The game may be
more dangerous for fathers than for their children, thanks to the annual
institution of the Father's Day races for adults. Being mostly frustrated
heroes of the track themselves, few parents can resist the chance to get on the
kids' bikes and try for a trophy of their own. Since balance is everything, and
since the bikes are not built for 6-footers, the results can be upsetting. One
father, pulling up after finishing a dismal fifth, looked around to see whether
his wife was sympathizing or laughing and let the bike run out from under him.
Result: a broken collarbone. Another, determined to prove he was just as good
as his two sons, took a curve too fast, went down, remounted, and in a
desperate effort to make up lost ground ran smack into one of the half-sunken
tires marking the inner rail of the course. He tore his shoulder muscles and
his arm was out of action for two months.
As a community
spectator sport, mini-racing ranks right up there with Little League ball—and
the size and behavior of the audiences show it. There may be fair crowds at the
national events, but hardly anyone watches the routine races except the kids,
their parents and sometimes brothers and sisters. Even the parents generally
keep an eye on the track only when their own youngsters are racing; the rest of
the time they disappear to do more work on the bikes or mill around to drink
beer or soda pop and chat with friends.
On a recent day
at Indian Dunes Speedway near Los Angeles—the site of some of the photographs
on these pages—one tall, lean father could be seen with his 5-year-old son at
the starting line before the race for peewees, busily giving the boy
instructions. Alas, the little fellow was hopelessly outclassed—dead last,
lapped by the winner. After the race the father fiddled for a long time with
the bike, trying to see if it was running properly. Apparently it was; the boy
just wasn't handling the throttle properly. They walked off together, the
father earnestly demonstrating with his right hand how to move the throttle,
and were not seen again until the next heat for peewees. The boy ran last
again. This time they walked away, with the father leading the little fellow by
the hand; both looked rather discouraged.
fathers are an entirely different breed; they whoop and holler and root their
kids home like the bettors at a horse race. There is one California father,
prominent in his cowboy hat, who is all over the track when his sons are
racing, urging them on with hand signals that mean, "Pour it on now,"
or "Pass that guy in front of you; you've got to beat him to move up in the
point standings." He is not sure his instructions help the boys, but at
least they make him feel better. "I don't mind telling you," he says,
"when the boys are out there I get wound up higher than a kite."
By watching only
their own youngsters, the parents miss some tense racing. The kids want to win.
As one official says admiringly, "They're tigers out there." Many of
them are fantastically good, and sometimes two of the best hook up in a
neck-and-neck battle, with the second placer doing his very best to pass the
leader by going faster on the straightaway or taking a turn a little better.
But many of the races resemble a 13-0 Little League game. On the night when the
tall father and his 5-year-old son reached the depths of despondency, there was
one event with only three entries. By the time they had gone a lap, the leader
was 50 yards in front of the second-place rider, who in turn was 50 yards ahead
of the boy running third. And that was the way they finished, except that the
distance from one bike to another had widened. It was no contest.
difference between the Little League and miniracing is equipment. The riders
can be no better than the bikes their fathers buy or manufacture for them. Thus
racing is a sort of two-way competition. The kids, if really interested, try to
get better and better at leaping off the starting line, taking the turns and
pouring it on through the straightaways. The dads compete with other dads on
the matter of providing the hottest bike.
among the dads, unfortunately, is not always as aboveboard as it might be. If a
son is entered in a race for minicycles with a maximum displacement of 100 cc.
and dad can put him on a bike with 110 cc, there is a chance of taking home a
trophy even if the boy is just an average rider—or even what racing people call
a "turkey." So fathers, to put it bluntly, sometimes cheat.
acknowledges the cheating. Says one official, "There's no question in my
mind that there are cheaters out there every time we race." Says another,
"I'd guess that 25% to 30% of all the bikes on some tracks are
cheating." An ambitious father, shrugging his shoulders, says, "Well,
as the old saying goes, it isn't really cheating unless you get caught, now is
A parent who
thinks his youngster has been done in by an illegal bike can protest the race
if he is willing to put up a fee, usually $10 to $25. The suspect bike is then
torn down. If it meets the specifications for its class, the race result stands
and the protest fee is forfeited. If not, the rider of the bike loses his
trophy and, if this is a second violation, is suspended for six months. The fee
discourages protests, but they do get made, and sometimes rather fancy
shenanigans are exposed.
procedure sounds like a saliva test, and there are other similarities to the
wilder days of horse racing in the world of minicycles. Families have been
known to run ringers—that is. to have two bikes that look just alike to the
casual eye but are vastly different on the inside. And sometimes an experienced
rider is taken to a different track and dropped into an event for beginners,
like a stakes horse entered in a maiden race. As one official puts it, "A
new family comes in and says their boy is just starting—but he walks off and
leaves everybody and you know he's been racing somewhere. So you jump him up a
class—and sometimes the parents raise a fuss."