The Greatest Show on Dirt
By Michael Kirby | Dec 19, 2007
Race name: Austin Dirt Derby
Race date: Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007
Last week I found myself down in Austin for a week of warm weather riding and hill workouts. What I hadn't planned on was getting in some mountain biking. But having seen blog posts and videos about the Tuesday night Dirt Derby, I just had to find my way out there to try it out. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just do a youtube search on "verge dirt derby" and enjoy the madness. Long story short, it's short track mountain bike and cross racing at a motocross race track about one mile around. But the wackiest thing they do down there is track racing on a 150 dirt oval.
I got there late and had just missed the start of the sport category race but still with plenty of time for the track racing. I didn't really know what to expect from dirt track racing since I'd never seen it, and Austin isn't really known for it's soft racing scene. But when I towed the line for the first of the three track races and everyone started asking what a 10 lap scratch race meant, I figured I'd do okay. It was kinda bizarre to be sliding around a dirt track on an old trek 920 trying to figure out where the sprinters lane was. But I just hung on to the back of the lead group and came in fourth. The feeling of leaning the bike over going into turns and worrying about ruts and bumps was such a strange thing to be thinking about during a track race. But somehow it works. The next race was a miss and out, and this was when the track experience really paid off. Half the guys didn't know when to sprint, or how many riders had been pulled. So without too much work, I made it into the final group of three, but foolishly tried to lead it out with two to go and had to settle for third. The last race on the track was two heats of chariot races and then a finale. It was all about getting a good starting spot, and hammering for 30 seconds. That I can do well enough for second place. Sure the speed wasn't as fast as Northbrook or Kenosha, but it was track racing, and damn fun track racing at that.
Having missed the sport category and not knowing what the competition was going to be like, I had signed up for the beginner short track mtb race. I can freely admit this now, it was serious sandbagging. But I'd never seen the course, and since I'd been having my bibs handed to me in the Cat 4 cross races in Chicago, why not. The course was a blast. Big tall kickers designed for motocross and sweeping turns that you could pedal hard through made for an awesome ride. Dropping in off a 10 ft high ledge in the middle of a race is just amazing. I was letting two other riders set the pace, but with two laps to go, I figured I needed to move. So I attacked hard and managed to hold off the two riders I'd been pacing with to take the win. It was definitely worth my $15 race fees and great to still get some racing in the middle of December.
But that's when the evening of racing took a critical turn. An official informed me that the open race was next, and that your third race of the night was free. Well, I couldn't turn down free racing on such a great course, and I'd probably just sit in for a few laps anyways. Of course, that never really happens and by my fourth lap I had started to think about where I could move up, and where would be good spots to pass people. And then coming through the start/finish, the seatpost snapped off just below the saddle. Somehow the remainder of the seatpost missed cutting me open, and I skidded to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Sure I hadn't paid anything to race, and I was already in the bottom half of the pack, and I had no saddle, but really, is that any reason to stop racing? Heck no! So for the next 25 minutes, I rode BMX style out of the saddle. I got a good number of cheers from the officials and the 8 fans watching that night. But the real fun was asking guys that passed me if I could borrow their saddle. Sadly, no one volunteered. But I finished out the race and managed to not come in last. There was even a cold Lone Star waiting for me at the finish.
So for the evening I got a fourth, third, second, first, and about as close as I want to come to a colonoscopy anytime soon. But the Dirt Derby is by far one of the coolest bits of racing I've done all year. A great run event and something I think would be fantastic to bring to Chicago. If you're ever around Austin and bored on a Tuesday night, get on over and race. You will not regret it.