331 Racing Lives On! …With Reduced Race Schedule

331 Racing's Vulture's Knob Short Track Mountain Bike Race

331 Racing’s Vulture’s Knob Short Track Mountain Bike Race

I participated in two 331 races this year and they were a ton of fun.  My first experience was the USA Cycling Ohio State Championship Race at Chestnut Ridge in June and the second was a time trial at Alum Creek State Park in September.

Even though these races were different formats, they were a ton of fun and they inspired me to want to add new 331 Races to my race schedule in 2014.  The events were well organized and the energetic emceeing of Rody Walter gave them a festive party-like atmosphere.

One of the cool things about 331 Racing is that they attempt to tackle races of all different styles – cross country, short track, enduro, time trial & endurance.  It takes a well-rounded cyclist to be able to conquer the Ohio Power Series.

Then in October there was a message on Facebook that said if they couldn’t get 200 racers to their Oktoberfest Finale at Vulture’s Knob the future of 331 Racing was in doubt.  Would I not be able to add more 331 races next year?  Oh no!

The good news for their fans is that 331 Racing is going to continue on next year.  But, the schedule only includes six races at the moment.  Rody says that they will focus on “unique top tier events that are ‘must do’ races”.  It will be interesting to see whether this new focused approach leads to an even better experience for the racers.

They will be announcing the 2014 race schedule after the winter holiday season.  That should give the diehard racers plenty of time to fit the 331 events into their summer calendars.

In the meantime, check out my entire interview with Rody.  It’s packed full of tons of great information about the history and motivation of the 331 Racing guys.  331 isn’t just about racing.  It’s also about building communities and helping Ohio’s youth to discover healthy lifestyles through cycling.  The more you learn about 331, the more you want them to succeed.

The 331 Racing guys are Jason Reinhart, Kevin Daum & Rody Walter in the back row with Dustin Clouse & Mike Cologna in the front.

The 331 Racing guys are Jason Reinhart, Kevin Daum & Rody Walter in the back row with Dustin Clouse & Mike Colonna in the front.

James Knott: Can you give me a little background on 331 and your previous race experience?

Rhodes “Rody” Walter: 331 Racing is comprised of five primary members, all steeped in a background of bicycle racing.  Sharing a combined 75 years of racing experience, ranging from Leadville to RAAM, we now focus our efforts in growing family oriented cycling events and enriching grassroots racing in our region.

James: When you started 331 racing there were already several race series in Ohio, what inspired you to start another race series? 

Rody: 331 was born of necessity.  A number of years ago, the property known as Vulture’s Knob, one of the few privately owned but publicly accessed mountain bike venues in our country, was in danger of being lost to our cycling community.  Up for sale and slated for development, our small group of advocates came together to save this resource and begin to provide a plan for protecting the property for open recreational access for our lifetime.  Noble gestures, however, still take money.  In devising a plan to achieve success, we were determined to focus our efforts in a direction that would benefit others and grow the sport of mountain biking.  An opportunity existed to improve the quality of the race experience for participants, focus on developing more family oriented events, and return 100% of all proceeds back to the sport we love.  We have been successful beyond our expectations; final paperwork is being completed as I type that will secure Vulture’s Knob’s future access for all outdoor recreation, a summer youth cycling skills development clinic series is in it’s fourth year, the Ohio Interscholastic Racing League, a state wide high school mountain bike series, just completed it’s first season, over 100 mountain bikes have been given away to impoverished children through our donations to Bikes for Kids, over $20,000 in monetary donations have returned to local trail crews at each venue we visited to support their trail development efforts, and our lobbying efforts have assisted IMBA grants and the opening of a new trail system at Hardy Road in Akron, transitioning an old landfill into a municipally supported mountain bike park.  None of this would have been possible if our local racing community had not embraced our vision and supported us with their dollars…our success belongs to you.

Kid's Halloween Race - 331 Racing

Kid’s Halloween Race – 331 Racing

Do you see the other races as competition?

Certainly with multiple promoters vying for participant dollars, competition inherently exists, even if promoter motivation and goals differ.  The benefit to the cycling community, however, has been extremely positive; it is without refute that the promoters in Ohio have stepped up their game, increasing the professionalism of events, resulting in a higher level of customer service and experience.

The Ohio Power Series trophy for 2012

The Ohio Power Series trophy for 2012.

How many people are involved in organizing these races and how much work goes into each one?

Folks have no idea how much effort goes into developing a quality race series before the first tires even roll to the start line.  The amount of time and effort invested is staggering.  Without a passion for the sport, a desire to see it grow, and a need to give back to the community, the personal effort could not be summoned.  Kevin Daum has been the primary administrator, shouldering the burden since inception, while the rest of us contribute where we can to the organizational model.  The magic, however, happens on race day.  We have been blessed with like-minded folks who want to contribute to our vision, sacrificing their time willingly to see it come to fruition.  From family and friends who help with registration and setup to safety crews willing to attain the necessary medical training just to insure the protection of their fellow riders, we have been blessed.

Is this your day job? Is running a race series a profitable activity?

Financial Officer, Engineer, Firefighter, and Small Business owner are just some of the titles we share alongside the separate responsibilities of operating 331 Racing, a venture that has no wage earning employees.  The monetary proceeds gained have allowed financial support for multiple charitable projects to be successful, so yes, there is money in being a promoter.  Last season, 331 Racing put on a total of 19 races, turning down an additional 26 requests from regional clubs and venues wanting us to bring a race to them. Like any product, you must create a market, meet customer needs, and personalize your product to find success.

Ohio Interscholastic Racing League for 2013

331 Racing started the Ohio Interscholastic Racing League which is sanctioned by USA Cycling.

What is your favorite 331 race? Which is the most challenging? Which had the best attendance?

It would be fair to say that each of us has his own favorite race or venue.  My favorite would be the Vulture’s Knob Octoberfest race weekend.  Gathering our racing family together for a weekend of xc, youth races, community dinner, and live music with a bon fire that can be seen for miles is something special to experience.  Sitting around the tents sharing stories in the crisp autumn air before crawling into a warm sleeping bag is the perfect way to end the season.  In no other cycling event have I experienced the friendship and camaraderie present each year at this event, it’s not to be missed.

From a promoter’s perspective, the most challenging event is Manatoc weekend.  Organizing and executing a weekend of manufacturers demos, youth racing, the opening OIRL race [Ohio Interscholastic Racing League], and a huge XC event is quite stressful and labor intensive.  Hosting 2000 cyclists over two days can tire even the most passionate volunteers.

331 Racing announces that they need 200 riders to attend the Oktoberfest Finale at Vulture's Knob.

331 Racing announces that they need 200 riders to attend the Oktoberfest Finale at Vulture’s Knob.

On October 8th, you posted this to Facebook:

All year we’ve been chasing the magical number of 200 racers and have come within a hair of reaching that goal. So we put this challenge out to you. 331’s involvement next season depends on your participation. If we have 200 racers for our final XC race on Sunday you can count on us to continue this same level of effort for 2014…if we fall short, we’ll be satisfied with our achievements thus far and will be scaling back to focus the extra time on the new high school league and other opportunities.

Did you hit your goal of 200 racers? Was the 331 Race Series dangerously close to coming to an end or was this just a publicity stunt to get racers to promote the event?

Given that the boys at 331 Racing are involved in so many charitable projects, priorities must be determined so areas to invest our time can be identified and focused upon.  We’ve had great success in achieving our goals thus far, however, it’s nice to have positive affirmation from your customer base that the personal time sacrificed is valued…thus the challenge.  We did not meet the participation goal set for the final cross country race, disappointing, but a clear statement from the community.

What changes can we expect to see in 2014 from 331?

Bikes 4 Kids - 331 Racing helps needy kids enjoy new bikes.

Bikes 4 Kids: 331 Racing helps needy kids enjoy new bikes.

In 2014 you will see a reorganization of priorities.  A preliminary race schedule of 6 races has been structured, allowing us to focus on creating unique top tier events that are “must do” races for participants.  Additional resources are being added to the youth development and OIRL series to continue to grow the future of our sport.  Time and monetary support will increase in collaborative efforts with IMBA for the creation and development of new venues and separately, the designation of “IMBA EPIC” status for some existing systems, to encourage economic support from visiting cyclists.   331 Racing will continue to be a leader in our state and region, passionately advocating for mountain biking, sharing our enthusiasm and love of the sport…I hope you’ll join us in 2014.

Stay tuned to Quickdirt.com for more great racing information. We will try to provide you with more updates about 331 leading up to the 2014 racing season.  You can subscribe to be notified about new articles in the right column.  Another great way to keep up with the latest updates is to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

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