During the summer of 95, or possibly 96 I was on a composite team with Sacramento natives Vince Gee, Cory McKraken and some guy named Mike S. (who would later ride for some pretty good domestic pro teams). This was when I got the nickname 'tumble weed', while travelling across the country from California to a pretty big race in Idaho sponsored by a bank. We did the Idaho State championship the day before, and Mike, who was riding really well, won.
The bank race was cool. It was at night, with huge runway lights at our backs out of each turn on the course. The crowds, which were thick along the entire course, were given thousands of clicker things that produced an insanely loud blanket of sound that was only slightly rivaled by cheering. On top of all of this, every lap had at least a hundred dollar preme - so it was basically single file for over an hour.
Before the race, we decided to split everything even four ways. The goal was for each of us to collect as many premes as possible, then in the final laps I would hold us near the front and Cory and Vince would lead out Mike. I was told to key of of a guy I had meet earlier named Eddy Gragus.
When I meet Eddy, he was showing off some really cool looking wheels called Spynergys. Except for his wheel set, nothing about him seemed cycling intimidating. He was short, bald and hella funny - which led me to think it would be no problem to hold his wheel and then come around him, if he was even there in the end.
This four corner left hand turned race was insane. There were crashes every where and the smell of burning rubber in every turn as we skidded single file though them. Since it was at night, some of the crashes would just disappear into the darkness, which was kind of spooky.
We collected so many premes it was ridiculous! I would here our names constantly over the loud speakers. Although I got a lot of premes the effort to get them would leave me begging my body to recover as I battled to get back into the line. At one point I followed Eddy for a $500 preme. It was nuts, we were cutting, weaving, diving, skidding and eventually sprinting out of the last turn. He somehow maintained speed as I was skidding toward the crowd. In retrospect I think he chooses a jacked up line on purpose to shank anyone off his wheel to the curb. Crafty little SOB.
In the final laps, every thing went as planned. I collected my teammates, we went to the front and I found Eddy. With a thousand dollar 1st place on the line, guys were taking huge risks and crashing left and right. I remember looking around and seeing bandages everywhere on racers from earlier crashes. I was spooked. To make matters worse, Eddy's rear wheel was going 'click, click, click click' - AND he kept looking back at it. I was positive it was going to disintegrate and I was going to roll over him.
Then it happened, one lap to go and a lull. When things got sorted out, we were mid pack. Damn. From here to the line was the scariest ride of my cycling life. Again, we were weaving, cutting, diving going around guys sliding on the ground and even riding over one guy (which untrued my back wheel). The whole time Eddy's back wheel is going 'click, click' AND he keeps looking back at it.
Before the last turn we were all on the front. The combination of being positive his wheel was going to explode in the sprint and knowing he was going to take a jacked up line through the turn led to me letting his wheel go and taking the inside line. I heard a huge pile up behind me. Then the drag race to the line ensued. I was on the front with my team and what was left of the field in tow. Eddy was on the far right, by himself, and I suspect that anyone who tried to follow his wheel through that last turn was now mingling with the crowd. I led it out as long as I could then blew sky high but still coasted in for a top ten with the rest of my teammates. Eddy's strong ass little legs held everyone off, and Mike got 2nd.
When I asked Eddy about his wheel after the race he said something to the effect that it always did that.
His style of winning was a combination of 'go ahead and follow my wheel, but it is your fault if you crash' mixed with a little trickery - a dash of craftiness and a pound of 'my strength and leg speed will kick your ass' .