Events: A Plea for the Six-Day to Come to Philadelphia
The story of six-day track racing begins in the unlikeliest places. At the same time as track cycling’s roots took hold, Philadelphia hosted the first Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in 1906. These historical aspects are the reason why the Six-Day should come to Philadelphia and add North America as one of its stops.
At the conclusion of the nineteenth century, human feats of strength were being explored on a regular basis. The world was especially in love with the sport of pedestrianism. That’s right, walking. People would flock to cinder tracks to check in on walking greats of the day. The major draw was the distance one or two walkers tried to cover at each venue. Over time more walkers crowded the tracks. The events would go for six days. The seventh day was a day of rest.
Walkers would cover great distances over the span of 144 hours. Naturally the participants would cat nap in little huts located in the center of the track. They would then regain their footing and tick off the miles. One such prominent walking venue was the Madison Square Garden in New York City. Participants openly talked of the stale air of the Garden. There was also smoke from the lanterns to deal with as well as cigarette and cigar smoke. Their numbers, though, were incredible. Whether the participants were walking or slowly running cannot be decided.
When asked what dethroned the sport of walking, Matthew Algeo, author of Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport stated the bicycle created more excitement. Imagine the upgrade of watching humans zip around a wooden track at five times the walking speed. The racers were viewed as daredevils.
Around the same time, Philadelphia hosted the circus for its inaugural visit. For over a century entertainers for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would visit the City of Brotherly Love. In recent years the circus visited in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The circus would utilize the building rented by both the NHL’s Flyers as well as the NBA’s Sixers. The scheduling of both teams sent them out of town for extended road trips to make room for the circus. After 111 years, the circus shut down and ran its last show in 2017.
Which got me thinking.
The entity that is Six Day, a traveling track cycling show based in Europe, could slide perfectly into the slot once occupied by lion tamers and trapeze artists. Instead of elephants circling the circus ring, imagine putting engines of Derny racing. Replace tight ropewalkers with The Longest Lap. Without a North American stop, Philadelphia is a perfect place to host it.
Consider the endless possibilities for velodrome racing in Philadelphia between Christmas and New Year’s. The Wells Fargo stadium is in between Philadelphia International Airport and the city proper. Both participants and fans would have ease of access to venues. And since Philadelphia is within the concept of Megaopolis (the endless urban streak from Boston to Baltimore) there are millions of people within an hour’s drive from the arena.
Working our way outside to inside, the audience would be healthy considering the holiday week would welcome college students home. Many people take off from work during that week as well. Perhaps even the Philly Bike Expo could move its date to coincide with the Six Day of Philadelphia. The 2014/ 2015 Flyers hockey season saw an average ticket sale of almost $75. Not to down sale track cycling, but anyone willing to spend $75 at a Six Day will get more than his/ her money’s worth.
In the center of the track Six Day likes to host a small party. Here is where several groups can come together to pull off such a gathering. Philadelphia is home to many big music acts. There are also many quality breweries. Six Day takes advantage of both opportunities at their events and the city can certainly deliver. Imagine The Roots having a small concert in the middle of the track while sipping Yards Brawler. At the same time some of the big names of track cycling are zipping around the track.
The participants could take a page out of the NHL’s All Star Game approach: the home team versus the world. With the Trexlertown velodrome just outside of the city, many of the local racers could challenge the visitors in a race at some point. Olympians Bobby Lea and Missy Erickson have come from the T’town track; the Lehigh Valley velodrome has just the right talent to make a race exciting.
Finally there’s the question of materials. We have the calendar, the crowd, the breweries, the music, the competitors, but what about the track? Believe it or not, Philadelphia has that covered, too. Recently, the office of creakybottombracket.com learned that a full velodrome sits in pieces in a warehouse in Pennsylvania. Former pro cyclist Christian Vande Velde’s dad, John, invented a velodrome that could be broken into six pieces and trucked around the nation. It sits in a warehouse, waiting for use in Lancaster County, PA. John Vande Velde was a prominent track cyclist. His track would shoe horn nicely into the Wells Fargo Center.
Should Philadelphia not prove itself to be an ideal location, may I offer the genesis venue of our tale? Imagine the homecoming of track cycling to return to Madison Square Garden, the very birthplace of the Madison discipline. The Madison was devised as a way to circumvent laws stating six-day racers could only do certain time shifts. Racers came up with teams and handslings. The rest, as they say, is history. To have the Madison as the final events for both the men and women at Madison Square Garden would be stepping into history.
Pedestrianism was dethroned by cycling; the automobile dethroned cycling. While the automobile has reigned supreme since, Six Day and its efforts have resurrected the circus-like atmosphere that is track cycling. Should Six Day pursue Philadelphia I have but one request: Can I do twenty laps behind a Stayers motorbike? I will pose for exactly zero photos. Everyone else will be requested to snap photos.