Cyclists compete during opening night for King Racing Group’s cycling race season at Fair Park in Dallas on May 6, 2021. Mack Hazley held the brim of his sunhat as a few dozen cyclists zipped by him, many coasting around 30 mph. From the sideline, he pulled out his […]
Mack Hazley held the brim of his sunhat as a few dozen cyclists zipped by him, many coasting around 30 mph.
From the sideline, he pulled out his phone, timing the riders’ next lap. Hazley isn’t a racing official.
He’s been riding for about 30 years but decided to sit this race out.
For almost a decade, Hazley has been one of the many bikers who race at Fair Park every Thursday night in King Racing Group’s criterium, or crit — a closed-circuit bike race.
Since 2012, the group has held weekly races at the historic South Dallas site from March to September. Now, it has become the largest race in North Texas over events in Fort Worth, Richardson and other surrounding cities, drawing around 300 cyclists each week.
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic ended the season after two races.
Hazley had planned for 2020 to be his final year racing, but since the season was basically nonexistent, he spent last year training and riding with friends who felt comfortable enough to cycle together.
King Racing Group’s opening night was three weeks ago. Hazley has been watching the early races to “gain motivation” to enter this season’s crits.
The 67-year-old isn’t used to standing on the sideline.
“I’d like to say it’s OK, but I’d be lying,” Hazley said.
Like Hazley, many in the cycling community are reacclimating to racing after a yearlong break from competitive riding.
Last year, Corbin Smith competed at Fair Park once before races halted. For most of 2020, he rode alone.
“No one wanted to do group rides,” the 17-year-old said.
“In the beginning it was like, ‘OK we can do group rides, but let’s not talk afterward.’ Toward the middle and the peak of the pandemic, no one did rides. It was really isolating.”
John Bain, lawyer and self-proclaimed “amateur” racer of 11 years, said that while many avoided group rides to practice physical distancing, there was also the “moral dilemma” of preventable hospital visits. Texas saw a mid-summer spike in COVID-19 cases last year.
“Racing your bike aggressively, there’s always a chance that you crash,” Bain said.
“We [had] to make a lot of decisions that reduced the likelihood that we would be an additional burden on the health care system.”
Back in the saddle
Now that the races have started again, veteran and novice riders alike are taking on the mile-long course that begins on the west side of Dos Equis Pavilion and loops around the Midway.
The three categories separate beginner, intermediate and advanced cyclists, and all races are scored with electronic sensors.
Corbin won first place by milliseconds in the season’s second race for beginners. He’s been racing for a little under two years, but the Prosper native grew up around bikes.
His father, Woody Smith, is the owner of Bike Mart, which has four locations in the metroplex.
The victory was special for Corbin because it was only about his 15th race.
Woody Smith said he was happy not only to see his son racing, but other young cyclists, too.
“The average person in this group is probably 35 or 40,” he said.
In addition to Corbin, several students from Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas raced their bikes.
The weekly event also draws riders who are new to the sport.
Angela McQuade had been a triathlete for 18 years before she tried out criterium races this year. McQuade placed second in her category and her teammate, Nicole Smith, placed third.
The pair make up two-thirds of Reunion Racing’s women’s team, which just formed this season. They’re hoping to grow the team by meeting more women cyclists at regular events like the Fair Park crit.
Ginny King, founder of King Racing Group and a three-time national champion, said the races are an ideal place to build community because of their fixed presence. Racers don’t have to travel for hours to compete, which means their families can support them each week.
King, a New Mexico native, grew up around extreme sports and started cycling after she moved to Texas 20 years ago. After racing for about eight years in cities like Murphy and Sunnyvale, King became a race promoter and started her own weekly series in Fair Park.
“Although White Rock Lake area has a big cycling community, [Fair Park] is just a cool place to race,” said King, who lives in Plano. “The whole culture of it is just really cool.”
Most spectators set up tents and lawn chairs along the sidelines to comfortably cheer on the cyclists. Pompoms, dogs and YETI coolers filled with drinks and snacks transformed Fair Park’s empty parking lots into the ultimate racing fan section.
“This nightly race at Fair Park [is] in many ways the epicenter of the DFW racing community,” said Bain, a longtime friend of King’s.
“To have that epicenter back is incredibly important to a lot of people in ways that are way beyond just the opportunity to compete.
“It’s giving them their social circles back.”