Events: Benchmark Twilight Criterium Qualifier
(2017) I have become a dirt track date. As a child I always wondered what happened to the dirt cars that did not qualify for the main feature. Did they stick around and watch longingly at fellow competitors battling for track position, or did they load up the dirt modified and head home? Did not qualifying for the feature mean driving home early was the Saturday night version of a walk of shame? Looking over my kit it is obvious the presence of dayglo colors. Dirt track race cars use dayglo to make it easier to be spotted, but I’m just getting started. When I woke up this morning my goal was to qualify for the Benchmark (formerly Iron Hill) Twilight Cycling Classic. As dirt track racers would call it, I was trying to get into the A Main race, or as its official name: Rothman Institute Amateur Finals.
The week leading up to the race had me a bit discombobulated. I had texted several cycling mates about my entry into the qualifying race. Each came back essentially saying, “Be careful. Dangerous.” Even a few exploratory views on YouTube returned on-board footage of a slender course with hay bales and hundreds of people along the route ready to watch me screw up. Luckily these videos led me to the proper formality: I had to qualify to race on the downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania, roads, and the task had to go through West Chester Rustin High School.
I had to finish in the top twenty percent of my field to make it to the big show. Mathematically this made it possible for me to qualify into the A Main for those non-professional crit racers to hammer around West Chester. (The pros had their own race immediately following the amateur race.) But first I made a remarkable blunder: I forgot both of my water bottles, and I was made aware of it miles from my house. Turning around would make me late; continuing on would make me dehydrated. I had to rely on my stomach full of Homestead Coffee’s Dead Man’s Brew to get me into the race in downtown West Chester.
The qualifier races took place at West Chester Rustin High School. Those in categories 1- 4 had to earn their starting position in the show later that night. The fields were stacked and the racers ready. The course, too, proved to be quite up to the task.
Our race headed out and before jumping to conclusions, I’ll say it was a clean race. Nobody hit the deck. Furthermore I want to add how much I loved racing this course. From the starting line the course winds downhill and to the left. With a chicane, a power left-turn leads into a climb. A power turn right leads into a power turn left and a long sweeping left- hander brings the racer back after nearly one kilometer of racing. I found it immensely difficult to pass along this course.
The chicane was my favorite yet also my most feared yard of asphalt. Riders took liberty to cross several lanes without regard for those next to him. This led to several fractures in the field. My teammate was a victim of two of these fractures and could not catch back on for a third time. He would be ultimately dropped. The hay bales against the light pole didn’t make me feel any better, though it was fun skimming them twice throughout the race.
The difficulty in passing had me guessing from the start. Each lap I tried to think about places to make up considerable ground. There were few places to make up space. Those who stretched the field did so at the peril of getting caught on the dramatic downhill. Certainly someone wanted to go off the front to go wide-open through the chicane and establish a healthy gap. But no, the race simply got faster and leaner each lap. I raced conservatively, finding myself the last man in the bunch each lap but fewer riders in front.
I won’t hold you any longer than necessary; I didn’t find a place to make up considerable ground. I did finish with the lead group. I hung around the control tent a bit after the finish to see if I had somehow qualified for the show. Those racing later that night had to register henceforth. As it turned out, I was nowhere near the money. I was actually slightly embarrassed to have thought I had a chance of getting into the later race miles away in downtown West Chester.
I rolled back to my car and packed up. I was put on the trailer for the ride home. It had been an immensely enjoyable course. At the midpoint of the day I found out what it was like to be a dirt track racer who did not make the feature. I may not have made it to the A Main for tonight’s race, but I think it’s more romantic to be sent to the C Main and win, to the back of the B Main and win, and then show up for the A Main. I loaded up the car and headed home. Luckily for me I did not have to haul my expensive race equipment past the throngs of race fans who would comment just how ashame it was to send some riders home early. Remember, I plow through things when I lack skill. This course was just a little too slim to have the blade down, and I went home early.