Mitch Gay founded the Combo Race Team in 2009 because he enjoyed the camaraderie of hanging out with other mountain bikers at big events. Even though he enjoys racing he has always emphasized that Combo Race Team is less about being fiercely competitive and more about enjoying the sport at all levels. The team he has built is filled with seasoned veterans and riders who are relatively new to the sport. What do they have in common? At their core, these are the kind of people that you enjoy hanging out with after a hard-fought race. I asked him for some perspective on the team:
James Knott: Why did you start Combo Race Team?
Mitch Gay: The idea for the team was hatched back in 2009 when a few friends and I decided to tackle the 24 Hours of Mohican race. We pulled a camper to the race and ending up creating a pretty cool pit along with 2 other teams of Columbus riders. The weekend was a great time of fun and painful riding, great camaraderie and completion. On the way home I started thinking this is what mountain biking should be like. Over the next couple weeks I started tossing around the idea in my head and off a few others and everyone encouraged me to do it. At the same time my younger son Nolan had just come off a concussion in football and learned that it was no longer an option to play. So part of my inspiration was also to help him find something to be part of that he enjoyed.
James: What made the idea unique at the time?
Mitch: I don’t really think the idea was unique because there have always been bike teams around the area. The difference in ours was when I started it I told the original members that I didn’t have a lot to offer in the way of benefits, it was going to cost them to participate and require their time. The tradeoff was we would always try to focus on the enjoyment of riding versus being a results oriented team.
James: What is the mission of the Combo Race Team?
Mitch: Our primary mission is to promote COMBO [Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization which maintains mountain bike trails near Columbus, Ohio] to a wider audience and encourage more people to get into riding and racing.
James: You have racers of all skill levels on the team, what do you look for in a teammate?
Mitch: The main thing I look for in a rider is someone who wants to be a part of something a little bigger than them. Someone who gladly participates in all our team events and really wants to be a “team” mate. Over the years I have been contacted by some really top level riders about joining us since they see our setup at the races. Usually their first question is something like” what’s in it for me?” That tells me right off, they are not the rider/team mate I am looking for. The team guy I want is like the rider who approached me at the Mohican race and asked…” are you guys going to be looking for anyone next year. I have a shop sponsoring me now and that is great but free stuff and discounts don’t look so great compared to what I see you guys doing as a team”
James: You’ve developed some great relationships with sponsors. What do they get out of it?
Mitch: I try to offer our sponsors a good return for their investment with us. First and foremost I try to relay that message to our team that we are their ambassadors when we have their name on our back. I try to work with each to determine what they are looking for in return and tailor our agreements to them. I guess what makes it work is just that…I respond to their needs first.
James: What events are you most excited about in 2014 and what will be the biggest team events this year?
Mitch: Probably the Mohican 100. Last year I had to drop out midway due to injury so I need to go finish. We also have some stuff lined up for the team in conjunction with our sponsors for this event. 2014 also looks to be the year we branch out into promoting a few races in both MTB and CROSS. We did a cross race this year and learned a lot that I think we can bring into 2014. I am also excited about the 24 hours of DINO and a possible return of a new 24 hour race in this area.
James: You were injured for most of 2013. How are you feeling and what are are your personal racing goals for the upcoming year?
Mitch: Yes, 2013 was a very strange year. Being injured with a broken bone in my foot really sidelined me and gave me some new perspective on the team and the riders on the team. Then when we lost Annie it became a very hard year [Annie Rooney was a new member of the team that was killed in a drunk driving accident in the middle of the season]. Being off the bike did allow me to change my roles and be more of a team manager and support person at the races and I learned quite a few things that I believe will make 2014 a better team. As for my personal goals I just want to get back on the bike and get back to the original intent of having fun doing it with people who feel the same way.
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