Last week the Wednesday night race at the fairgrounds was cancelled due to rain. Since Shannon and I work on Saturdays, Wednesdays are one of the few opportunities we have to race, so we were extra disappointed. But it got me thinking about the evolution of midweek rides and races in Nashville.
Back in the early 2000's, the hard weekday ride was the Tuesday Night Night Sprint Loop. That was before my time here, so I never got to do it. But my understanding of it was that it was basically lead-out practice; there was a set loop with set sprint lines and (I think) designated sprinters. Everyone else would wind up the pace leading up to the sprint lines, and the sprinters would punch it out. My assumption has been that the ride was set up as a team training ride for the Backyard Burgers team, led by Todd Nordmeyer. Aside from being probably the most dominant bike racer ever to pin on a number in Tennessee, Todd was great at setting up hard, training-targeted rides.
The problem with that ride, as I understand it, was that it got popular. More folks started showing up, it got a bit less disciplined and a lot bigger. Thirty people trying to be involved in a lead out is difficult, full stop. But if that leadout is taking place on an open road with cars, dogs; etc, it can be a recipe for disaster. And there were a few disasters. After some bad crashes, It was decided that The Sprint Loop needed to end.
So somebody(again, probably Todd) came up with the idea of the Hammer Ride. The Hammer Ride was on Wednesday Nights, starting in May. It started at Percy Warner Park and went on a forty mile loop out to the Trace, with five or six stretches of race simulation zones. Everybody knew where they were, and in those parts of the ride the effort was full gas-even faster than race pace, in some instances, since they were so short and everybody knew that there would be a short regroup at the end.
I first heard about the Hammer Ride in 2004. Tim Hall started a website called NashvilleCyclist.com that had information on races, rides and everything else that had to do with bikes in Nashville. The description of the ride said "Cat 3 and above", so I steered way clear. But in 2005 I had been riding a bit more and was feeling brave, so I went out for the Hammer Ride even though I was only a Cat 4. It was great training: I could just barely hang in the group sometimes if I rode intelligently, but if I stuck my nose in the wind, even for a few moments, I was done. I was hooked; I started looking forward to Wednesday nights, measuring any small improvements by how far into the ride I could last. I figured out who the stronger riders were and which wheels were the right ones to follow. I felt like I was racing even though I wasn't.
Later that summer, Tim announced on the website that he was going to put on an actual race series on a few Wednesday nights. He'd secured a criterium course at the Titans' stadium, and there would be prizes for every race, plus an overall competition for the series. I hadn't done much crit racing at that point, but I was psyched to try it.
Compared to what it became and to what we have now, that first year was...well, small. There was an A(Cat 1/2/3) race andB(Cat 4/5 and Women) race, and I think the total number of racers combined was about twenty. I raced the B race and then stuck around for the A race. There were a handful of pros living in town at the time, and they all showed up. I was shocked at how fast they went around the course-they went around corners so fast that I closed my eyes the first few laps, certain they were going to crash.
By the end of the summer, more people were showing up to race. Someone scored a small PA system and there was music. A few folks even came out just to hang out and enjoy some free entertainment. The little series was a success, and Tim said that he'd try to do more next year. He did, and the series got bigger and bigger. By 2010, there were more categories and many more racers-every Wednesday there would be at least 100 people showing up to race. And the scene was fantastic-there was an announcer with a legit sound system and dozens of people came out to watch. It was a fun little party in the middle of a parking lot. Wednesday nights were something to look forward to; I tried to never miss one. The races got big and fast and the competition for the overall series was aggressive. Every year there would be a big season-end party after the last race. Regardless of when it happened, that party always felt like the end of summer.
In 2012 Tim moved to North Carolina for a job, but he had his summers free(he's a collegiate cycling coach) so he could still come back to Nashville to run the series. Unfortunately, after 2013 the parking lot of the stadium was no longer available-they needed the space for State employees. I just assumed that we'd go back to the Hammer Loop on Wednesday nights. It was funny; as much as I'd loved those Wednesday night loops starting in the park, the thought of not having the crits was depressing.
Luckily for me and everyone else, Michael Edens stepped in and found a solution. He talked to the people at the fairgrounds, and now we have our Wednesday night races there. The fairgrounds is a great venue for spectating and the less technical, more wide open course has invited more beginner racers. Michael started a new series there in 2014 and it's grown every year. This year Michael went to visit the Driveway Series in Austin(the biggest midweek series in the country, at least that I know of) and brought back some ideas to make Wednesday nights even bigger and better. He's done a tremendous job.
We're lucky to have had so much fun midweek riding and racing in Nashville for such a long time. If you've gotten to enjoy any of it, maybe say thanks to Todd or Tim or Michael if you see them around town.
We'll see you out there on Wednesday. Hope it doesn't rain.