On the Wheel in the Sky

By CJ Rudy

Essay: On the Wheel in the Sky

Mar 11

(2017) One of the most anticipated stunts performed by the US Navy demonstration group, Blue Angels, is the ‘Wheel in the Sky.’ This stunt is preceded by the ‘Bomb Burst’ where all six aircraft climb vertically as a unit. Once the team reaches a specific altitude, and at the command of the team leader, the unit splits into six separate directions, descending equally and leveling out toward the center of the air show. At that time, the wheel begins to take shape and the aircraft, if timed perfectly, will cross paths at the same time at varying altitudes. Such a maneuver is the climax to the nearly-hour long demonstration.

This stunt is what comes to mind when I think of the opportunity for USA Crits Championship Series to catapult into mainstream status. Several aspects are aligning to potentially create a demand for two quick races around town. Aspects such as the decline of viewership of two major sports in America as well as the renewal in community celebrations may just roll out the mat of opportunity for criterium racing to take over.

It’s hard to believe that long ago in 2006, NASCAR- specifically the Daytona 500- was pulling in its largest ratings in decades. Now with segmented races, many of the avid fans have begun to walk away from the sport. With the stagnation of technology, too, the races have become a steady march lap after lap until ‘the big one’ happens, the colloquial term for the much-anticipated multicar wreck that seem to excite the target audience. Add the fact that races take multiple hours to run, not to mention an entire weekend of study, and the viewership decline may be taking shape. Since criterium racing is referred to as ‘the Nascar of cycling,’ there may be several teachable moments present.

Contrast the American motorsport decline with the strong European fanbase of cyclocross, and another teachable moment presents itself to the success of criterium racing. In Europe the one-hour race of cyclocross attracts thousands who love to stand in suboptimal conditions to cheer on their countrymen and women. With the ever-decreasing focus gap, shorter efforts seem to be the most successful. Therefore the timed criterium race would fit nicely into the schedule of those who plan to be somewhere else after witnessing both the men’s and women’s races.

As evident at the Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, PA, each fall, having a town showcase itself with a race can boost attendance and excitement. The Bucks County Classic coincides with the Doylestown Arts Festival each year to create a symbiotic relationship. Cycling fans visit the art and food tents while art fans and tourists have a peek at the bike races scheduled for the day. This sharing of a single space adds to the excitement and sense of community; it’s exciting to see the local streets lined with fans watching in awe as professional cyclists blast by at incredible speeds. 

The already-present USA Crits Championship Series (which visits southeastern Pennsylvania twice) could benefit from this perfect stunt of multiple situations. Furthermore, the lessons from other aspects could create growth of substantial proportions. Instead of exploding to popularity, the Crit Series could appeal to more and more people each year. With the stagnation of technology occurring at the stock car level, the cycling scene could anticipate such pressure and prepare accordingly. Having multiple towns sign on who already have community days could bring the product to areas that already have a strong cycling community or would benefit from an inspirational event such as a crit race.

When the Blue Angels perfect the ‘wheel in the sky’ it is with precision and timing that demonstrates why the team is so remarkable. With all six ships coming together to form the hub of the wheel, it is in that sweet spot that criterium racing’s success could lie to wiggle itself from a clique following to a legitimate alternative to some of the lengthier televised sporting events currently available.