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Guest Editorial: Why Save a Track Cycling Velodrome?
 
By Guest Contributor
Date: 1/16/2004
Guest Editorial: Why Save a Track Cycling Velodrome?
 

Editorial by Stephen Hill of the East Point Velodrome Association

Velodrome (or track) racing was at one time one of the most popular and richest sports in the United States. In its time, riders were paid more than "major-league" baseball players of the era, some earning tens of thousands of dollars a year, all while Babe Ruth made hundreds.

"It was the Golden Age for competitive cycling,'' said Vincent Menci, curator for the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame. "People would go to the baseball games only if they found out the Velodromes were sold out.''

It was a sport so rich that even the color of your skin did not matter, so long as you were good at it - at least some of the time. While racism and segregation reared its ugly head, even in cycling (despite some beliefs to the contrary), Marshall "Major" Taylor, the first African-American to win a World Championship at any sport, integrated cycling long before Cairo, Georgia even saw the birth of Jackie Robinson.

Other sports became popular, and track cycling faded into the unconsciousness of the American sports world. Today only artifacts, remnants of rumor, the history of a major sport long since faded, along with a small community of athletes that still participate in the sport, remain. In its heyday it was built to hold track races attended by tens of thousands, but today the Madison Square Garden lives on as a basketball, hockey and concert venues, and the only cycling link to it left is the race that bears its name: The Madison, perhaps the fastest (and most dangerous) race still held on the dwindling number of tracks left in the United States.

Which brings us to the "why" of this editorial.

This year a new track will open in America. I have no doubt that it will be the finest cycling facility in North America, perhaps in the Western Hemisphere. The question is, can and will it alone spur track cycling to grow in this country? I don't think so. What would the NBA be if the only basketball court in America were in the Madison Square Garden? Where would basketball players come from?

Where do basketball players come from? Answer: The playgrounds and recreational facilities of America - the small places where dreams are born. In just the same way, United States cycling needs its regional tracks.

In East Point, a small suburban city outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the Dick Lane Velodrome was built after Georgia cyclists traveled to the 1972 Olympic Trials in Kenosha, Wisconsin and realized that they would have to have a track to train on if they were going to be competitive at the sport. Driven to completion by the man it is named after, the velodrome was designed and built by a city engineer who had never seen one, and city personnel whose normal duties were to pour sidewalks. Since the time of its construction, the velodrome has existed in an ebb and tide of management change, ignorance, disrepair, and neglect.

It was briefly resurrected in the public eye as a possible venue for the 1996 Olympic Games, but when faced with the cost of revamping the facility to Olympic standards, the organizing committee balked, and made the fateful decision to use the velodrome as a training facility. The Dick Lane Velodrome was refurbished, but it was only the track surface and its perimeter fence that were repaired.

While universally recognized by riders as a fun and exciting track to ride, there were to be no provisions for fans, no new changing rooms or concession stands, or even seating. Combined with the decision to put in a temporary velodrome at Stone Mountain Park, it is easy to see how this led to the evaporation of what crowds there were. The velodrome was forgotten, and track racing in Georgia almost died.

Over the last seven years, two organizations, The Fulton Flyers, and now the East Point Velodrome Association (EPVA), took over management of the velodrome from the city in an attempt to save the facility from planned destruction, and to revitalize track racing both in Atlanta and in the Southeast.

In 2003 the Velodrome began its Bicycle Little League - where children learn to ride and compete, with bikes and equipment supplied. (You can read more about this program under Little League at the Dick Lane website.)

But disaster struck on August 12th, 2003, when the EPVA received news from the City of East Point that the velodrome was to be shut down due to deterioration of turns 3 and 4, and the associated danger of collapse of the racing surface. The EPVA faced two major challenges: First, raising the necessary funds to repair the facility, and second, convincing the City of East Point to allow the EPVA to repair the track and allow for a long-term lease of the facility.

The culmination of those events occurs next Tuesday, January 20th, 2004, when the East Point City Council holds its formal vote for approval of the EPVA lease. To this point, the EPVA has raised about 15% of the necessary funds to fix the track, but fundraising is difficult when no one knows whether you will even be allowed to do the repairs.

The decision seems obvious: The City, which is virtually bankrupt, has no budget whatsoever to fix the track (or destroy it, for that matter), or any of its other recreational facilities. The EPVA proposes to fix and run the facility, at no cost to the City, and to lease it and pay the City for the privilege. The City gets a recreational facility that is professionally run, and local cyclists get a velodrome. Win-Win, right?

Enter Politics.

Someone once said that politics is what happens when you get more than two people in one room. Make no mistake about it, this decision is 100% pure politics. The city sees a bunch of non-residents who come in, use their facility, and leave. They see these people as the only ones being affected by this decision. The EPVA, however, sees things a little differently.

Last year, the EPVA started its first outreach program. The Bicycle Little League was started to provide an opportunity for local kids to try track cycling. They were provided equipment and taught track skills, etiquette, and traditions. Some had to be taught to ride. They were also taught to race, and on what may be the final night of racing ever at Dick Lane Velodrome, they raced.

Make no mistake about it - to the crowd, the professionals and elite athletes were the undercard. The kids were the main event, and the crowd ate it up.


The next Major Taylor? This picture was taken on the final night of the 2003 Dick Lane Velodrome season.

It is these kids who will suffer if the track is closed. There will be no one to teach them to ride. No one to teach them the traditions. No one to watch them, and nowhere to race. No dreams of glory, or a chance at fame. The rest of us? We're from out of town anyway; we'll go somewhere else to ride, and to dream.

Obligatory disclaimer: The opinions of the author are his own personal ravings, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the East Point Velodrome Association, Daily Peloton, Canadian Mad Cows, or Jame Carney. 


Editor's Note: If you would like to lend your voice to saving this velodrome, you may attend the City Council meeting (information here), write the East Point City Council via their website, or email or fax a letter directly to Stephen Hill.

Stephen Hill email: hotblack@bellsouth.net
Stephen Hill fax: 404-773-5495

City of East Point Website: http://www.eastpointcity.org/
Mayor: Patsy Jo Hilliard
City Council Members:
Greg Fann
Teresa Nelson
Lance Rhodes 
Pat Langford
Earnestine Pittman
William H. McClure
C. Ann Douglas
Eddie Lee Brewster


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