Before Dark – The Making of DarkCross

“I have been dreaming about a race under the lights at the Winnipeg Speedway.
At this point, however, it’s nothing more than a dream. Maybe someday it’ll come
to fruition.”

– Chris Huebner, November 2010

A week after that email from Chris, I was at uncle Gerry’s funeral. Uncle Gerry loved to race cars and his son mentioned he “knew people” at the Speedway, a fact I shared with Chris the next day. It was too serendipitous not to. A few weeks and phone calls later we paid a visit to the Red River Co-Op Speedway. It was immediately apparent this would be the perfect venue for Manitoba’s premier cyclocross race.

If it’s not obvious from the pictures, it was approximately 700 below zero that day.

Lots happened between then and the actual race. There were sponsors to woo, schedules to figure out, a course to design, and the fabrication of the largest hype machine in the history of Winnipeg bike racing. Thankfully my day job regularly entails persuasion and the creation of desire. And I have people. Really Good people.

We spent lots of time looking at old Motocross posters for inspiration, and talked about the aspects of the race we wanted to highlight: Lights, dirt and darkness. The solution was almost immediate. Then we turned on the machine – it was awesome.

In the final weeks and days leading up to the event there was much excitement and tons of work to do and details to discuss. We emailed, we planned, we met over beer and chips. On DarkCross Eve, a contingent of course engineers went out to the track to scratch their heads and pound some stakes. Meanwhile, I anxiously awaited the delivery of t-shirts, banners and an extra large shipment of Jujubes. Sadly, the latter was replaced by a bag of 6 year-old peanut M&Ms, which were devoured by KK in the Walmart parking lot.

The crew worked all day and until late Friday night setting up the course, which was being torn down just as quickly by the persistent gale-force wind. I’m told people were cranky. The next day the labours continued. So did the wind. Blair, the Speedway manager and all-around awesome dude suggested the track needed to be watered to have the right “stickiness” for the tires. We were a little freaked out because when the water first went down, the track was as slippery as if it had been rubbed down with bacon fat.

The challenges continued as the wind insisted on tearing down the course tape, taking down a number of stakes along the way. We discovered if the tape was placed low on the stake, it was less likely to tear, and we were less likely to suffer nervous breakdowns.

Setting up the event banner was tricky too, even for a couple of Amazons like me and Mrs. G.. But(t) a strategically placed boost helped, and although the whole process probably looked like something out of an I Love Lucy episode, the banner was hung.

JP was the sound man, and did all sorts stuff with this thingamajiggy so The Farrel Brothers could rock the house. Between sets, Olli laid it down Finnish-style with some electronic rave music, which combined with Steve’s brilliant play-by-play commentary brought the whole thing right over the top.

The final touches were now in place. The course was ready, the Christmas lights were strung. The t-shirts were hung by the beer window with care, in hopes that the bartender soon would be there.

You see? You can’t explain it, but you simply had to buy one! And a bell to match. Such is the power of my evil and persuasive arts. Greg and Airon drank the Kool-aid.

Speaking of evil, we had the most wicked volunteer army on earth, who among many other critical tasks, dealt with record numbers of race registrations with charm, grace and great big smiles. Words cannot express how much you guys rock.

Ironically, my least favourite part of DarkCross was my race. I was tired, hungry, and lacking the handling skills required for some of the technical sections of the course – a fact pointed out during the race by a crabby racer who took exception to the fact that I was in his way. But hey, in the heat of a race sometimes the things that should stay in our heads come out of our mouths. Which is what I think he was trying to express after the race when he came up to apologize.

I spent more time than I care to admit on my ass, and managed a pretty thorough taste-test of the varied terrain the course had to offer. Mmmm. Gravel.

Which brings me to:

My Top 10 most exciting moments of DarkCross 2011
1) Discussing the undeniable coolness of skinsuits with Tomek
2) Touching Mrs. G.’s bum
3) Hanging out with the Band

4) Tasting Luc’s organic hippy wine and post-race Pilsners
5) Heckling the kids and the A racers
6) Watching Paul Bee almost toss his bike after the chain broke, then using it as a scooter to take 4th place
7) Racing with 70 people in the dark
8} Seeing all the cars in the parking lot and realizing they were there for a bike race
9) Seeing Kevin B. ride a bike with curly handlebars
10) Getting tips about tire pressure from the reigning Butter Belt Champion of the World. Yes, that’s right. The World.

There are some great pictures out there. Check out the DarkCross website here for links to see them. Dave Benson took great ones, so did The Hipster (aka Mark Reimer) – like this one he took of Paul Bee on the Wallace and Wallace grandstand run-up, which is one of my favorites.

A little over a year ago, I didn’t know what cyclocross was. Now, I am proud to have been part of one of the biggest cross parties these parts have ever seen. There are way too many people to thank, but Chris (generally addressed by his real name, The Dark Lord) and the fine folks at The Fort Garry Bike Club and Red River Racing deserve a big slap on the collective back for all the hard work.

Well played kids. It’s been beyond fun.

Next up The Barrier! Don’t miss it!