Thursday, March 20, 2008

Story - Middletown

A few Monday nights ago I attended the CCNS/Pedal Power team presentation, held in Middletown, CT.

I went to the presentation not really knowing what to expect. I found a friendly bunch of people, some enthusiastic sponsors, and a very motivated Aidan Charles, the leader of the whole gig. I got to catch up with some of my friendly rivals, guys who I've worked really hard to beat, but at the same time guys that I'd help out in a pinch if they were up against "outsiders".

(On a side note - I think that rivals from the same area band together when strong threats visit from outside their area. I've seen some very fierce rivals helping one another out in the bigger races during the summer, either to defend on home turf or to try and win as Visitors to others' turf. This "regionalism" seems prevalent no matter where you go. Anyway that's the side note. On with the regular story now.)

One guy, a team sponsor, came up to me and thanked me for a fun race at Bethel. I told him that it's rare that people look me up to give kudos - it's normally the mad ones that take the time and energy to get hold of me.

We started talking about various cycling things. It ends up that he and I are about the same age (within a few months, not decades). He went to college in the region which meant we probably raced against each other in college, racing the Bs (Cat 3s and 4s) at various collegiate races. He went on to be quite a successful racer at the highest amateur levels whereas I... well, I was always a 3.

He's a 3 now also, having taken a long, long break to build a company, have a family, and do all the things you're supposed to do "after you finish racing". He requested and received an upgrade since he used to be quite the racer. As a former 1 he's lucky not to have been forced to become a 2. I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll be upgraded sooner than later, based on his palmares, fitness, and enthusiasm for the sport.

Ironically his son has a similar heart condition to mine, causing it to race at times. Due to its more intense symptoms (2 hours for him, a minute for me), he had an operation to fix it. I'll stick with carrying my EKG printout around for now.

Middletown also happens to be the town where I first raced the bike, in Andy Raymond's Firecracker 500, held on July 4th. That year, 1983, was the first year it was held on the "street" course - previously it had been held in some park. The "street" course was a textbook standard old time criterium, held on Main Street in a sleepy town, four corners, wide straights, and some sponsor-provided bonuses for the racers - showers at a Y, a beer tent for those enough to imbibe, some other stuff. They had a race pamphlet (these were a big deal if you were promoting a race back then) which had things like "bicycle racing definitions", the day's race schedule, and the course description, all buried in a myriad of sponsor's business card ads.

Coincidentally Pedal Power happens to be located a block or so away from what used to be Turn Four of the Firecracker 500.

So, after the presentation and the associated chatting, I got in my car and slowly drove down the very quiet, very dark Main Street. I went past Turn 4 and followed what would have been the sprint on the main straight.

My second Andy Raymond Firecracker 500- 1984. I was a nervous wreck, peering out from the Brancale Giro helmet I'd modified and painted.

I remembered the heat during the crit, the relentless sun. We camped out in Burger King, located on the main stretch, nursing our sodas and buying a hamburger every 20 or 30 minutes so we'd be "customers". When they went to putting the soda machines out in the dining area (so you could get free refills) I think I drank so much Pepsi that I couldn't eat anything. Of course it was a good place to use the bathroom too, slippery tiles notwithstanding.

Alas, that night, I saw that the Burger King was gone, now a Rite Aid.

I passed the bit of the sidewalk where a very young Chris Zigmont had parked his 1986 Golf GTI with 287k miles (or something like that). He was rep'ing something, I don't remember what, probably Mavic. I was like a little kid back then and oohed and aahed over his car (I'd later buy a 1987 GTI, black, not like his faded red-turned-orange one - but I never got the body kit that my memory says he had). At the end of the day, when he'd packed up all his stuff, I happened to walk by. I looked at his pretty low riding and heavily weighed down car, the six inch curb, and then up at him in the driver's seat.

"How are you gonna get off the sidewalk?", I asked him.

He had his windows open and turned to me and grinned. Then he gunned the car, peeled out, and launched his poor car off the six inch curb. A sickening metal screech announced the meeting of chassis and concrete but the tires scurried on the pavement below and pulled the complaining car off of the curb. He accelerated away.

Oh. That way.

I drove slowly to Turn One, a familiar church across the street. I think the Y was in there or around the corner. I remembered one year when I finished the race on the brink of fainting from the heat. I spent 20 or 30 minutes in the shower, fully dressed (even my wood soled leather shoes), sitting under a stream of cold water. As I cooled off I peeled off my gloves and shoes and socks and jersey and finally got up, toweled off, and returned to civilization.

Up the hill from Turn One to Turn Two, I saw the "stutter turn" which made Turn Two. Effectively two 45 degree turns, with a bus stop excavated into the curb line between the two bends. I used the bus stop area to move up routinely, squeaking by on the inside as the curb came in for the second bend.

Inside this whole Turn One-Two area is a nice grassy area. It was a great spot to watch the race until one year they put the portapotties there - suddenly people didn't want to hang out around too much.

The backstretch seemed just as bumpy as it did in the 1983. I remember pounding into manhole covers, rear wheel skipping on the cracks at one of the four-ways. I drove past that four-way intersection road halfway down the straight and smiled to myself. One year, in an oxygen debt and fatigued haze, I almost turned right down that road more than a couple times. That would have been a surprise for everyone around me.

Turn Three came up but I couldn't go down the short straight - it is a one way coming up the hill. So I eased and peered down the straight.

It is a narrow, two lane downhill, now lined with parking meters, leading to Turn Four. Since Four was the last corner and it was at the bottom of a short descent, the racers were trucking along at a good clip and guys were trying to move up for the final turn.

Turn Four in 1988 I think - and I'm upright.

After a particularly bad year, when two very strong riders broke things (one racer ended up catapulted about 8 or 10 feet into the air, broke his leg, arm, and a host of other things - his teammate fell a few laps before/after and broke a bunch of things too), they reversed the direction, making it counterclockwise. This really altered the tone of the race, making it much less interesting, so I always think of the course in the "original" direction.

With a car behind me wondering what I was doing cruising the quiet streets of Middletown, I pulled myself out of memory lane and started paying attention to the roads around me.

Someone had talked about holding the Middletown race again. I hope they can make it happen.

Now what to do about those parking meters...

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