Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Intentional Destruction of Muscle Fiber

The rhythmic *thunk, thunk* of the boards reverberates off the walls and ceiling as I walk with my partner through the infield tunnel toward the claustrophobic vastness of the Superdrome paddock. Silently we watch together as the track reveals itself in pieces as greater portions come into our line of sight. My partner, a freshly built EAI Brass Knuckle, is ready for the battle I am to face against this most intimidating opponent.

As I make my way up the ramp I swing my head to follow a rider, bringing me face to face with the seemingly vertical wall that makes up turns three and four. From where I stand the top rail is easily thirty vertical feet away and nearly straight up. The rider, at full song and addressing the track with an assault of brutal aggression, enters and exits my field of vision in only a fraction of a second. While the railroad clunk and bump of the boards and helicopter whoosh of carbon spoke wheels waxes and wanes along with the rider, one final impression manifests itself and strikes a deeper chord: the sound of power; real human power. If you’ve been curbside at a criterium you undoubtedly know this sound, but here at the track it comes to life like no other place.

The sound to which I refer is one of a tire trying to part ways with the road. My love for motorcycle road racing conjures visions of Valentino Rossi exiting corners with fistfuls of screaming throttle on a sliding, spinning and smoking rear tire, but here the raw sound of power translates into unbelievable speed and acceleration at the expense of the textured surface of the Superdrome as small flecks of paint pepper the apron following his concerted effort to destroy muscle sinew.

Moments later the rider enters turn three again, this time finished with his attack and riding on the apron. The only effort being made is enough to keep the bicycle upright and stop from revisiting lunch right there on the track. Turning to continue my trek to the myriad of blue benches in the paddock, I release my white knuckled grip on the bars and wipe the sweat away from my palms.

Recycled plastic benches litter the covered paddock, providing convenient spots for bikes, gear and bodies. Attendance tonight is sparse, but it is only Tuesday and the mercury is lounging in the high 90’s. That night I began the first of many utterly unfocused nights of training at the track. I was getting more joy and excitement out of simply riding around on the high banking, allaying my fears and figuring out how best to utilize the different chain rings and cogs in my improvised track bag. My layman’s vocabulary increased exponentially over the coming weeks along with my grasp of a proper warm-up and focused interval training. I would eventually become comfortable in pace lines, better understand methods of shedding and increasing speed using the steep banking and was finally able to unclip and stop without hitting a pole, bench or the pavement.

My plan was to stay out of racing until the 2008 season, but several people urged me to give it a shot while I was still fresh on the learning curve. I wasn’t sure at first, but it was quickly apparent that direct experience in a pack was the best way to learn and increase my awareness of track etiquette. The fun factor went through the roof and the little switch in my head that makes me ultra-competitive got flipped to a near permanent ON position. Inspired, informed and full of energy I began to attack my workouts with renewed determination and no loss of humor. I was still making a slew of mistakes, miscalculations and otherwise forgettable errors. Along the way I had friendly advice and encouragement from everyone I met in the paddock, which was much appreciated and listened to in great detail. I wanted information, and they had it in spades. My workouts improved dramatically and my performance accelerated right along with it. To everyone who helped me through those first five Friday nights of racing, I offer a humble thank you.

And now, come the final weekend in March, the 2008 racing season will begin at the Superdrome. Please come out and enjoy an evening of racing from the stands, or better yet from the saddle. Admission for spectators and advice for new racers is always free.

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