Our WBEZ colleague Robin Amer provides us with this story of rejuvenation — and it could only take place in Detroit.
Thunderdrome is back. It’s the story of a velodrome, a banked bicycle track used in competitive cycling. This one, in Detroit’s Dorais Park, hosted track nationals in 1969 and produced three world champions, all women, before it became abandoned and overgrown in the 1980s.
It was literally unearthed by one of the city’s vigilante lawn-mower gangs — people who mow the lawns at city parks because the city cannot afford to do so. The velodrome, on the city’s east side, was repaired by racing enthusiasts who cut down trees growing in its center and invested thousands of dollars of their own money and over 4,000 lbs of concrete fixing its surface. And now, it has come back to life as home to a variety of competitions.
The Thunderdrome rumbles back into Detroit this Saturday for its second year in a row at the rejuvenated track. The series features races between a range of motorized and human-powered bikes, including mopeds, pit bikes, mini-bikes, geared road bikes, and even go-karts.
Last year’s race turned up 123 competitors and over 500 spectators, says Andy Didorosi, 24, one of Thunderdrome’s founders and organizers. This year’s series has been expanded to three dates, the first of which is Saturday.
The second installation will take place in Kalamazoo at the Gilmore Car Museum on June 12, and the series will conclude back at Dorais Park on September 10.
Racing costs $20 ahead of time, for those who register online and $25 on Saturday. Spectators get in for free. Didorosi says that 100 percent of this year’s proceeds will go back into future repairs for the track. He wants to ensure the longevity of the event. After all, he asks, “Where else anywhere in the world is there an abandoned race track where kids can throw a zany race?”