- Bike Checks
The land of black coal yields two-wheeled gold as the Pro GRT kicks off the official #USDH national season at Windrock, Tennessee.
Windrock Park is situated just outside of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a town which was secretly established in 1942 for The Manhattan Project, the joint effort between the USA, Canada, and England to develop the atomic bomb. It's for this reason the holds the nicknames "The Secret City" and "The City Behind The Fence".
- Photos, story and interviews by Zach Faulkner
The mysterious nature of the area was lifted and has been a civilian-run establishment since 1959. 20 minutes north in Oliver Springs, tucked into the rugged hills is a 72,000-acre plot owned by the Coal Creek Company. While they no longer mine coal here, the remains can be found on the hillside, among their large investments in oil, timber, and wind resources. The resource of playing in the dirt on wheels is why the Pro GRT has found its way to this venue in Tennessee. Coal Creek created Windrock, the largest O.H.V. park, it is open year-round and has been a mecca for downhilling in the Southeastern U.S.
Last year, Neko Mulally and Sean Leader were brought on board to develop and manage the bike park at Windrock, providing shuttles, trail maintenance, trail creation, and promotion. For 2017 Neko and Sean, with some helping hands, crafted a true beast of a race track for the Pro GRT. It is as gravity-fed and wild as one could hope. However, it is a thoroughbred elite track and is not suitable for multi-category racing if it rains. Since the forecast is calling for a wet weekend, Neko opted to run a neighboring track, and add in some new bits.
One might think, "Oh, that's lame to put it on something easier...", and you would be wholly wrong in thinking that. The alternate track is by no means tame, lame, or uninteresting. It's going to be full-on, top to bottom with crux rock gardens, plentiful inside and outside lines, and some seriously steep bits to deep corners. Add in a couple of hucks for the bold and that's what the riders are facing. It's raw, it's rider-built, and it's exactly what a DH track should be.
With grit and desire, in back-to-back weekends Neko has managed to reshape the image of racing in the USA and shine a light on how it should be done. My faith in domestic racing has been restored after seeing what the first two races of the season have to offer, as it's been anything but groomed and dumbed-down.
The riders are excited, you the viewer should be excited, and at the end of the weekend, rain or shine, I hope everyone will be extra stoked for a season of World Cups and summer downhill racing. For rider, by rider, bringing the glory of domestic racing back one weekend at a time.