June 14, 2007

Some random thoughts about short track racing

So I was watching the ladies race before my ill-fated turn to suffer, and I was thinking about how much fun short track racing is, if it’s done right, for both the participants and spectators. It’s over quick, so if someone is just off the front destroying the rest of the field, it’s no big deal, and every little mistake matters – bobble once and you’re off the back. You can do it on a relatively small piece of land, and you can set up the course to level the playing field a bit between bike handling and fitness, so that different riders with different strengths have a shot at winning.

That’s assuming the race is done right – like the Boulder short tracks are. Lots of narrow singletrack, but good passing opportunities, a few little jumps, loads of alternate lines for the adventurous, and plenty of good spectating.

Unfortunately I’ve seen the courses that are used these days for NORBA NMBS races, and they’re terrible. Often no singletrack at all, just a few turns, lots of pavement or boring dirt road, etc. No fun to do (at least it doesn’t look like it – I haven’t raced a NORBA event in almost 5 years, so it’s hard to remember), not that much fun to watch. Worst of all, with fields of 100+ riders (in the pros) the folks starting at the back are faced with a huge (20-30 second) penalty right from the start. When lap times are 2-3 minutes, that’s a big deal. It means that a brilliant individual ride by an unknown rider won’t even be noticed – even a herculean effort won’t hold off the top pros who already have a half-lap advantage on a congested course at the start.

The real problem, I think, lies with the sizes of the field. With 100 guys (or gals) you can’t use any singletrack on the course, and even with a pretty wide-open setup, the folks at the back are screwed.

So here’s what I’d do, if I ran the circus. Set the format up like BMX – multiple heats of 20 riders or so, racing for 25 minutes or whatever. Then take the top 4 or 5 from each heat for the finals. You’d have to do some creative seeding to make sure that the best riders aren’t just eliminating each other. But a great race from an unknown rider will get them a berth in the finals, and some well-deserved attention. Every heat would be raced like a serious race, and you could take an hour or two off between the semis and the finals to let everyone rest up who qualified.

I don’t see why this couldn’t work, and it would mean a bunch more exciting racing to watch for spectators – so why hasn’t it happened? Anyone?