by Zachary Rynew
There are very few things that remain like they once were. Movies are still made replacing actors with 3D animation. Shopping malls get updated to look like the latest thing. Even sports seems to have been corporatized at every level.
When I watch the Karate Kid (the one with Karate), I always sigh to think about how things were. I was approaching teenager status when the movie was released, so it is a bit of a time capsule for what the valley was like. The clothes, cars,hairstyles and lingo were emblematic of the era. It wasn’t high-fashion, but the takeaway was that people just had fun and didn’t have the same commentary we make today following every action.
The tournament itself is a bit dated. If Kobra Kai existed today, they’d have corporate sponsorship, a team of physical therapists and strength coaches, and a tv crew following them like a reality show. Bottom line, competitive sports was still a bit informal.
I’ve lived in the San Fernando Valley almost my whole life, but never had I visited the Encino Velodrome even though it couldn’t possibly be more centrally located. Established in 1961, it is the oldest track in Los Angeles by default as the only counterpart opened many years later.
During the summer months from June to September (every other Wednesday night) there is a track racing series called Ride The Black Line at the Encino Velodrome. With about 75 racers showing up to each event the racing is fast, but for the most part very safe. This is were I got my first exposure to the velodrome and the racing scene.
I didn’t really know what to expect upon first glance. The sport is a bit foreign to me, but everyone understands the concept of racing. The track itself looks a bit rugged as the concrete and its imperfections gives the lines a grainy texture. The safety boards are slightly misaligned and weeds introduce themselves around the periphery.
These are only cosmetic issues that don’t affect the racers. Even next to crits, these riders look fast. With the legs always moving, everyone is pushing with high intensity, like being at the dog track.
Even as technology has made bikes faster and the masses have adopted social media, there is still a camaraderie you don’t see in sports. For starters, while divided into categories, racers get to compete more than a couple of times a night under their choosing. While this doesn’t make them any less competitive, there is a respect for others that you’ll be matched up again in an hour. Happen to lose out in the final fifty meters? You’ll get another chance soon.
The infield is also a confined area where most of the racers will be spending the evening. With plenty of time in between races, everyone spends the majority of it cavorting about. The fact that it is the only type of race where everything takes place in front of you, there is no hiding the truth of what occurs on the track.
What this all creates is a greater sense of community. Everyone still wants to beat each other, but there is a symbiotic element to their participation. Because there is a regular set of entrants, it seems more like a family than a set of gladiators.
Even the crowds add to the pastoral element of the event. Huddled among the rickety stands, family, friends and fans enjoy watching at a comfortable pace, like the tempered intensity of watching a baseball game. From time to time, the announcer’s voice will get drowned out by the chering. The concession stand is inline to what you’d see at a little league field.
The irony was that the velodrome didn’t always have such a communal atmosphere. As long time participant, Roger Espinosa puts it, “In the 70’s it was knockdown, dragout out there.”
Now that the venue has instituted a policy of proper training, attitude and racing skills, the track has become a safer place again. Vinh Tran, who races in the top level “A” Category, says that, “because I’ve been racing with them for one, two years, I feel more comfortable around them.”
If you don’t understand track racing, don’t worry. There’s plenty of people there well versed in sharing the nuisances of the sport. What makes it so appealing is no matter what your knowledge about cycling or how emotional you get over sports, there is something there for everyone.
If you live in Los Angeles, go come out and experience track racing this Wednesday, Sept. 3rd at the Encino Velodrome. If not, please find your local track and get involved.
Zachary Races/Commutes/Crashes bicycles on a daily basis. He also writes for the Los Angeles blog acrosslosangeles.com and can be followed on Twitter @AcrossLA.