The news struck fairly hard. A (pre)teenage bike racing dream finally blossomed in Tucson. When you are a kid, dreams often align with a defiance of social accord and have a way of lodging into pre-pubescent recesses, for years refusing to die, or at least die hard. This dream began when I was 11, in the old Tucson Wheelmen meetings at a local park rec center. How easy it was to get caught up in the older cyclists’ theatrical enthusiasm of a desire flying in the face of local popular consensus: an Olympic-style, enclosed bicycle-racing track (a velodrome) constructed in Tucson in the 1970s.
Bicycle racing was then a brutally difficult, yet graceful, mostly European sport, embraced by the few trailblazer Yanks who eschewed baseball, football and the jock-o scenes. In those days you’d get laughed at or beat up if you were a boy and school consociates discovered you shaved your legs, even if it was for a sport they’d never heard of. Bike racing felt subversive then, populated by misfits, leftover hippies, vagabonds and athletic freaks. Subsidies and prospects were few, so it took prodigious personal efforts (travel expenses, the daily training hours on roads with no bike lanes, pricey equipment, low public awareness and so on) to even engage the sport enough to be competitive, much less make it your life. Greats rose from such efforts.
In a worldwide context of the sport, it is immeasurable what a velodrome (a banked oval cycling track) would have done for the city, the cyclists, kids like me and the hard-suffering championship-caliber road racers — and there were several in Tucson then. Guys like Mark and Tim Wilson, John Timbers, my older brother Barry, Alan “Box” Fischer and the out-of-towners (the men and women racers wintering in Tucson to train). I looked up to them all with absolute esteem, love and admiration, which pushed me to cycling heights later as a teen. That first velodrome effort died on what was, basically, a glorified guffaw by the city of Tucson. (Over the ensuing years, there have been at least five other concerted attempts to construct a velodrome in Tucson and at least one in Phoenix; all failed.)
Glenn McCreedy was one of those older Wheelmen cyclists, a damn good one, and today he is seated outside a too-familiar chain bagel shop in Tucson. The weather is finally a few degrees shy of singing your hair, and McCreedy appears highly organized, albeit with a sort of nature-lover élan in a faded Grateful Dead tee. He’s a tireless sort with a childish grin, big shiny forehead, engaging eyes. He bites a bagel sandwich and says, “I have always looked for a cause. Part of my psychological makeup was I had difficulty sticking with anything.”
He didn’t stick with racing for long, maybe a couple years. But now he’s talking the dream, Arizona’s first Olympic-style velodrome, a 250-meter, 40-degree banked oval cycling track, coming to Tucson next year. Its groundbreaking ceremony is this month. He tells of the organizing, development and construction of the track, its Tucson Velodrome Citizens Committee (TVCC) for the nonprofit Tucson Velodrome Inc. McCreedy is the committee organizer and its face and credits Dr. Douglas Lowell, a Tucson surgeon and a former racer, for spearheading the project.
There are folks who primarily think of the sport as an elite one or some historical artifact (consider the Lance Armstrong doping debacle). A market where cycling, particularly track cycling, is still considerably less popular than, say, teen soccer or basketball. Yet in Europe cycling still is like some cultural hegemony and a way of life.
McCreedy and the committee, and many others in Arizona, bet on different facts.
Considering the Old Pueblo’s wintertime sunniness, the velodrome would be a huge commodity dispensed on an unprecedented spectacle for the thousands and thousands of enthusiasts in cycling hotspot Tucson — for the spectators, as well as the pro, amateur and beginner riders, and the curious, from here and around the world. At the risk of sounding like some pie-eyed booster, this town, with all its ugly growth and impoverished pitfalls, has paradoxically for years been an ace international cycling destination, with its nearly unspoiled combination of weather, terrain, bike lanes, organizations and races. It’s another side of Tucson. And that’s with no velodrome.
(Pretty much any cyclist can benefit from velodrome riding and training. Differences between track racing and road racing are simple: Track riding requires a velodrome. Races are faster and shorter, often under five kilometers. They’re more tactical and aggressive, ridden on stiff, fixed-gear bikes with no brakes. Road racing means longer races on open roads with varying terrain, from dozens to hundreds of kilometers, and involves strategic teamwork on bikes with gears and brakes.)
Track racing sparkles and hums on a fetching mix of elegance, speed, tactics, frights and fast-twitch muscles. Track cyclists and Olympic hopefuls from Arizona will no longer have to travel to the three velodromes in Southern California to train and race. “What could they have accomplished with mentors and trainers here in Tucson? We’re creating a future; right place, right time,” McCreedy says.
McCreedy quit racing bikes way back, and I’ve not talked with him, outside a few emails, since I was boy. I wondered how he wound up on a committee for the Tucson velodrome, and his life unfurls.
Here’s a guy who was born in Washington, D.C., whose mom had a breakdown after she divorced his dad and began her spiritual way back through Timothy Leary. McCreedy, his brother and mom, who worked for Leary, lived for three years in his storied 64-room Hitchcock mansion in Millbrook, New York, basically where the psychedelic counterculture launched. McCreedy and his brother attended public school, and he laughs about returning home to the 2500-acre estate. In middle school he did LSD, a guided treatment experience Leary pioneered called “set and settings,” for personal growth and insight, and hypersensitivity to the internal and external. “No one was encouraged to do it on their own,” McCreedy remembered. “Mom was totally onboard.” The life experience suited him.
Later the boys and mom lived in the Catskills. Mom refused to testify against Leary after sheriffs began raiding the estate once LSD became illegal. The family fled to Mexico until the thing blew over. The McCreedys landed in Tucson in 1970.
He lived in a couple communes in California and returned to Tucson, where he started racing bikes.
In 1980 he married an opera singer named Margaret who switched careers and later became a New York Times and USA Today bestselling mystery author J. Carson Black (“Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Devil’s Hour”). In 2012 her book “The Shop” hit numero uno on the Amazon Kindle chart. They are still married and call each other soulmates.
Soon McCreedy found himself in acting classes, with an agent, earning acting roles and starring in scads of local TV commercials. Film roles, too, including a speaking part as Stu in 1982’s “Death Valley” with Paul Le Mat, Wilford Brimley and Catherine Hicks. He can be seen in the “Blind Love” episode of the TV series “Young Riders.” “Hanging out with Josh Brolin was a great opportunity for a young actor.”
The work was hardly enough to live on, “more like pocket change.” He’d also logged six years working at University of Arizona in audio/visuals and earned a bachelor’s degree across radio and television.
He bummed around. “I was out of sorts. What do I do now?”
In ’93 McCreedy became the marketing director of La Vuelta de Bisbee, a road cycling stage race that drew the national class Olympians, men and women. “I got a lot of experience working with corporate sponsorships.”
Some of those race organizers worked in Cochise County courts. “One said, ‘Why don’t you become a probation officer?’”
He did. “I carried a 9mm Smith & Wesson. Really, I helped people get on with their lives.”
Law enforcement wasn’t his thing. A couple years as a marketing director at Pima County Fairgrounds, another couple as a program’s manager at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Back to school, he earned a master’s in educational leadership.
“I would question, what is it about myself that I know would make a difference?”
Back at UA as a marketing and external relations coordinator, “I was tasked once with monitoring logo use on campus! I applied my experience as a probation officer.”
McCreedy became a man for all seasons in marketing, corporate sponsorships, digital-media production and brand-building with major public and private local and national clients.
“I finally realized I wasn’t meant to work for other people.” And then a few things came together:
“Margaret’s books went out of print. We got all the rights to her books back. I started Breakaway Media, a company for digital book publishing, marketing and video production, mainly for her books.” “The Shop” sold in the hundreds of thousands and got optioned for a film.
Last year McCreedy also founded a startup called Inara — the world’s first pay-per-page eBook platform, micro payments based on pages read, much like a songwriter’s royalty each time a song is streamed — to provide a different revenue stream for authors. He is as quick to lay the vision for Inara, the players involved, as he is the Tucson velodrome, the very subject from which we strayed far.
Alan “Box” Fischer is a longtime bike racer personally invested in the velodrome, a TVCC member as a volunteer media liaison who was also on board decades ago as a teenager with the Tucson Wheelmen’s bid for a velodrome here. I’ve known him since I was a boy. He is also a former reporter for the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen, a current flack for Planetary Science Institute, and a crackup. His “Box” nickname took hold years ago after he crashed into an empty cardboard box on his bike. The pavement hit hard.
“I wish this would’ve happened in the ’70s when I could ride a bike much faster,” he told me via phone. “All there is now in Tucson is mountain bikes and road cycling. This velodrome will open up a whole new avenue for kids who want to get into cycling. There are components to this, programs to bring youngsters and adults into the world of cycling. The kids can ride in controlled environments with no traffic. The El Tour de Tucson (and) El Grupo Youth Cycling are heavily involved; even the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation (SARSEF) is already interested in getting kids involved in science-based things involving both the cycling and the track.”
Some TVCC drive-by backstory: McCreedy came in contact with a video producer he’d hired back in his Bisbee bike race days. “The guy told a doctor he was going to build a velodrome here,” McCreedy said. “It was right before COVID struck. This was the beginning.”
The TVCC bloomed to a dozen or so members, which expanded under the stewardship of committee members such as Dr. Lowell, Charles Quiroz, Tucson race promoter and mentor Don Melhado, McCreedy, Fischer and others. On the steady hand of Dr. Lowell, the TVCC is halfway to the $1.2 million goal needed to complete the velodrome. It could cost more, I’m told. The group landed elite velodrome builder Peter Junek, a brilliant Canada-based designer who created multi-million dollar velodrome facilities the world over, tracks where world records were smashed. Junek’s dream is to build an aluminum-surfaced velodrome, able to withstand summer heat, with — if you want to get into the physics of it — a low coefficient of friction. The first of its kind on earth.
It was voted on and approved by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in April on an amended 12-year lease with the Musselman Honda Circuit, a go-kart track to which the Tucson velodrome will sit adjacent. It’s on the south end of the Pima County Fairgrounds. In January the superstructure begins, McCreedy said — the supports, track surface, administration building, restrooms. grandstand seating, even an access tunnel to the infield.
What could the track cyclists have accomplished on the world stage had there been a velodrome in Tucson? Olympic hopefuls like young Arizonans Evan Boone and Kayla Hankins and older masters such Mike Jolivet wouldn’t have had to travel or move away to train and race. An Arizona man, Karl Baumgart, just set a world record in the 2,000-meter individual pursuit race in the 50-54 age category at Mexico’s Aguascalientes Velodrome, which happens to be a Junek design. Remember, Baumgart’s from a state where there is no velodrome. It’s stunning.
Arizona state track cycling championships now have to take place in a California velodrome. As Fischer noted, “I once won the state pursuit championship in a parking lot,” which plays like a prize fighter winning a boxing match in a kiddie pool.
The TVCC is still short on cash, but McCreedy and Fischer are hardly fazed. Cycling’s popularity in Tucson, its national and international prospects, sparks a boon. McCreedy talks capital campaign managers and case statements, but, in short, the TVCC is going after corporate sponsorships, national and local, as well as donations from public and private sources to cover the remaining costs.
“Look, there is a site that has been approved, we have the top velodrome builder in the world, two engineering companies working on this and a very strong committee. I have strong faith this will happen.” Fischer pauses, adding, “This is the real deal, man.”
Finally, any kid with a dream has a chance to ride on a world-class velodrome, right here in Tucson. The possibilities are endless.
“It’s something I’ve waited 50 years to see,” he added. “It’s still a dream come true.”
It is that “dream” word again that comes in circles and dies hard.
The Tucson Velodrome groundbreaking event runs 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 23 at 11800 S. Harrison Road. There’ll be food trucks and featured speakers, including Olympian and Tucsonan Sky Christopherson, Women’s Tour de France racer Kathyrn Bertine and Southern Arizona dignitaries. Music will be provided by electric violinist Barry Smith. For more info, go to tucsonvelodrome.com.
Brian Smith's collection of essays and stories, Tucson Salvage: Tales and Recollections of La Frontera, based on this column, is available now worldwide on Eyewear Press UK. Buy the collection in Tucson at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave. You can also pickup his collection of short stories, Spent Saints (Ridgeway Press).