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Amara Edwards: Looking Ahead to ’22 at Jerry Baker

Amara Edwards - Program Director, Jerry Baker Velodrome

Episode 47

“I think that’s important to realize that every track is its own little community.”

Ever been to the Jerry Baker Velodrome out in the Pacific North West? This week’s guest gives the inside scoop about what goes on there and how it compares to T-Town. Joan sits down with Amara Edwards, the program director of Jerry Baker Velodrome, and talk how they handled racing during COVID, how she came to be program director, and what it takes to put on racing.

Amara Edwards - Program Director, Jerry Baker Velodrome
Amara Edwards – Program Director, Jerry Baker Velodrome

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Transcript

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to The Talk of the T-Town Podcast, where we discuss all things track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. I’m your host and executive director, Joan Hanscom.

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to The Talk of the T-Town Podcast. I’m your host, Joan Hanscom. And I am joined this week by Amara Edwards, the program director from The Jerry Baker Velodrome in the Pacific Northwest. Amara, welcome to the pod.

Amara Edwards:

Hi, thank you, Joan. This is exciting, I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m glad to be here.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, I’m excited to talk to you. I am ignorant somewhat of how Jerry Baker works versus how T-Town works. So for our listeners who maybe haven’t been to your track, tell us about your job there, your role there, and then tell us a little bit about what goes on at Jerry Baker Velodrome.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. So I guess we’ll start with the track first. The Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome, formally known as The Mary Moore Velodrome is 400 meters, so it’s a big track but it does have some decent banking. We have a 23 to 25 degrees banking. So there’s at least… Yeah, you can turn into it, which is awesome but it’s our gentle giant, we like to call it. But we do host a lot of racing. I think we probably… our head to head with T-Town on actually who hosts the most racing per summer, which is… We always like to say we host the most, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but we host three times a week. We have racing’s on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, we have racing every week and then additional-

Joan Hanscom:

We have Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, so…

Amara Edwards:

Well you’re pretty close then. And then we have some Saturday special events once a month. But so we have a lot of racing, which is something that we are very excited about and we have great fields and it’s a really awesome community out here. And we’re located in Redmond, Washington, which is… people say Seattle, it’s not really Seattle. It’s on the other side of Lake Washington, but it is an awesome community, the whole Washington area. And we… Yeah, our racing scene is great and we continue to grow there. Our big event, which I think most people know as far as our grand pre, which typically happens the third or fourth weekend in July, and we generally host a $10,000 cash first. And we’ve gotten Olympians, people from all over South Africa, Australia, bunch of big names that come out and make that a big show, obviously the last few years has been a little funky, but we try to make that a really big event and we’re hoping that is returning this summer.

Joan Hanscom:

And I know we try to avoid conflicts with that so that our participants can be your participants and vice versa. And I think it’s super cool that you all do that and have that big glamorous showcase night. And I know that there are folks from our Velodrome that consider that their favorite race of the year. So, because I’ve heard all about it because people really, really enjoy that night, so it’s super cool. And fingers crossed that we all get to have a much more normal season in 22. It’s so weird, I don’t know about you but… because the seasons have been so weird. I’m like, “Is it 22? Is it 23? Is it 21?”

Amara Edwards:

I don’t know either.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s really a challenge. And then the shift of the calendar is so weird. So, I don’t even know what season we’re talking about anymore.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Like I said, hopefully we are back to normal. We are actually… and I’m getting drilled here. We were actually had a fairly normal season last year, besides our larger events. We just couldn’t host because travel was frowned upon. But we actually hosted all of our nights granted, think that we’re in Washington and in a park. We had a very strictly follow up all the COVID protocols, but it was like, “Okay, masks on, mask off, mask on.” You know what I mean? It was like, “Okay, do not race when your mask is on. Okay, you’re racing, you can take it on.” And there would be little pods. We got very creative, but we were actually ran our racing program. We were very proud of that.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. We were lucky too, in that we were able to run pretty much the normal season plus a gazillion national championships, too many national championships. But we did start the season having to race in masks unless we were doing time trials. So I think the entire month of June, if… The way the state regulation was written was if you were fully vaccinated, you were allowed to race without a mask. And if you had not been fully vaccinated, you had to race in a mask.

Joan Hanscom:

So June was really interesting for us in that, not only was it like, “Stay in your bubble, in the infield,” but it was… people actually having to race with masks on, it was a challenging June, but then July, they opened it all up and we were able to race without the masks on, which was really nice because masks… Well, I am very pro mask. I also appreciate I got racing with one in July, in the concrete crater would’ve been quite unpleasant-

Amara Edwards:

It’s difficult.

Joan Hanscom:

So, yeah. So hopefully we have a better 22 but who knows right now, things are getting weird again. So…

Amara Edwards:

Yes they are.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. So let’s not talk about those unpleasant things, let’s talk about you. How did you come to be the program director at The Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome?

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. So I guess we were talking about this a little before, but I can give you my background, I know you don’t know me very well, kind of go to about how I became the program director. Many people might not know me or they know of me, but not really. So I started racing when I was 11 and I started racing on the track, which is actually odd because the track was an hour away from my house. So my parents would drive me and my brother and my sister, we would… the three of us would go down multiple times a week and we would train and race and do all the things, but I started when I was 11. So I’ve been involved in track cycling. I figure how old I am, this will be like 23 years. [crosstalk 00:06:36]

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. And it’s actually funny. My first nationals when I was racing at shows was at T-Town. So I have a very good connection with T-Town. I’ve been there quite a bit as a racer, coach, all sorts of stuff. But as I went through my junior career, I got to race at all different tracks, which was awesome. I went to college and I started my own team when I raced collegiate nationals a couple times and I graduated. I have a major in physical education and minor in coaching and biology. And I actually taught for five years as a PE teacher and health teacher. And actually oddly enough, the first year I taught was also the first year I was the program director.

Amara Edwards:

So I actually juggled working at the track full time and being a school teacher, which was very fun and a unique opportunity. But yeah, so I got involved. When I graduated in college, I started being the youth director at the Velodrome, and after doing that for our summer two, I think I saw like, okay, how things are working. And then the program draw opened up and I went, “Sure, let’s try it.” It’s very vague listing as any director job at a track is, it’s you never really know what you have to do and a lot of it’s just extra and random and you just do it all basically.

Joan Hanscom:

I would be one of the people that do actually know, but yes.

Amara Edwards:

Yes. But so-

Joan Hanscom:

But I think… People have no idea. I think people think we live in a little box at the track and we pop out on race day and races happen, and then you pop back into your little cubby hole underneath the track surface and that’s that.

Amara Edwards:

That’s what you do.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Magic, there it is.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Magic. But yeah. So no, I think I got to see what it was like, and then I got to do that. And I think this is going to be my ninth year, eighth or ninth year as the program director. And that job has evolved as I… When I had my first child almost five years ago, I stopped teaching. So I was full-time mom and full-time at the track. And as I stopped teaching, I managed to take on more responsibilities at the track just to fulfill my time with things. And then at that point I also started our junior team, The Jerry Baker Juniors, which this year is supposed to have over 40 kids, I’ve added more things onto my plate-

Joan Hanscom:

But that’s-

Amara Edwards:

But yeah, so doing all of that and I think my second year as a program director, we had masters nationals at our track, which was crazy to have the hosted our track, it was awesome. But yeah, so it was through all those things. It’s just grown and evolved and I’m happy where it is, and I’m happy with the junior team growing, that’s the future.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, that’s awesome.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. So that’s… Very passionate about that as a former junior athlete and just having that direction and that program for kids to see and I think it’s really awesome.

Joan Hanscom:

Well, certainly had a huge presence at junior nationals this past summer, it was great to see. And you had complete with cheering sections and everybody was very color coded and very boisterous and I thought it was awesome. It was… You definitely knew where the Jerry Baker section and the stands were that week of racing, which was super good. 40 kids is awesome. It’s a lot. So do you do the racing programming too, or just the youth programming?

Amara Edwards:

Everything. So yeah, the program director is truly the everything. I help classes, I do… We have an auction every year, but all the racing programs and then the youth team director is a separate job as well. But yeah, so we… I end up doing a lot of it, which is-

Joan Hanscom:

Doing all the things.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it, that’s what comes down to, and-

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That is, I think the real truth that I wish everybody understood about people who work in bike racing, because I think so often… Zach may know, was just on the last pod. He terrific and I have so much respect for him, but we joke that his whole stick is, “I’m here to ruin bike racing and make people cry,” because he’s the [inaudible 00:10:49] of that. Because in reality, he couldn’t be further from that. But I do think sometimes people just think that officials or race directors or executive directors or program directors, we’re out to kill all the fun and we’re really not. We do the job, we do it because we love the thing and yeah. And we’re not actually in our jobs to ruin your fun. We are not actually trying to destroy bike racing. But yeah, so that was a funny little sidebar, but yeah, it’s always a labor of love, right? We do it because we believe and we do it because we think it’s the right thing to do and we may-

Amara Edwards:

Yeah, for sure. Especially if… I have a 14 month old now as well. So this whole last year, I’m finally getting consistent sleep. You sleeping through the night [crosstalk 00:11:45] amazing, it’s 14. Yeah. Anyway, so people would always be weirded out. At 2:00 or 3:00 AM when I get a message I respond back to them because I’m like, “I’m up.” I can respond. People were just like, “Wait, why did you respond?” I was like, “It’s just what I did.” I had four to six hours of uncontinuous sleep for the last year and we make it work.

Joan Hanscom:

Amazing. Amazing. So what… Tell me a little bit about what your goal goals are for the track. What’s your plan? What’s your goal? Where are you guys pointing your track? Tracks in an interesting position, right? In the US we’re in a position where traditional racing is I think struggling somewhat, we are… as track, as a discipline, we are pretty tied to our Federation, which is also struggling certainly in the COVID times. And some tracks are closing, they’ve gotten dilapidated enclosed, or… so there aren’t very many tracks in the US. So, first of all, tell us what you want to do with your track, where you’re taking it, what’s your vision for the next five years, and then how are you guys facing the challenges that we’re all facing right now?

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Our vision, obviously we want to keep track racing going, thriving. But the biggest thing for our track in the next couple year vision is we want to grow our women’s numbers. And I think that’s… I know something T-Town is really focused on, but even just looking at our numbers and our field sizes, it’s something that we are really committed to on our board this year, we got up to 10 volunteer members on our board up from seven and four of them are women, three of them are racers as well. But yeah, just trying to get that brainstorming and that drive, and that passion and that fun and figuring out how to get more women to the track and what it is that’s keeping them from that, but to get our fields up. And I think we already have momentum, we’re doing women’s only classes, we’re trying to create some different things this year, but yeah. Figuring out what needs to happen for those women’s numbers in particular. And then just overall numbers like how to get more people to the track.

Amara Edwards:

We always joke around that we’re the best kept secret in the Pacific Northwest, and that’s not a great thing, right? Racers are like… The road racers and cross racers, they’ll be like, “Wait, do you have a track?” And we’re like, “Yes, there’s a track here.” One of what? 24 in the United States now, where’s the track? And it’s thriving, right? In terms of other racing that’s dying or just numbers are going down, our road racing is really struggling out here, especially with COVID as of late. But even before that we had crits just dropping off left and right.

Amara Edwards:

So the fact that we have three nights of racing and we have fields for everyone like, why aren’t you racing track? And we’re trying to really figure that out, especially with the people that are racers of another discipline and then continuing our outreach to other people, right? Like, “Oh, you like bikes, or you saw the track driving by and you want to check it out, yeah, come ride a track bike and see what that’s all about.” So just continue our outreach and increase our numbers, I think is our number one thing. And then another side thing that we’ve been really focusing on the last few years is our livestream. So getting our outreach up through our livestream and this last year we had like four or five different cameras and we’re trying to work on creating a professional product that we can put out and say like, “This is track racing.” Having cameras on, GoPros on, on bikes and switching to those and doing some really, really cool stuff to be like, “This is bike racing.”

Amara Edwards:

Where we seen the UCI Nations Cup or whatever, just is happening… finishing up today, I don’t know what time it is.

Joan Hanscom:

Just champions league.

Amara Edwards:

There you go. Champions league, they’ve done an amazing job with their social media and coverage and everything like that. So we’re striving to that because that format works and that’s like our normal… for us our Friday night racing, that’s what we-

Joan Hanscom:

Isn’t that funny that they’ve… Same thing, I think they’ve finally figured out to make expectator friendly racing, right? Which is what we’ve been… The both of us, right? Our tracks is what we’ve been doing all along because you have Friday night people in the stands, and that means you can’t run a hundred and something plus lap race, because it’s not super interesting for the fans. You got to have fast events, which is what they seem to have figured out with this champions league and… Good on them for trying to modernize it a little bit, make it fan friendly.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. But yeah, like I said, what we’ve been doing for a long time and yeah, getting our spectators in, our beer garden, food tracks, making it that fun environment that people can come out to and spend a Friday night. Having our Kitty Kelo, where they come do a lap around the track, right? Trying to create that fun environment where people want to go and watch racing and just have an evening basically.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That’s… We share that goal of, put the fans in the stands on Friday night. We have a great, great, great beer sponsor. Great, great food in the concessions but still it’s a tough sell I think these days, no matter how great the beer is and how affordable it is and what a nice affordable ticket it is, we’re competing with a lot of stuff. We’re competing with baseball. We’re competing with all the big… the ball spores. We’re competing with TV, we’re competing with iPhones, we’re competing with a lot of stuff. And I think it’s just the pie hasn’t necessarily gotten any bigger, we’re just slicing it up into more pieces now. So-

Amara Edwards:

I think that’s one of the reasons we want a full livestream, right? Because we only have… Some people aren’t going to drive out to the track especially between Seattle and Redmond roads, 20 miles or whatever, but that 20 miles takes you an hour and a half. So it’s like one of those… We’re outreaching our local community to watch racing and then also just being able to share that to family and friends that can be like, “Cool, we can watch from afar,” basically.

Joan Hanscom:

I know that that’s something we’re also very much cognizant of at T-Town and trying to figure out ways to do the same, because I do think… We have a local TV broadcast, which is terrific with service electrics, so they’re out there filming every Friday and they rerun the racing on the local cable network on Saturdays. But if you live outside of their broadcast area, you can’t see it. So we are again with that like, how do we live stream it? How do we get it to the folks in Australia and New Zealand? How do we get eyeballs on the track from really track loving nations who send athletes to race at T-Town in the summer and plus there’s folks around the country who like track.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Lexus has done a great job at their promotion and their product. I’m always very impressed with their live streaming.

Joan Hanscom:

Yep. Absolutely. So it’s something I think that we got to get sorted out and I think you’re right, just giving more people access to it so that they can see it. And hopefully you get to… You get a little bump from the champions league and more people saw it and thought, “Oh my gosh, there’s one of those right in my backyard, I can go watch this stuff live.” Which is so cool. Yeah. So when does your season start?

Amara Edwards:

We start racing in May and we go until early September. So we truly are… We can get out to the track around April, in the winter months, our… The sun doesn’t get high enough to dry out corners one and two, so it’s like, “Cool, it’s dry but it’s not very slippery.” So starting in April is when we can get out there and actually start riding.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Same with T-Town. Although that’s a bit of a TVD this year, because we’re doing the track resurfacing project. So we’ll see if it’s on time, that’s our mother nature dependent. Last year we had one snowstorm, we were dumped close to 30 inches of snow on the Lehigh Valley. And that snow does not… Much like your track doesn’t dry and turns one and two. Snow does not melt on the track. So, that tracking project for us is very mother nature dependent. So we hope that she’s kind to the Lehigh Valley this year.

Amara Edwards:

No, I think you guys had more rainouts than we did last year, which was weird.

Joan Hanscom:

So weird. In my first season at T-Town, we didn’t have a single rainout. We had one night where we had tornado warnings and we had to pull folks out of the bleachers, but then literally the rest of the summer we did not have a single rain out. Similarly, my second season at T-Town, no rainouts. I was like, “Let the drought begin,” right? May came to a conclusion and I was like, “Please let us have drought for June, July, and August.” And in fact we did and it was terrific, not that I’m pro drought but it was great. It always rained on Thursdays. It was ential downpours on Thursdays. And then this past year, man, we just got nailed over and over and over again, it was like, “Oh, you’re paying for the last two years of goodness.” Yeah. So, I do think we were rainier than Seattle last year. So it was bizarre. It was so many rainouts, but hopefully things balance a little bit, or at least it goes back to raining out Thursdays.

Amara Edwards:

We prefer rainouts to smoke out snow, our August [crosstalk 00:21:24] our smoke season and it’s rough. It’s… Yeah. It sucks to cancel when it’s sunny. But yeah, when it’s smokey and you have air quality issues, it’s just like, oh, it’s tough. You know?

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. It was crazy. And I don’t know if you even… You were there obviously, because you were there for nationals.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah, the last day.

Joan Hanscom:

You were having smoke issue was in T-Town.

Amara Edwards:

Maybe it’s on fires, wasn’t it?

Joan Hanscom:

It’s fires. I was like, “Oh my gosh, the smoke followed you all.”

Amara Edwards:

Oh yeah. I think it was Spokane. But yeah, everyone was like, “Why is it so hazy?” I’m like, “Oh, this is fires from our state guys.”

Joan Hanscom:

This is not good. [inaudible 00:22:04] that with you. But the sunsets were beautiful. Sunrises were tremendous. Air quality, not so much, but… Yeah. That’s amazing, right? You have to worry about that. I do remember the first time I went to Bend Oregon was for masters road. And I remember being on the plane flying into Bend and you could see smell the fires. You could smell the smoke on the plane. And I didn’t realize there were fires. And so I’m on the plane and I’m like, “What’s that? Is the plane on fire?” And they’re like, “No, it’s wildfires.” And I was like, “Oh crap, that’s crazy,” that you could smell it in the plane. So yeah, I don’t… That’s not nice, but I guess now that season has gotten longer for all of it, which is just crazy. So what else have you got going on at the track? So you’ve got the same agenda as T-Town, which is great. So we should definitely try to help each other out as much as we can. What else is on the old agenda out there?

Amara Edwards:

So, we’ll do our auction in April. We’re trying to bike swap this year, which is something you guys do, it’s something new that we’re going to track. Yeah. So try something a little track specific. We have a generic one that’s always in our area, which is everyone, they’re to track bike swap. We’ll start with our auction. We’ll start classes in April. I think we’re going to try a little something different with maybe road team or team classes to try to target that community a little bit more. And then yeah, start racing our preseason in May, just because May out here is so hit or miss with weather, are we going to get dumped on or do we have sun? So May we call preseason and we’ll start our regular season racing at the end of May, maybe a kickoff event.

Amara Edwards:

And then yeah, we just truck through our racing like I said, we’re going to have a few or more special events. We did a car and all style race last year with multiple [inaudible 00:24:07] It was very unique and very fun with Madisons and other categories. And then I think tentatively, we’re going to try to do it like a Junior’s weekend and I’m still working on the detail, but thinking of July 1st ish and try to invite all the juniors out and be like, if you can get here, we’re going to have clinics racing and just all sorts of fun-

Joan Hanscom:

Well, that sounds awesome.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. And I’ll send details. I’m trying to reach out to the junior teams right now. But I remember when I was a junior going to Houston every spring break, and we would actually… a few days and had clinics and racing and we had juniors from the Wales come in.

Amara Edwards:

But yeah, it was like a summer spring break party, no parents, it’s crazy. We’re all in a hotel and yeah, we went and raced multiple days at Houston. And I remember that so fondly being like, “This was the best,” right? You get to see all your nationals friends at another time in the year. So really trying to recreate that and figure out what that’s going to look like. But yeah, our GP right now is tentatively scheduled for July 22nd and 23rd, people want to mark that on a calendar. I believe that misses your UCI racing, I think is how we figure that out. Yep. We’re trying to make it work, and then hopefully nationals I heard was tentatively beginning of August, at least what their bid sheet said. So hopefully we’ll figure out those dates soon.

Joan Hanscom:

That would be amazing if that was the calendar, right? If we could do that whole, like T-Towns got some C2s running into the C1s because the rule changes, are all wacky and then you go to Europe vet, then you go to nationals and then you have a pretty robust track season.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Yeah. Pop back and forth or go down to LA wherever it may be. But yeah, I think it’d be awesome if people can do some traveling, make those awesome races happen and it would be great. And then our August we’ll have our regional championships, which I think are going to be August 27th that weekend. And so we call them regionals because we invite Oregon, Vancouver, Victoria, Idaho, and they all come down or come over, embrace and so we have a big regional championships that are pretty much the national schedule, but we hand out medals and jerseys and things like that. But yeah, so we try to get a international scene, which is… I think really fun to get those couple checks too.

Joan Hanscom:

And hopefully it’s a little easier this year than last year with the [crosstalk 00:26:25] so happy that the Canadian athletes were able to come down to T-Town and race for all of our UCI stuff. But man, it was not easy.

Amara Edwards:

Not easy at all. I know the border just opened up in this last month and people were like, “Yay. Yes. So awesome.” And figuring out what that… They have to do COVID tests and yeah, there’s a lot that goes into it, but yeah, it sounds like… Hopefully things open up a little bit more.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I watch the news too much, I think, right? The whole On the Ground thing and I’m like, “Oh please don’t let it set us back.” Let it not be more dangerous than the past so we can keep plugging along where we are, happy to put all the precautions in place, put all the precautions in place, but please don’t let us like shut everything down again.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah, yeah. No. And then I mentioned Oregon, so Open Rose closed during COVID actually. And so that’s been a huge armor for that community. So we’ve been really trying to open up and be like… Obviously it’s three, four hour drive for them, but just being able to come up and still have a community and a home that they can race in. And I think we had a few juniors, probably like three or four juniors and then probably five or six adults that came up and race throughout the summer, but it was so nice to see them. But especially with track closing and COVID and it just totally took the wind out of their sail. And I feel for them so much, so I hope to see them, especially for our larger events this year, but yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s such a drag for that track to close and I know they fought so hard to keep it. So super, super dragged that that’s closed. And… But it’s… Because Oregon got such a good bike racing community too. So, that’s a real drag and it’s a challenge though, right? You know how? There’s more… I think land is valuable, right? That’s the thing it’s like at some point the land is more valuable than the track can sustain in some cases. So it’s hard.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. And every track I feel like is so unique from where it is, right? We’re in a county park. Some people are in state parks, in cities. Some people are on by cities. Some of it it’s private, every track is just so unique and because of that our insurances and our planning and our structure, everything, I feel like there’s no one track or two tracks that are similar enough to be like, “Oh, here you go. Here’s what we do,” right? It’s just so unique, which I think is makes is good and bad, right?

Joan Hanscom:

Right. Yeah. No, it’s definitely it. I don’t know about you. Do you get calls every week, “I want to put up a Velodrome,” do you get those calls?

Amara Edwards:

We have a few people that say like, “Oh, I want to put up a Velodrome.” Like sweet, how many millions of dollars do you have?

Joan Hanscom:

That’s the funny thing, right? I get these calls all the time, “Hey, yeah. We want to build a Velodrome.” And I’m like, “Cool, what’s your budget?” And they’re like… I’m like, “Do you have 160 million?” And they’re like… And then that’s the end of that call and then… Or I’ll get calls from people who say, “Yeah, we have the funding to build a Velodrome. How do you keep yours running?” Do you have more than the budget to build the track? “No.” Well, that’s going to be a problem. I think people just don’t know, it’s such a struggle to have the funding, to keep it running.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. And I think that’s another thing where it’s unique. I know there’s some tracks depending where they’re located, get a lot of city or county funding, right? But it’s… I think our track in particular, we do our own fundraising. We have auctions, we get sponsors as donations. We’re a non-profit right. So a lot of people can write all of those things off. But we are doing a full budget recap right now and my mind is blowing up, but yeah. Looking at like, “Okay, if we do this and we have to do this,” you know what I mean? We’re literally crunching numbers right now just trying to figure out like, okay, if we lower our memberships, you know what I mean? Can we keep our racing the same cost? And we want to make sure that people can race and they’re not-

Joan Hanscom:

You want to keep it accessible, right?

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. I’m trying to do that.

Joan Hanscom:

You’re want to keep it accessible.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. Accessible. And I look, last time I raised a road race at crit, I was like, “I’ve just spent $50 for a 40 minute crit.” And my mind blew up a little bit and just prices aren’t just all over the place, but it is what it is. Bike racing costs money and I don’t think people are realizing that. Our Friday night, you have… how many officials? Four or five officials, you have tees, announcers, you know what I mean? The whole event [crosstalk 00:31:05] stand, prize money, right? You’re looking at a $1,500 to put on a race night and you’re like, “Oh cool. Well, how many racers did we have?” And, oh that didn’t quite add up. And so then it’s like, yeah, spectators are beer and crunching all those numbers. I don’t think people realize… it’s in the background, what it takes to put on a race night. I don’t… People just don’t realize that.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s funny that you say that. When I was doing the master’s cycle cross world championships, a master’s racer who I will not name, lit us up on Facebook because the entry fee was $75 to raise the world championships. And he just came at us super hard. And I was like, “Look, I’m not going to fight this battle with you on social media, but I would like to take the opportunity to run you through the budget.” And I was like, so-

Amara Edwards:

Being transparent with people like that, it’s like [crosstalk 00:32:11]

Joan Hanscom:

Let’s start with the UCI fees. And he was like, “What?” And I was like, “Right, there’s a fee to call this thing the world championship that gets paid to the UCI, let’s start there. And then let’s go through the rest of it.” And when I went through it, I literally walked him through the budget line, by line. And at the end, I was like, “So I hope you can see that we’re not… And you get to race twice for that $75 by the way. You get to race the qualifying heat and then the actual race. So I hope by the end of this conversation, you can see that I am not lining my pockets with your hard earned cash.”

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. We’re actually losing money is what we do.

Joan Hanscom:

We are subsidizing your hobby right now. So I hope you’ll contemplate changing your position on this event. And he was like, “Yeah, right. I had no idea.” He’s like, “Well, you need more sponsorship money.” And I was like… And I said to him, I was like, “And you tell me what company wants to write a big fat check for masters racing that isn’t on TV, that doesn’t have a large spectator base. Tell me again why a sponsor would want to sponsor this event.” And he’s like… it’s hard. People don’t know it costs a lot of money to put on bike racing.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. We did a UCI race one year because we… it was when the… whatever, the USA Cup, you had to be UCIs for whatever we’re going-

Joan Hanscom:

Do it one year.

Amara Edwards:

And so, yeah, it was… We had to bring all… We did the full application. We did all the extra officials and we were just like, “Oh my gosh, this is…” Ended up being so expensive and it was awesome. It was such an amazing experience for the racers and the fans. We ended up having a ton of rain. It was horrible but the whole event, it was so cool to see all those different people and all those different nationalities. And I had… Who was it? A couple Mexican athletes, South African athlete staying at my house, because that’s how it works. As a program director you just [crosstalk 00:34:20] people are staying at your house, but it was just absolutely awesome.

Amara Edwards:

It was a cool experience. But you look at the actual budget and you’re like, “That didn’t go so well.” But it’s what you do and you figure out what you can do. It’s something that we as a board are trying to be more transparent and be like, yeah, this is our budget. We propose it every year, but some people just don’t look or just choose not to realize like, why does it cost 25 or $30 to race a night? And they either accept it or they don’t. But yeah, sometimes you just have to deal with it.

Joan Hanscom:

Okay. So you paid $25 for your entry fee, take 5,75 off the top for your USA cycling per rider surcharge, then slide our… whatever fraction of per person for your permit. Then take the six officials, divide that out, then take your time and company and divide that out. And oh wait a second, we’re already in the red. It’s like this was electric bill on, because I can do that. And then there’s announcements. Yeah, it’s like, okay. Seriously that… You just… I’m not complaining about the Federation, they provide us with insurance that does its job, but insurance isn’t free.

Amara Edwards:

No. Yeah. It’s not. It’s one of those things that people… Yeah. People just don’t realize what goes into that entry fee. And even like I said, I do that… a cross race or a road race when I go like, “Oh, that was expensive.” But then it’s like, “Okay, it’s fine.” You know what I mean? I just have to… I hate spending money. I’m one of those people that… I’d rather not pay someone I’m going to do it myself. So I’m going to… But yeah. It’s just like, yeah, you got to remember it. Yeah. There’s a lot of people that takes to put this on and it’s worthwhile. Support your local community and I’m part of the road racing association, even though I will not race my road bike this year but you got to do it to support everybody.

Joan Hanscom:

Gosh, I hope I race my road bike this year. I really hope so. That’s so funny. So that’s interesting that you touched on that and I don’t want to go too farfield from the track, but I asked you in the pre-show if… because I had always thought you were a member of the WSBA board with my good friend, Gina, but you are not, but you work very collaboratively with your local association.

Amara Edwards:

Yes. Yeah. And WSBA, Washington State Bicycle Association, they put on their calendar all of the different events, you’re sanctioned or not. So road mountain gravel, everything gets on their overarching calendar and they do a lot to promote and they help… I know with the road, they have all the signage and things like that and they help work things. But yeah. So it’s awesome that we have a local association that really collaboratively does that. I know a lot of other states are not in the same boat, so yeah. We love our association. Yeah. We have multiple meetings with them every year to be like, “Hey, how are things going? Here’s how we are doing.” And they actually help us a lot with trying to get those road riders to the track, so they’ve given us subsidies of being like, “We’ll pay half of their classmates.”

Amara Edwards:

And so they just have to submit whatever and yeah, all of a sudden instead of it being $40 to take our inter class it’s 20, where they’ve done… I know this last year with trying to get racing back into it, they’ve done two for one rotary entries and they did some of that with track, but they’re really actively to promote facing for everyone in all disciplines, which we really appreciate and appreciate that their financial help as well, just giving us the access to it. All right, let’s… We really want to target cycle across single speeders. There’s like 150 of them on any given weekend. It’s like, “Why are they not on the track?” Clearly, both getting years, but you know what I mean?

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Yeah. And they’re complimentary seasons.

Amara Edwards:

Yeah, exactly.

Joan Hanscom:

You don’t have to get up and cross race to do your track racing.

Amara Edwards:

Exactly.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, no. When I was at USA cycling, the WSBA I thought was just one of the bright shining local associations that a lot of organizations could learn from in terms of how active they are and how they really do try to provide that return to their members for participating, right? It’s like as a WSBA member you pay $25 or something. And I think that they’re one of those local associations that you actually get the bang for your buck. When you give them your $25, you’re buying more than your little cloth number for the season. You’re actually buying an organization that does support groups like yours and does support promoters on the road and supports promoters of all the types of racing. So I’m just happy to give a good shout out to the WSBA because of the great work. And I always tried to suck them into the discussions with the other local associations when I was at USAC, because I do think they are a model for how the grassroots can support the grassroots. It’s really important, I think.

Joan Hanscom:

So what is your perspective, Amara? And I know we’re starting to run up against time now. What is your perspective on the state right now? Without getting controversial and super negative on the state of the sport, more broadly speaking, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Amara Edwards:

The state of the sport, that’s hard. Is-

Joan Hanscom:

Where do you see trends? Where… so we’re in different markets, right? We’re East Coast market, you’re Pacific Northwest. What’s the state of the sport? How are you seeing people participating in our sport right now?

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. I think… like we mentioned, the UCI cup is clearly going in the right direction, and I think we need to model that. But yeah, for us, especially with COVID, everyone went virtual, right? And so we have [inaudible 00:40:09] they’re awesome virtual series and they did all that and they got all the people involved that way, but it’s how to access those people and figure out track is an awesome alternative. For me, it’s always… especially now with kids, it’s like, “Okay, I don’t have time to go outside and there’s cars and bikes.” And, yeah, I was pregnant with my first kid, I got hit by a bike. And you’re just like, “This is not what I can be doing right now.” Right. And so for me it’s like I’m really not riding outside anymore.

Amara Edwards:

And so having… but knowing that the track is safer than road racing, people for some reason that’s really hard for them to wrap their head around. They’re like, “Oh my God, there’s no brakes.” I’m like, “Exactly. No brakes makes it safer.” No one can slam on their brakes in front of you. And then, especially with track, being… Where tracks are so far and few between, right? We have so much control over safety, right? If someone is unsafe, we can see it. We’re on a road race. You have no idea, right? Who is unsafe and you can’t be like, “Hey, this is what you need to work on.” So I think… I stated this part, I’m getting back to that. I think for us, at least for me personally, is that focusing on the juniors and focusing the next generation that’s going to come up and be that… the next group of people that’s going to continue the sport.

Amara Edwards:

But yeah, it’s hard with USA cycling, I don’t know what the ODP, ODA, it’s ODA now. What that whole program is doing with track, I don’t know what they’ve produced or I don’t know if anything happened this last year, but obviously we have some amazing athletes, right? At the elite level that we need to support. Gavin just won something and Kendall’s doing awesome and Maddie, all these athletes are doing great things, but it’s how do we get athletes to that? That it’s not just like, “Oh, this person’s amazing. Let’s feature them.” And look at all these amazing things that we did, but really it’s-

Joan Hanscom:

Let’s copy them. Yeah. Let’s-

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. We need that grassroots and how to make that connection, and I think that’s hard. I think USA cycling is trying, right? They’re doing their Let’s Ride camps, which is awesome, really focusing on the beginning, beginning. But it’s how to make that connection and doing those talent camps. I remember going to talent camps at the Olympic training center as a 14 year old being like, “Oh my gosh, this is so cool,” right? But getting those opportunities and figuring out what that looks like to kids from going to their local track to nationals, but then there needs to be something else, right? And I don’t know any answers to that.

Joan Hanscom:

Let’s Ride is for little kids who are just learning to ride bikes and there is no stepping stone from that to, how do you translate them into racing? How do you introduce them to racing? But I think you’re onto something with that. Okay, for the specific world of the track you do have, I think an enormous opportunity for a lot of the reasons you said, right? It’s safer. Parents can sit, stand.

Amara Edwards:

They can see their kid. Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

They can see their kid, they can watch their kid. So in a lot of ways there’s that… just like baseball, right? The parents can sit on the other side of the fence and watch the kid play baseball. They’re not putting them out on the road with cars and watching them right away. They are saying, “Okay, I’m still going to sit here and watch.” So there’s a safety component for the kids. And I think that that’s right, because I think by the time you get to be an adult athlete, the way people are consuming the sport of cycling now feels very different to me than it is when I started racing 20 years ago. When I… And I was having this conversation with somebody yesterday, actually my first season of racing, I think we started racing in mid-February and raced until the end of August.

Joan Hanscom:

And we would’ve kept racing except that there were no more races. So we raced every weekend. We did crit Saturday and Sunday every weekend from February through August, it was an insane volume of just every week we raced crit Saturday, Sunday. People don’t do that anymore. Well, either are crit every Saturday and Sunday now. So there is not that plethora of racing opportunity, but people want to do different things, right. They want to do the gravel one week. They want to go on their mountain bike. They want to dabble in road racing. They want to go do a Fondo. They want to cross participate, which I think is great, right?

Joan Hanscom:

It’s like do all the things but it does, I think have an impact then on that consistency of participation that I think we’re all struggling with. And so, I think if you can get the juniors into a program, even in the junior programs, if they don’t turn out to be the next Gavin or the next Ashton or the next Kendall or the next Megan Jastrab, if you get kids into track programs, you’re going to give them that solid, solid foundation.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s such a great… Solid skills. Solid foundation is athletes. Solid foundation is people who know how to ride a bike safely, and hopefully they turn into people like you and me who then do it their whole life, if you bring them in as a junior and whether or not that’s participating in track, or if they discover that the track is a gateway to road, or if they discover that they want to do track and gravel like Ashton, by focusing on the juniors, we’re at least giving the sport a fighting chance to keep going, right? To create that next generation of lifelong athletes that we need to keep the sport going, but…

Amara Edwards:

Yeah. I agree there. And it’s so funny so many people… The juniors get started and they end up getting… the parents end up trying it, we do like a parent try the track class to be like, “Your kids do this sport. You should figure out what it is to you.” It’s just funny how sometimes it goes along where you create a super volunteer that person’s out there hoping every single time and just tracks, most tracks are run by volunteers and it’s so important to have that base. And I think that’s important to realize that every track is its own little community and that… Yeah, you got… The more people you bring into it, the bigger community and pool that you can draw on for racers, spectators volunteers. I think that’s important.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. It’s so funny you say that, we had… For our women’s Wednesday programming, we’ve had a bunch of moms whose kids race either just in the junior ranks or kids whose kids are racing at a very high level, who have been now through the women’s Wednesdays program, because same thing they wanted to understand and what their kids doing and have an appreciation for what their kids doing out there on the bike.

Joan Hanscom:

So that is a funny thing. It made me so excited though. I’m like, “Yeah, mom’s getting out there doing the thing.” It was pretty cool to see. So yeah. However we get them on bikes is how we get them on bikes. And it is such an opportunity too right now and nobody can buy bikes because there’s no supply chain is just a big old disaster. Most tracks have a pretty solid loaner bike bar and full of bikes. So you don’t even need to buy a bike to do the track programming, right? This is our plea. If you’re listening and you can’t buy a bike, go to your local Velodrome because more likely than not, they have bikes for, you can take their programs on, so…

Amara Edwards:

Yeah, so true. Like I said, truly all through the fives of the fours, you can use our rental bikes, and something unique to our tractor is that we gear strip the fours in the fives. So our rental bikes are set up exactly the same, so it’s not a disadvantage. And it’s nice to be like, “Cool, here’s a rental bike.” You’re not going to be off the back. It’s not a tanker steel. They’re specialized. Youngsters they’re good bikes, and so we make sure that we keep those tuned up and ready to go for everybody.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. It’s funny. Weird how we can find our selling points now. Hey look, we have a selling point it’s that we actually have bikes. Nobody else does, so come to the track where the bikes are abundant. That’s so funny. That’s so funny. Well, it has been delightful speaking with you, Amara. It’s pleasure to speak to another woman in this sport as well. There aren’t that many of us, although our numbers are growing, so it’s really, really good and fun to talk to you about that. And I’m looking forward to seeing you at the events this summer. I know… I’m sure our paths will cross at some point during racing season and yeah.

Amara Edwards:

Excited for this summer. And I guess my little sendoff is that you’ve never been to our track, come out to our track. Come experience it. It is… Every track is so unique, but truly I think we make it fun in a party or home of the [Maror crawl 00:49:04]. We are… Our track is a blast. And so if you want to get out here, just reach out to me or go to the website, but come out and experience it because we have lots of racing and it’s a ton of fun.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And for our listeners, we will put information in the show notes so you all will know how to find information about the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome and their programming and how to reach Amara with questions. But we will include all of that information for you our listeners, so that if you are in the Pacific Northwest and you want to do the thing with Amara and her very rad crew of folks and I promise they are a very friendly boisterous group of folks as we saw, like I said earlier at T-Town for our nationals, it was a great energy coming from your crew. So if you want to be part of that great energy check them out, look them up, go racetrack, go try it out, do a try the track with them or with us at T-Town and yeah, more people on track. Amara, thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure. And we’re doing this on a Saturday and you gave up your Saturday, so… And you’re a mom. So, that says something, that says you do the [crosstalk 00:50:16].

Amara Edwards:

If they didn’t add up the baby screams, you can hear her voice over.

Joan Hanscom:

We will. We’re leaving the baby screams in, it shows your commitment. Well, thank you so much.

Amara Edwards:

This was a blast. I’m happy to do it and spread the word about track racing.

Joan Hanscom:

Right on. Well, you have a great rest of your weekend. I appreciate your time. This has been The Talk of the T-Town Podcast with me your host, Joan Hanscomb and with our guest, Amara Edwards. Give us the thumbs up, the hearts, the likes, the stars. It helps us keep the lights on for the podcast and we appreciate our listeners. Thank you so much.

Joan Hanscom:

Thank you for listening. This has been The Talk of the T-Town Podcast. I’m your host, Joan Hanscomb. Thank you for joining us for this week’s episode. Head over to our website at thevelodrome.com where you can check out the show notes and subscribe, so you’ll never miss an episode.