Next race day, take a moment to appreciate the sounds and smells of what surrounds you.
As the offroad season here on the east coast is set to kick off, I’m doing my best to shrug off a case of the mid-winter blues. I haven’t been on the bike since late October. Currently it is stripped down to the frame, as I am in the process of giving it a much needed re-build for the coming season. But in between changing/greasing bearings, scraping and adding paint, and cleaning/replacing who-knows-how-many parts, my mind has been drifting to memories of seasons past.
Specifically, I’m thinking about all of the aspects that happen during the morning of a race. Driving into a race event has a feeling like no other. Those of you who have experienced this know what I mean, and you know it’s a feeling that never truly leaves you, even if you haven’t attended a race in quite some time. Riding days with your buddies, track practice days, solo rips through the trails—they just don’t compare to the atmosphere that soaks into your bones when you pull into your parking spot the morning of a race and think to yourself, “Today is the day.”
You’ll find people shuffling around, scrambling to get their bikes and gear unloaded and prepped; even though there’s no hurry to get through tech inspection so early in the morning, the tension and pre-race jitters start the moment you turn your truck off. The people who have camped out the night before may just now be rising and stirring. Vendors are starting to open up their stands, fire up their generators, and one by one begin to fire up a sort of subconscious alarm clock that reminds everyone that the time is now.
In the fall, there is always a mist that clings to the ground in those early morning hours right before and just as the sun is coming up. It adds to that quilt of velvety morning quiet; that moment in time before the coming rush and chaos that you can somehow feel as you navigate your way through the grounds. The downfall of this fleeting moment is that it amplifies each noise you make, like the sound of your car tires rolling over the sand as you try not to wake the campers up while you slowly and quietly make your way to a parking spot. Every rock you hit, every groan of your power steering pump as you turn your wheels, makes it sound like a pack of children at a daycare heading out to play, rather than a vehicle trying to quietly navigate a dirt parking lot.
"Race morning is the best kind of high there is. There is the adrenaline of promise that you feel while thinking about the race to come." – Frank Visone
And we love it—all of it. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. Race morning is the best kind of high there is. There is the adrenaline of promise that you feel while thinking about the race to come. You think about your start routine, and visualize yourself at the front of the pack, ultimately taking the checkers first. You imagine what the course layout will be and how rough it will get, and you convince yourself that you’re ready for it.
Your mind swirls as you repeatedly go over the mental checklist of all the preparations you’ve done in your garage the days and weeks leading up to this event. And there’s that cold chill that runs up your spine when you realize the one thing you weren’t supposed to forget got left sitting right there by the front door, next to that travel mug of coffee you also forgot.
Then there are those stomach rumblings—you know the ones—they make you question everything you thought you knew about how much agony you can really take. Those damn pangs force you to seriously give thought to the notion of stepping into that one-and-only port-o-potty in your parking area, and if it is possible for you to hold it until you get home (or at least make it to a place that has a fully functional bathroom). And then there’s the poor bastard who shows up an hour before race time who has to deal with that same brown-house and the ravages that lie within. Oh, and of course, he’s also got to park next to it because there aren’t any spots left anywhere else.
You spend your morning prepping your pit area. EZ Up? Check. Bike placed on its stand precisely so that it looks as factory as possible? Check. Chairs arranged so you can stare at said factory steed and still check out the competition around you? Check. Toolbox organized and ready to go to battle at a moment’s notice? Check.
Crap. Did I remember to add the premix into the gas before I left, or was I supposed to do that when I got here? Did I bring my lucky gloves? Do I have enough roll-off film? Is that duct tape going to hold long enough to get me to the finish?
As the morning drives on, you begin to incorporate the smells. Initially, your lungs are filled with the sweet scent of pine (I’m from NJ, so obviously I’m surrounded by pine trees; insert whatever tree/shrubbery suits your locale) and that velvety morning mist. But before too long, you’ll get that charcoal smell of the food vendor. The tinge of exhaust from the generators, and joyfully, that sweet smell of race gas being burned and ejected through the ass-end of whatever bike is close by. I’m a pre-mixer myself so I’m partial to VP110 and Amsoil, but if you’re a thumper guy, well, cheers all the same. And hopefully you’re not that poor guy who showed up at the last minute, or you can be sure you’ll be incorporating the scent of the Johnny-on-the-spot into that bouquet of aromas too.
As you count down the minutes to your key-time (or hours till your start time for Hare Scrambles) it doesn’t hurt to just sit back in your pit and take it all in. Relax a bit. Once you pull away, all you have for the next several hours is chaos. So, enjoy the atmosphere while you can.
In this moment, that chaos is called anticipation. For most of us, racing season hasn’t yet come upon us, for various reasons. Maybe your series hasn’t begun yet, or if it has, maybe you haven’t been able to attend them. Or, you just do a couple races a year for whatever reason. So, when you finally do head to your first event of the year, or even if you’ve already started your season, take a moment to appreciate the sounds and smells of what surrounds you as you move throughout your day.
If you do, chances are it’ll carry with you throughout the rest of the year. Hopefully, it will give you something to savor in those long, dark months, as you try and chase away the next round of your own mid-winter blues.