Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Story - Carpe Diem Racing

For many, many years I raced for a team based out of the shop for which I worked. I joined the team when I was 15 years old and barely able to race a bike. The team name changed over the years simply because we didn't always promote a race, and back then, if you didn't promote a race, you couldn't renew your club name. Over the years we were the Fairfield County Velo Club, Racing Team Silvermine, RTS (officially different from the long version of the same name), and Better Bicycle Club.

In the fall of 1988, tired of this musical name charade, four of us sat down together in the house where I grew up to decide what to call our new and hopefully long-term team. We were looking for something cool yet not overused. Initially we looked at names which included "cyclo" or "velo" or "sport" or "racing" or names of the local areas (Silvermine was one of them), but after countless iterations of the various names, we realized that this wasn't the way to go. We didn't want to have the sponsor's name in the team name, partly because of the rules, partly because we wanted to steer clear of any sponsorship change issues. And by having the geographic location in our name, we thought it'd limit some of the sponsorship ops.

After a bit I started looking through the various catalogs piled up on the table, looking for something, anything, that might lead to a team name. Some of the catalogs were not of much help (Victoria's Secret, Campmor) but one worked. Flipping through catalog of motivational items (mugs, calenders, sweatshirts, pens, all with inspirational sayings on them), I found a phrase repeated a few times, and particularly on the back cover on a white sweatshirt. I recognized one from 8th grade English with Ms. Kasper - Carpe Diem.

Seize the Day.

Or, in its figurative meaning, seize the moment. Seize the opportunity. Take a chance.

Go for it!

After a half hearted defense of a Velo-Spoke-Cyclo-Sport type of name, we agreed on Carpe Diem and registered our team as Carpe Diem Racing.

We managed to hold races or piggy back on them for a couple years, including the original mountain bike races in Cranbury Park in Norwalk, CT, a 'cross race there, and even a hill climb (in Connecticut?!).

As a team we made enough of an impact that the pre-race chatter took a different tone. When racers came up to me to make small talk (while warming up, registering, etc), they wouldn't ask how I was riding, how I was training. They were a little more blunt.

"So who on your team is here?"

It no longer mattered how one or two individuals were riding. It was more important to know who on the team was around, because as a team, we rode extremely well. In all of my Cat 3 racing in the area, I'd never seen a team work together as we did, starting in 1989. Although we were quickly surpassed by some stronger teams, we set the tone in a series of races where we sacrificed most of our riders to place one or two of us near the top. We worked on team tactics at the Tuesday Night Sprints at SUNY Purchase, honing our leadouts, sweeps, and more subtle tactics in the big, competitive fields.

We never really won races but the team philosophy enabled even a new or weak or inexperienced racer to contribute to the overall success of the team. With such an attitude, every racer felt like they could do something to help the team - so every racer had a goal for every race.

In road races I was assigned to chase early breaks and give wheels to teammates if they flatted. I specifically rode a different rear wheel so the team leader (for that race) could get a nice Shimano rear wheel (instead of a Campy wheel). I chased early breaks knowing I had almost no chance of making it up the first climbs, but that was okay. I could look back and see my teammates 10 or 12 spots behind me, nicely sheltered, watching me do my best to drag back early moves.

Even before races we'd work for each other. Pumping up tires, pinning numbers, making sure the leader had enough bottles or food or whatever.

I also tried to make everyone a leader for a day so that riders with less experience could see what it was like to be the designated leader. I remember working for one guy, a Cat 4 who wasn't quite as strong as the others. He admitted to me afterwards that it was too much, he felt so much pressure in performing because everyone, and I mean everyone, was trying to help him out before and during the race. He loved it though because it showed him how much the other team members valued his presence, how they respected his efforts. He politely declined further "leader" roles but vigilantly offered his services to the leader of the day.

The club really wanted to do its own USCF race, an effort driven by Mike H, one of the four original "namers" of the team. Specifically, there seemed to be a demand for a low cost spring series of races in our area in Connecticut. I was never involved with the planning of the races but it seemed that the idea was simply to get an official venue where we'd ride with all of our regular riding friends. They'd count as races, we could keep the team name, and things would be great. One of the team members happened to have an "in" in a small town called Bethel, they'd just built a nice sub-one-mile loop of pavement, so we targeted that venue.

The first year Mike ran the race, we made something like 180 dollars over seven hellacious weeks of miserable weather and miniscule fields. Mike, a fixture in the area for decades, suddenly upped and moved to Maine. Before he left, he handed me a thin pile of papers and folder in a manila envelope.

"Here, you need to do the training series next year. No one else wants to do it."

I don't think I reached out very quickly. I looked at the pile. And then slowly extended my hand.

"Um, okay."

I felt like I'd just been sentenced to jail.

George Lucas talks about how he never intended Star Wars to be more than just a movie he made - but now, as he put it, it's become his whole life. Although Bethel is not quite at the "it's my whole life" stage, it definitely rules how I approach January through April of every year. It's become a quarter of my whole life I guess, at least from a recreational time point of view.

For a few years Carpe Diem Racing was a sizeable team, sometimes fielding up to 15 or more racers in a field of 100. By 1992 the team had peaked. Showing how team work allowed weaker racers to do well against stronger ones, other teams started taking the lead. Eventually Carpe Diem was the one victimized by strong, cohesive teams.


Carpe Diem Racing's peak years came in the early to mid 1990s when their main sponsor opened up a second shop in Stamford, CT. It became the team's meet point for rides, meetings, and sporadic get togethers - indoor "group rides" on trainers, TV night on the then-unusual big screen TV, even a wine and cheese tasting night. The team itself had decent results, and in particular, its Category 3 and 4 teams worked well together. Racers would sacrifice themselves for one another, support its "captain" in his targeted races, and band together for the climber types in the hilly events.

One of the most memorable races of the first Carpe Diem Racing was when the lowly Cat 3 team managed to turn a Cat 1-2-3 race completely inside out in the last three miles. Another was the absolute dominance of the team in one of the earlier Bethel Spring Series races, winning the 4s and 3-4s overall as well as a number of the weekly races. These results were all due to the unselfish work exhibited by the members of the team.

When the second shop closed in 1997 (the first one closed a year or two earlier), the team disbanded, the riders scattering all over the place, many of them simply racing unattached. For a few years a bunch of racers migrated from one team to another, trying to stick together, trying to find the magic of the original Carpe Diem Racing.

When the Bethel Spring Series organizing body (i.e. me and someone else) took on the name Carpe Diem Promotions, a newly revived Carpe Diem Racing followed close behind. Initially formed as a method of advertising the Bethel Spring Series, it inadvertently drew back many of the core of the old Carpe Diem Racing team. Tired of racing unattached or with teams of convenience, the group coalesced again. The team acted as a holding place for racers, without an official shop sponsor, no group rides, and sporadic email announcements.

The initial mission each year was to hold the Bethel Spring Series. They'd all gather to sweep the course (Connecticut winters means sand and salt all over the roads), marshal the same, and help with the setup and break down.

By now some of those members were married, others had kids, still others had moved away - New Mexico, Colorado, California, even Taiwan. Yet they rallied together and decided to race under the Carpe Diem Racing name. The new team's peak had to be the 2005 Bethel Spring Series, where many of them made special efforts (in racing but also simply in getting to the races) to help me win the overall Cat 3-4 title.

A few years ago I started thinking of joining a larger team. Ultimately I decided that I'd join a specific Connecticut team, at the time unaffiliated with any shops in their area. I'd watched the team in action for a couple years. The team actually worked together in races, rode together, helped at Bethel, and even promoted a race (instead of just piggy backing off of an existing race). Fresh, enthusiastic, they seemed most like the Carpe Diem Racing of old. I joined them late in the fall, letting the other Carpe Diem Racing folks know what I'd done.

A couple other Carpe Diem Racers went on to join other local teams, with any kind of loyalty to the team unnecessary once its leader left.

Carpe Diem Racing now exists in stasis once again, available for anyone who does not want to race "Unattached". There are no team dues, no new uniforms, no meetings. A few racers have already asked to use the name, racing in the last generation kit (or generically).

And if the need arises for a team "shell", Carpe Diem Racing will be available to fill it.

Until then, it lies dormant.


Anonymous said...

Good times. Good times. I remember the Better Bikes CX race at Cranbury. Rickie B made me ride to it on my mtb from Bethel. I think I won the women's race then started riding back and bonked spectacularly about 1 mile south of the Station House on Simpaug Tpk. One monster pancake b'fast at said establishment later I was back on the road. I think I won a turkey but I gave it away as I couldn't carry it. I still remember that day as one of my best crazy riding days.

patrick clifford said...

that is an excellent story and very well written. Great job on taking over and making the series a success.

Anonymous said...

Hey, just curious. is the the fairfield county velo club that used to meet on saturdays and sundays outside cristada's market in westport in the early 80's//

Aki said...

That would be it, but the meeting point was Oscar's Deli. I have no idea what's there now but it has a little iron fence around an outside sitting area.

Anonymous said...

Originally, I think it was Cristada's and later became Oscar's. Originally it was Seth, Warren, Frank, Jim, Lee, etc. Aki are you the guy who used to go too fast on downhills with corners??

Aki said...

If you mean Gallows Hill Road, yes, I'm the one who ended up sitting in the middle of the road after trying to follow Bill (Jr racer) down the hill. I still remember that sequence of events vividly, and I still have the Bell Biker Pro helmet that probably saved me from worse than the concussion I suffered.

Anonymous said...

I thought so! Aki Sato! Wow its been years. This is Bill, btw. Hey as I recall you did the same thing in the State Road Race. So the old velo club is still going after all these years??

Aki said...

haha I totally forgot about that. Ledyard, last turn, went right through the pricker bushes, Sue D'Aiello was marshaling the turn, the shop van with a bunch of guys in it were there and watched me disappear off the road. A couple years ago I went to that area to watch a football game and pointed out the turn where I crashed. I descend better now than back then, and I climb a lot worse.

I may have a pic of you at the Uniroyal training series (you won that day) in Middlebury. 1984 I think. I'll have to dig through my archives.

FCVC -> various names -> Carpe Diem Racing. That's when the team separated from the shop (hence no shop name in team) and it became more of something that ultimately I ended up running. When the last remnants of FCVC-era CDR folks left (except me), and the two shops changed hands, CDR became just me, and Bethel really became just CDP (Carpe Diem Promotions). In order to name-squat CDR I kept the team alive and raced for it, but a bunch of late-CDR folks joined too, and it became a semi-legit team, at least for Bethel. Now it's just a promotion team, right now I don't know if there are any actual team members.

However, there are one or two guys that have come back to the sport since the Oscars days. One came to Bethel just last week, name escapes me. He led me out at a sprint in one of 1985 New Britain series race. Arg. I forget the name.

Anonymous said...

Aki, I don't mean to impose, but I would love to get my hands on any photos from that time period as I have none. Please let me know.

Aki said...

I'll scan and figure something out (I can always post it to the pictures blog post). I'll see what else I have since I have some pics from some of the races back then.

Anonymous said...

That would be terrific. Thanks very much!!

bill white said...

Hi Aki. Any luck on pics???

Aki said...


I've looked through a few boxes of pictures, probably over 5-6 hours, and have had no luck. Although I managed to find a lot of other pictures, the ones from the Uniroyal training series are among the first ones I ever had, and I only have a few pics from those first years.


Bill said...

Hi Aki, I hope all is well. Thanks for taking the time to look thru all that stuff. I would be inter-
ested in any old FCVC photos or any other race photos from the time I was involved with the club and was racing. Do you have anything? Would it be easier for us to communicate thru email? Let me know what you think and thanks.
oh, how 'bout Boonen at Roubaix?!!

Aki said...

I'm gathering some photos, and I still have a box or two to go through. Email works too - go to (no "www"), scroll to the bottom, and my email is linked to my name.

I have to figure out how to scan these things - we currently don't have a scanner.

Aki said...

Bill - I found a pic of you cornering in a small group from the Uniroyal Training Series in 1984, in the left-right dogleg. I believe you had a light metallic blue Merckx? Wiegle? It's tall - like a 60 or something. White/blue Brancale. Laurel colors.

I won't be able to scan it for a while, but I will at some point.

bill said...

Hi Aki. It was a Merckx. I'd love to see what you've got. I may have a scanner thats not being used. Would you want it if I sent it to you? I'll have to dig in the attic but Im willing

Aki said...

I can handle a scanner if you have one to send, but I can check around here first. If nothing else I'll get a rough scan (I can take a picture of the photo) then a real one.

bill said...

Hey there Aki. In your blog you mention weavin Dan. Dan Weaver!
No scanner for pics, BTW. I'll keep my fingers crossed, though!