ROUGEMONT -- Though it got off to a slow start, the cyclists who competed in the first event in a new Orange County Speedway series pedaled pretty darn fast.About a dozen devoted bikers, all of them men, showed up at the 3/8-mile track, more commonly used for motorized racing, for the first night of the Twilight Points Race Series. A second event was held Tuesday, and the third and final event will be July 15. If you're not involved in competitive cycling, it's a world of fanatics addicted to soaring heart rates, aching muscles and clean-shaven legs. Many competitions draw upwards of 50 bikers, but this was the first race of its kind at the Orange County Speedway -- the country track on N.C. 57 outside Rougemont, near where Orange, Durham and Person counties meet. "It's starting out small but every event starts out small," said Mac Canon, president of the Carolinas Cycling Association and the first night's chief judge.
Those who came cycled at speeds averaging more than 27 mph during a heart-pounding 40 minutes, going around the track 55 times. Their heavily muscled legs resembled loaves of brioche, and sweat poured down their spandex-covered bodies. A video camera was set up at the finish line to make sure Canon, and Judy Rhyne, the chief referee, scored accurately.As their scratched and bandaged legs pumped at a steady clip, the racers worked to accumulate points that would affect their rankings with the USA Cycling Association. A points race is not simply a race to the finish line. Cyclists get points for each lap in which they finish first or second, for finishing in the top five during the occasional "sprint" lap (signaled by a bell), and for lapping the pack.Series organizer Mike Vandy said the series will draw more folks as it gets better known. "The word's not out yet," said Vandy, who placed second in the first night's second race for advanced A-class bikers. The first race combined the B and C classes because of the small turnout.
Back yard fun
Durham residents Chris Oishi and Adam Haile were happy to have an event in their back yard -- it's hard to drive an hour to a race on a weeknight."It's a fun thing to do on a Tuesday night," Haile said. Before the race began, the two B classers changed into their racing outfits and warmed up by tooling around the track. Oishi even popped some energy gummies. Haile went on to finish second, Oishi fourth.The lone spectator, Ginny Lawrence, was a cyclist herself who came to watch her husband, Dan, compete in both races. He needed three more points to go from Category 3 to 2, and hoped his third-place finish would get him there."Come on, guys!" she yelled as her husband and a few other cyclists zoomed past. "Work together!" The Lawrences are in Raleigh for the summer only, and drove all the way from St. Louis rather than flying so they could bring their bikes.Working together in a race with fewer competitors presents challenges, Vandy said. The fewer bikers there are, the more headwinds on the track. It's smarter to "draft," or follow in someone's wake, to cut down on your own drag. In larger events, it's easier to draft by default.It can also be easier to get hurt, especially if novice cyclists are competing. Many of the bikers present the first night had some form of scar, bandage or both to show for a recent spill. Others, like Vandy, had older war wounds. His left ankle is scarred and bows out quite a bit, but he's lucky. He survived being hit by a car during a race back in 1991, and after a 12-year hiatus from the sport, has become competitive again."It's the fitness," he says, that got him back in the saddle ("saddle" is the term cyclists use for their bike seats,) "but it's also addictive."Having only a dozen bikers made it easier for those who needed a break to step aside. The course -- designed for faster stock cars -- is tight and steeply banked. One man pedaled to the outside to take a breath on his inhaler. Others, realizing they weren't going to place, made way for those still pushing hard on the inner loop of the track.When it was all over, the guys agreed to forgo their prize money that evening, Vandy paid $200 to rent the course, and the entry fee was only $15 per person. If the award money, $225 for the top five from each race to split, had been handed out, Vandy would lost a lot of money.But it wasn't about the money. Some bikers competed in both races that night for the sheer fun of it -- workout junkies getting their fix.