Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A New Kind of Ladies' Night
The Pure Austin Driveway Series

by Kat Hunter

W1/2/3 podium, Week 7
The Driveway is one of Austin’s most beloved and popular bike racing venues. Every Thursday evening from March to October, a car racetrack deep in the woods of East Austin transforms into a cyclist’s mecca. As hundreds of competitors and spectators pour in along the narrow country road by car and by bike, you can almost hear the bells tolling, the steadfast parishioners returning yet again for more penance on two wheels.

For years, the series’ popularity has been growing by leaps and bounds. This season, the men’s category 4/5 and P1/2/3 races regularly reach their respective field limits of 75 and 100 riders. Andrew Willis and Holly Ammerman, husband-and-wife owners of Holland Racing and the Driveway Series event, had every reason to expect continued success without changing a thing, so I was surprised when they convened a focus group of women bike racers over the winter off season to talk about how women’s racing could be improved at the Driveway.

To appreciate what such a gesture means, you have to understand the role of women’s racing within the sport of cycling. Races cost money, and women don’t have the numbers to be profitable. When turnout is low or convenience dictates, officials often combine us last minute with men’s fields. Our payouts are half or less the amount awarded to the same category of men. We’re rarely taken seriously. And no one really cares what we think about all of that, nor should they, financially speaking. But it’s awfully nice to be asked.

The Driveway committee meetings, composed of a small group of women racers from various categories and Austin teams, discussed how to improve the Driveway experience over the course of three meetings, and Holland Racing implemented many of those changes in the 2013 season. This Thursday, May 2, marks the first of the new Driveway Series “Ladies Nights.”

The Changes

Last year, the category 3/4 women were the first race of the day, scheduled at 5pm. The 1/2/3 women, though scored separately, raced with the men’s category 3/4 field at 5:30pm. The women's 1/2/3 race was often poorly attended.

W1/2/3 podium, Week 5
This year, the women’s race schedule changes according to the amount of daylight. At the beginning and end of the series, the women race at 5pm in a women’s 1/2/3 and 4, scored separately but starting together. The men’s 3/4 race still offers women’s primes, and some women also choose to race the men’s P1/2/3. In the middle of the season—from May 9 to Sept 26—the traditional women’s 3/4 starts at 5pm, and the W1/2/3 starts with the Men’s 35+ race at 7:45pm or 7:05pm. Many women in the Driveway focus group considered the later master’s race, which typically has a smaller field and less crashes, preferable to the men’s 3/4.

The new “Ladies Nights” occur the first Thursday of May, June, July, and August, offering a women’s only race (1/2/3 and 4 scored separately) on the top track while the master’s 35+ race is held on the bottom track. The Ladies Night format answers many of the requests made by the women in the focus group—a women’s only field, a later start time for those who can’t make it to the track as early as 5pm, and increased recognition. The women's 3/4 is still held at 5pm, which has the added benefit of allowing cat 3 and cat 4 riders to race two women's only races in one day.  

Why You Should Attend Ladies Nights  

W4 podium, Week 6
Though Austin’s cycling culture, which has a long and illustrious history, may not have started at the Driveway, that’s arguably where, heart and soul, it’s being cultivated today. The Driveway Series is an event that’s as much social as athletic. You don’t just go to the Driveway to race—you go to watch, to drink a beer, to catch up on gossip, to show off your bike, to blow off steam, to find your niche in a community that’s as patently and uniquely “weird” as any other Austin tradition.  

As the hub for so much of what shapes Texas bike racing, the Driveway is in a position to significantly impact women’s racing, not only in how it is perceived, but in how it grows and develops in the years to come. There’s a very simple solution to many of the problems in women’s cycling—more women. With more of us actively competing, women could have separate category 3 races, providing a middle ground of learning and development for riders moving up in the ranks. By default, we’d have more clout in organizational decision making, be eligible for more prize money, and avoid the inconvenience of combined fields.

Like those cheesy bar campaigns offering happy hour specials and free drinks for women (minus the calories and the come-ons), Ladies Nights at the Driveway provide ample incentive for the fairer sex to attend in force. In the women’s 1/2/3, $200 prize money is divided among the top five, with awards for the top three in the women’s 4. And most importantly, we get a chance to race in our own field in the prime time spotlight. The top track is completely visible to spectators, so they’ll be able to experience the race from start to finish.

Show your appreciation for a good deed and your love for women’s bike racing by coming out to participate in or watch the Driveway’s first Ladies Night criterium of 2013. Click here for more info. 

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