The wacky races

Last weekend went by in a blur to me because I think I spent the entire time driving to faraway places to watch my children take part in different sporting events. Like most parents, I know that this is all part of supporting and encouraging my children in doing something they really enjoy and I am well versed in the multitude of benefits of doing sport. So although at times I really despair at the thought of driving on yet another motorway to continue my ongoing argument with an ancient and slightly passive aggressive Satnav, I continue to confirm that my children are available for their upcoming fixtures.

In effect, I have joined an unofficial club made up of a small group of veteran parent spectators who wait, watch and cheer on their children, no matter the weather. Over the years, we have experienced the highs and lows of competition and seen a lot but every now and then a completely new sporting event comes along. This happened to me once again last Sunday when I spent the entire day watching my one of my children take part in the Solihull Sprints pedal car races.

The ‘Sprints’ were actually a series of 3 races as I have discovered that pedal car riders are far too committed to the sport to settle for just having one straightforward, all-out event. I mean, why else would they have three races, one right after the other? And just to make it interesting, the three subsequent ‘sprints’ were 3 hours long, 2 hours long, followed by a final one hour fight to the finish.

When I heard about this event, I thought to myself that it was a slightly insane number of hours to be pedalling all-out in what looked like a really uncomfortable, rickety seat on wheels around one of the fastest pedal car courses. Given that our 4-member team was made up of teenagers who were not only devoted to beating the other youth teams but also annihilating some of the adults, they wouldn’t exactly be pacing themselves. However, I thought that at least the enormity of this challenge paled in comparison to their recent 24-hour pedal car race in the pouring rain. In a sense, they would be getting off comparatively lightly so if my child wanted to help cycle as fast as physically possible for 6 hours around a track in an attempt to destroy the competition, I definitely wanted to witness it.

I have to say that experiencing pedal car racing first hand was quite an eye-opener and being new to the sport, I thought I would share the 3 things that I have learned so far from these wacky races.

1: Not all pedal cars are created equal. Yes, it may seem that this is stating the obvious as you would expect a bit of variation in craftsmanship and customisation by each team. However, unlike the range of bikes that you see in amateur cycling races that differ in the essential specs but essentially look the same, pedal cars are completely unrecognisable to each other. The basic model looks like a 4-wheeled recumbent bike that has a bonnet wedged on the front and some side panels thrown on for protection, almost as a second thought. Some of the pedal cars are slightly more sophisticated looking with added windshields, enclosed wheels and go faster stripes. However, other top end models have been modified to become sleek, aerodynamic space capsules that zip by like submarines on wheels. And like the pedal car version of a time-trial bike, every time they noisily rumble by, everyone stops in their tracks and stares in admiration. They simply look like another species and unfortunately for the basic pedal car, these races are a survival of the fittest.

2: This is dangerous sport to be a spectator. You would think that racing at your top speed around a tight course in an unstable pedal car that threatens to flip over every time you try to manoeuvre past your rivals would only be precarious for the drivers. However, it can be equally risky for the spectator who foolishly decides that they need a break from watching the same pedal cars continuously circle around. Generally, pedal car circuits are lined by each team’s tent and pit stop where drivers are switched over during the race. But the tent/pit stop combo is perhaps not very well thought out. During the previous 24 hour event, my son ended his first shift on the pedal car by forgetting to break into the pit stop and he ploughed into the tent, stopping only by colliding into another parent.

Naively, I thought that I only had to watch out for my own child’s reckless driving and during the 3 hour sprint, I temporarily relaxed and attempted to sit down in the tent. I had rested assured that my son was not driving and dodgems is very much frowned upon among riders. However, before I knew it, two battling pedal cars locked wheels and veered off course, taking out a neighbouring spectator and crashing into our tent and finally ramming into a lamppost next to our chairs. It was a near miss for us but the other spectator had suspected broken ribs! So the lesson is, don’t even think about having a break.

3: The fuel of pedal car riders is surprisingly stodgy. Like most parents, I am very accustomed to the typical array of meals on offer at most sporting events which is generally a disappointing selection of expensive fast food. However, the complete lack of any catering at all at pedal car races means that bringing a picnic is essential. But I have witnessed food combinations devoured by young and old, alike, that I have never seen or imagined before which makes me think that the concept of sports nutrition has yet to make an impact here. Pre-Sprints, I did not know that puff pastry was so popular or that junk food mash-ups existed, let alone that it was the standard fuel of riders. Anyone for sausage rolls filled with ketchup, baked bean and cheddar cheese ‘slices’ or all day breakfast scotch eggs? If not, the lesson to be learned here is to always bring plenty of food and be prepared to get funny looks if your picnic lacks lots of packaging and shiny wrapping, looks ‘homemade’ or contains any fruit, veg or wholewheat items. You have been warned.

At the end of the final Sprint, the points earned in each race were tallied and I am proud to report that our Team Bike Bus triumphed to come 1st in the youth category and a respectful 7th overall out of all 40 teams, including adults. We didn’t beat our nemesis—the Flying Penguins—but maybe with a bit of an upgrade of the pedal car, some nutritional input…who knows?

Go on Number 5!!!
Go on Number 5!!!

Now for the recipe, step forward a hearty Rice & carrot beanie wrap that will properly fuel up any endurance sport and completely embarrass you at a pedal car race. It also makes a good lunchbox addition but smaller versions of it can be eaten as a snack.

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