career.

    Murphini: aren't you also a tool for not only having one wheelset but also riding a campy dressed Tarmac with only one wheelset?

    No, don't fret. I'm a tool, too. I've ridden three races on a barely aero wheelset that came with the P2sl that Brendan said, "You won't race on those."

    Maybe one day, though, I'll get that extra wheelset. Until then, it's my pipe dream.

  6. Brady - you're a Prep alum?

  7. JP: I have the privilege of attending two Jesuit High schools: St Louis University High School from frosh - junior year and Regis Jesuit High School in Denver.

    I was also an Alum Service Corps volunteer at Regis Jesuit (Denver) and then served for three years as the Director of Campus Ministry at Brophy Prep in Phoenix a long long time ago...

    It's been my experience that you've see one, you've seen them all.

    Were you a "Prepster?"