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
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
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
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 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?
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
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:
Stephen Hill fax: 404-773-5495
City of East Point Website:
Mayor: Patsy Jo Hilliard
City Council Members:
William H. McClure
C. Ann Douglas
Eddie Lee Brewster