There are easier ways to score a box of Girls Scout Cookies than the way cyclists win them Tuesday nights in Kent.
But as far as the riders are concerned the way they do it is the most rewarding.
“When they say we are racing for cookies it ramps up the pace a little bit,” said Dave Friedt, a masters (35 and older) racer from Seattle.
On Tuesday nights each spring and summer at Pacific Raceways the dragsters give way to road racers with a wide range of skill levels.
The Road Race Series has been a fixture on the drag strip for more than 20 years.
“It’s a great place to practice for weekend races or to learn to race,” said Matt Malyon, 26, of Puyallup. “And it’s more social than other events. It’s a lot more fun.”
More than a 100 racers each night pay $15 each to compete on a course that alternates every week between a flat 2-mile loop on the drag strip and a longer hilly loop that uses part of the road course.
“That’s what makes it fun,” Malyon said. “Every week there are different groups of guys who have the potential of winning. The sprinters usually dominate the flat nights and the climbers get a chance to win on the hilly nights.”
Each night the winners receive a small cash prize (usually about $16-20) and finishers receive points. The racers who accumulate the most points over the 23-race series win a larger cash prize at the end of the season.
But the prizes that really get the legs cranking come during the middle of the race when directors Rory and Deanna Muller signal the prime (pronounced preem) laps. For each of these two laps the first racer around wins a special prize.
Sometimes the prizes are shirts, sometimes they are beef jerky and sometimes they are gel shots. And some nights winning a prime lap is worth a box of Girl Scout cookies.
The Muller’s daughter is a Girl Scout so they buy the boxes she can’t sell to use as prizes.
Few have won as many of these prizes as Russell Stevenson of Seattle. The 34-year-old professional racer has been winning prime laps and races on the drag strip since he was a teenager.
He started racing at 15 when he tagged along with his stepfather. Last season he won the overall title for the first time.
Stevenson is a bike rep and uses the Tuesday night series to keep his skills sharp for weekend races. He competes in the Category 1-3 race (There are also races for category 4-5 and masters riders).
“This is a low key way to come out and practice as a team and work on our chemistry,” said Stevenson, who races for Team Cucina Fresca. “It’s all fun and games.”
But you don’t need to be an experienced racer to compete.
“We get people out here who have a bit of a gut and we get people who are fit,” Muller said. “If you can maintain a 20 mph pace for an hour you can probably stay with the Cat 4-5 riders.”
The slower category 4-5 and masters races run on the course at the same time as the category 1-3 race with each group starting about two minutes apart.
The races start at 7 p.m. and continue until dusk. The category 1-3 racers will zip around the course at 27 mph for 40 minutes or longer, while the masters group and Category 4-5 can go as much as 5 mph slower.
“You don’t have to be an experienced racer to come here,” said Jessica Cutler, a category 2 racer from Seattle. “It is a good, safe place to learn. You get a lot of constructive criticism in the pack here. There is not as much hollering as there is in a normal race.”
Craig Unden, a Gig Harbor native who founded Seattle-based Cycle U., teaches racing clinics some nights before the race. He then rides in the race to give his students additional pointers.
Unden coached with Lance Armstrong’s coaches for three years and assisted Armstrong during the Tour de France in 2002 and 2003. He says the Pacific Raceways drag strip is an ideal place to learn to race.
“It’s the safest place to start racing I have ever seen,” Unden said. “It’s big and wide open and it’s nice to have a closed course with no vehicles to worry about.”
Unden and other Tuesday night regulars say riders should not be concerned about keeping up.
“If you are not near the front when we race on the hilly nights you can get dropped before you realize it,” Cutler said.
The good thing about racing on the loop, Muller says, is the pack will eventually loop around again. Unlike most criterium-style races, cyclists are not pulled of the course if they fall too far behind the pack.
Muller, who has been directing the series for seven years, remembers several older and out of shape cyclists coming out and failing to keep up with the pack for even one lap.
“But they keep coming out and after a while they make it the whole lap and then the next year they maintain for the whole race,” Muller said.
While most of these people never make a serious challenge for the Girl Scout cookies, they don’t seem to mind.
“They improve and they get in better shape and they have a good time,” Muller said. “That’s fun to watch.”
ROAD RACE SERIES
When: Tuesdays nights through Aug. 31. No races July 13.
Where: Pacific Raceways, 31001 144th Ave. S.E., Kent
Cost: $15 to race. $120 to enter 10 events.
Prizes: The top finishers in each race receive a small cash award. Cash prize is also given to the season winner.
Classifications: Category 1-3 racers, Category 4-5 racers and masters (35 and older). The higher the classification, the slower the average speed.
Clinics: Cycle U. teaches racing classes for $5 June 1 and Aug. 3.
Women only: Women’s training is offered June 8 and 22. Women’s Category 4 races are offered July 6, 27 and Aug. 10. On other nights women compete alongside the men.
More info: buduracing.com