How's your sprint? Do you even know? How many chances do you get to try different finishes when win or lose you're done until next weekend? Imagine instead sprinting every few minutes for 5 or 6 laps in a race, then resting a few minutes and going at it again. Welcome to Night at the Oval.
Long a staple of the Hawkeye Bicycle Association in Cedar Rapids, the last few years Night at the Oval has been organized by CRANDIC Racing Club. "We need more beginner-friendly race opportunities, and this is a very safe and easy venue to set up," said Chief Official Larry Howe.
Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, with paved short track ½ mile and ¼ racing venues for cars and motorcycles, is also home to Eastern Iowa's most unique bike racing series. The Oval offers cyclists a chance to race several times a night in a variety of short races that mimic track racing and emphasize the skills at the core of road racing.
Racing in a pack is all about tactics. The technique is mostly straightforward. Your fitness is there or it isn't. But success in road racing usually comes from measuring and timing your effort, from forcing others to work, and from leveraging your team's strength in numbers. Most often it's not the strongest who wins, it's the smartest.
At the Oval you can learn from mistakes in one race and apply those lessons right away to the next. Start your sprint too early? Rest five minutes and race again, sprint a bit later and see where that gets you. Don't think you can sprint at all? You can try something different to find a sprint that works for you, help a teammate with a screaming fast lead out for their sprint, or practice dropping the sprinters before approaching the line.
Night at the Oval is essentially an omnium: each race is scored separately – 1st place is 1 point, 2nd place is 2 points, etc – the rider with the fewest points at the end of the night wins their category. "Most of the races are track based," explained Howe. But don't worry, each race is explained along the way.
"Devil Takes the Hindmost, Snowball, Points Race. We also do Scratch Races and use different track configurations such as the Big C to put some corners in like a criterium. With enough riders we can even run two groups at the same time. We break the riders out in self-selected groups, A,B,C, etc. We can do a junior's group or a women's group if we have enough of either. We try to mix things up so riders never quite know what to expect."
Below, a few Night at the Oval testimonials from 2018, though all still very true today.
"We are excited to be there this Tuesday and this time I will race too. See ya Tuesday!"
Kat Porter, Twisted Spokes
"Love the Oval - I have been going for years. The different race formats are fun and make you think and get your strategy going.
"My favorites are the 'C Race' and points races. NatO gives folks an opportunity to ‘road race’ at a lowered risk level and practice drafting and lead out skills."
Mario Czarnomski, ICCC
"The Night at the Oval is a fantastic race-like workout that preps you for crits and sprints. Get a good warm up because the intensity is high from the GO!"
The races mainly take place on the 1/2 mile oval, so the terrain is flat and predictable, allowing you to just focus on staying with the pack, and timing your sprint.
"At NatO there are multiple races in a night, which gives you the chance to try out different strategies. If you mess up your first race, just wait 10 minutes and go at it again with a new strategy.
"The best part is the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. While it is competitive, everyone is there to have a good time on their bikes on a Tuesday night."
Victor, Youth Off Road Riders & Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"It's a great opportunity for kids to get to know their community and to meet new people and share new experiences with them. Especially those that mountain bike often but are trying to get into road racing.
My favorite race is the "Miss and Out," because it's very tense at times and relaxed at other times. I enjoy having to sprint often."
Wayne Fett, Goosetown Racing/New Pioneer Food Coop
"The Oval races help everyone with their race skills no matter how long they've been racing. It also provides an excellent interval or sprint workout."
Rob McKillip, CRANDIC Racing Club
"NatO is the Cliff Notes of bike racing ... just the important bits, none of the long, boring miles. It's a unique chance to try out the strategies you normally only ready about, or see on TV.
"Just try out different strategies, be bold ... if it didn't work, who cares, try something different in the next race, ten minutes later. It's an awesome workout. You will get to hear rates you'll just never see in your basement ... and have way more fun doing it!
"There's an A and B group, so don't have to worry about being slow. Besides, everybody is nice. Also, it's fan friendly -- you can see the entire race, so bring your family. There is no better way to learn to race.
"Come challenge the Snoops in the Granny Gear Race, or Rob in the Big Gear Race ..."
The Fun Stuff (Races)
Most nights each group starts out with a scratch race. This is a straight forward criterium (a circuit race on a shorter circuit) with no turns. However-many laps around the 1/2 mile oval track and the race is scored entirely on the finish order. Why is it called a scratch race? I dunno. If you know, leave a comment.
"I run the snowball quite a bit," says (handsome) USAC official Larry Howe. "It's a variant of the points race. Sprint laps every other lap, but only first place gets points. How many points increases each sprint: two for the first sprint, four points for the second, six for the third sprint, and ten points for the finish." Riders with points are placed accordingly. Riders without are placed behind them based on their finish.
Basically, it's miss & out -- the last rider each lap is removed and given the respective finish placement. Lap #1's last rider will be last place, lap #2's last rider is second to last, etc. (While cycling would love to take credit for "devil take the hindmost," the proverb predates the bicycle by at least 300 years.)
The spiral of death/spiral of life gets even crazier. One lap each of the 1/2, 1/4, & 1/8 mile ovals in a spiral .... then back out. The course is unique, to say the least
Little gear is one lap in your smallest gear, and the same rules apply. Goofy enough that it's probably good that big gear and little gear don't count. Still, we'll list how everyone finished just for bragging rights.
Scoring the Night at the Oval
Sit out a race and you get the maximum points (so one night when 40 people were suffering in the heat, eight people got 40 points for skipping a race and the very last person who actually raced got 32). "The tie breaker is the rider with the highest place finish in any race. If that is equal, it's the finish in the final race of the evening."
Speaking of scoring, with any luck at all racers will be able to follow along as the night's results unfold on CRANDICRacing.com. Fingers crossed...
Sponsors and . . . Prizes ? ! ? ! ?
In the future hopefully we can offer more prizes, cash, or whatever. For now, though, we can at least do this: in each of whatever group races, the top placed male and female will get a night of free racing whenever they choose at Night at the Oval. Except Juniors, of course, because you all race free anyway.
Registration for Night at the Oval is online only at BikeReg.com.
Come race your bike.
CRANDIC TT & Night at the Oval
CRANDIC Racing Club is thrilled to present two bike racing series over the summer of 2019, the CRANDIC Time Trial Series at Big Grove Solon and Night at the Oval at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. Two very different races that we love dearly.
At first glance these races couldn't seem more different: the time trial is "the race of truth," just you against the clock, while Night at the Oval is track-inspired pack racing at its finest; the TT in Solon is along Sutliff Road, one of the most beautiful and bike-friendly spots in the Corridor, while NatO is in industrial Cedar Rapids at Hawkeye Downs, a race track typically reserved for cars, go-cart, semi trailers, and the like. Despite their differences, a closer look at these two races reveals both their similarities and the reasons that we love them so.
A great place to start
In their own ways both races are perfect for beginners. Hawkeye Downs is a big, wide track without so much as a corner, so NatO riders have all the space they could want as they practice pack riding and racing techniques. On the other hand, in a TT riders start at set intervals, nearing each other only to pass, so beginners can go all out without worrying about bumping elbows or touching wheels.
Just as important, both series are mid-week, informal events that are welcoming to beginners but hard enough to challenged even seasoned racers.
Simple, but never easy
Every wanna-be racer has ridden a time trial. The minute we feel competitive on a bike we test our strength on a set course by timing ourselves. A time trial, simple as that. What makes it hard is concentrating, pacing, and wanting to go faster next time.
While at Night at the Oval each race is different, they mostly come down to a sprint. But the nuances of drafting other riders, finding the right position, and timing the jump to perfection make every sprint different, and every sprint a challenge.
Hit the road
It may not be the sexiest thing out there these days, but road cycling is the basis of all bike racing. Navigating a cyclocross start is all but impossible without pack riding skills. In the right conditions drafting features even in gravel or mtb racing. Pacing well is essential to any race. And all bike racing disciplines reward fitness won on the road.
Bike racing came from the road. Its most essential skills are still right at home there.
Two series, too fun
CRANDIC is committed to making these races fun for everyone. For the crusty old roadie that's not hard at all: Yell "go" and they're happy, and they'll find plenty of competition at either of these races. For beginners – whether they're new to the road, or to bike racing in general – we say welcome, ride hard and have fun, and let us know if we can help.
We're CRANDIC Racing Club. We love to race.
Riding in a group means drafting, riding close to others to save energy. It takes practice, balancing safety, comfort, and speed. But it really isn't difficult: ride smoothly and predictably, anticipate others, guard your front wheel, and relax.
Fortunately Night at the Oval offers a perfect chance to practice pack riding skills. Racers are staged in appropriate skill levels, and as CRANDIC Racing Club's Rob McKillip explains: "The track is huge. There is a ton of space. Get in the pack if you're comfortable. If not, sit at the back, or even attack and try to time trial away. Either way, it's a safe way to have fun and get a killer workout."