You probably thought we forgot about this series, but we did not! Just in time for the lull in the summer calendar, we have returned to bring you more training content!
The NHMS Crit Series
A Brief History
A long time ago, probably before you were born, NASCAR was actually popular. With the popularity, New Englanders flocked to the rural town of Loudon twice a year to watch the cars go real fast in circles. During bike week, motorcycles do the same thing. At some point along the way, an observer had an “ah ha” moment and said, “Hey, what if we did this on bicycles?”
The race is currently put on by Sunapee Racing Team and previous to that it was the New Hampshire Cycling Club. The rest was well before I raced bikes.
The NHMS crit series runs almost every Thursday night from early April – September. Sometimes races are on Tuesdays to accommodate car and motorcycle racing, which I assume is much more lucrative for the track. It takes place in Loudon, NH, and races start at 6pm. There’s a sign-in process and the track is gated, so rolling in at 5:50 isn’t the best idea unless you know the drill (for example, to park, you take a tunnel to the middle of the track most nights, this was something I did not know the first time I went and I did a few laps of the parking lots). The series is run by Sunapee Racing and has three races each night A, B and C. Sometime the B and C are combined, sometimes they run a women’s only race. Whatever the set-up for the week, they all start at 6pm.
It is NOT USAC-licensed race, so tell your bike race curious friends to come on over. However it is not free and you will pay a total of $20 a night; $10 to get your number at the first window, and $10 to the track at the second window (this makes sense when you get there). The track fee is for the track, bathrooms, EMTs and other things you’ll want. Each week is on Bikereg as a standalone event or, what is probably the best value in New England, you can get a series pass for every week of the season for $100. You can also buy a series gate pass which is a good deal, just be sure to buy before the first two weeks of the series. There will be math, you’ve been warned.
One difference you’ll notice right away at Loudon is that races are points races. On most courses (yes, multiple, see below) there is a sprint every third lap. The winner of the night might not cross the line first on the final lap. This might seem confusing, but it’s the same as sprinting for primes in a regular crit, hear the bell, sprint to the line the next time around. Double points are awarded at halfway and the finish line.
Lastly, this is a series that spans from mid April until late August (the September races don’t count in the series) with the winner getting a free series pass the following year. To win the series you have to be strong, but also consistent. Individual nights are for workouts and bragging rights. Even if you aren’t in the season series, it’s fun to show up and change the season long dynamic of the people competing for the series title.
Why You Should Go to Loudon
As we’ve noted in previous posts, a good training crit/race requires the correct mix of factors; reasonable course, safe course, good crowd, laid back atmosphere. Loudon is fantastic in all these aspects but where it really shines is the courses, yes, with an “S”. Loudon currently runs four different courses throughout the summer. This variety helps people develop different skills that they will need each weekend. Riding hard in a pack? Oval. Downhill corner at speeds you’re currently uncomfortable with? Frontier. Hard punchy efforts back to back? Road course. Cornering in traffic? Magic Mile. Almost any area you are weak in can be addressed in Loudon. Just want to get a good sprint workout in? Any of the four mentioned.
Multiple fields on the track at the same time is a nice safety net too. Did you blow yourself up going for sprint points? No problem, catch your breath and jump into the B field (don’t sprint them for their points though) and finish your ride.
As mentioned above, we’ve got four very different courses. The course is typically posted in advance so you can race them all or avoid one that makes your legs sad. Why would a course make you sad? I’m glad you asked, here’s a brief description of the courses, each with plenty of wind to go around.
The Oval is almost exactly what it sounds like, the NASCAR oval. It is run with one of the chicanes (between turn 1 and 2) to spice it up but this is basically a wide open, completely flat speedway. It’s very easy to sit on, but punishing to ride the front as the average lap is around 29 mph. If you’re sprinting for points, you’ll want to be near the front (obviously) but also don’t open your sprint before the pit wall unless you have a tailwind (hint: you usually won’t). If you try and sprint from before the wall, you will come up short every time unless you have a phenomenal sprint. Hug the inside of the front stretch and open it up just beyond the start of pit road.
The Road course looks a lot like the Oval except halfway down the backstretch, you make a hard right turn into a short, but formidable, wall. After a 10 second effort to get over the hump, you’ll descend into the bowl, which is a very banked U turn that’s as fun as it sounds which spits you out into a mellower, but still difficult, 20 second climb out of the bowl. At the top of this, you come screaming back out onto the track and into the chicane between turns 3 and 4. Depending on wind direction north or south, one of these will be remarkably easier than the other. Gauge it during your warm up for best effect during the race. As with the Oval, do not open your sprint before the pit wall, unless you’re a leadout guy, in which case, let ‘er rip about as the chicane straightens out.
Magic Mile is the the most crit like course of the four. It’s a four corner box with light elevation to keep in interesting. It’s very exposed so the wind is an even greater factor. Turn one is a downhill onto the narrowest part of the course and the field usually strings out here. There’s a slight pinch which goes over a slight rise and down to turn two onto a wide straight. If the front of the field stays on the gas out of turn two, the field is likely to split or the breakaway goes. Turn three is harder than it seems. It’s an off camber to the outside and you’re flying into it. There’s padding on the light pole for a reason. Be ready to head for the gutter, because if you’re going fast enough, you’ll need it. Finally turn four is wide open and there’s no issue leading into the rise to the finish. The sprint almost always goes up the right side here and if you open it up before the hill, you probably won’t make it to the line. Watch the headwind, and keep your powder dry even longer if there is one.
Finally is the Frontier course, which can best be described as Ultra-Fitchburg. This course makes all the pure sprinters reconsider showing up that week. The start is on top of a hill which you roll down to two left turns. It goes from five lanes to about two until you hit the bottom. From there you climb over a small rise to the downhill party section which is 30+ seconds of rolling at 30+ mph downhill to a 90 degree left hand corner. I’ll let you in on a secret it took me 40+ laps to figure out… the corner at the bottom of Frontier looks scary, but it’s actually not. A 90 degree corner at 40mph feels like a bad idea but you have FIVE FULL LANES of run out. Just let it fly and you’ll be fine. DO NOT PEDAL THROUGH IT. YOU DON’T NEED TO AND NEITHER DOES ANYONE BEHIND YOU.
From here, it’s a knockdown, drag race up a 500ish meter, 5% drag. Finding the shortest line out of the group is key to taking the sprint points here. The points laps are hard and breaks go pretty easily if you’re willing to commit to 30 extra seconds of misery post sprint.
Frontier is a fun course and you’ll probably set a 20 minute normalized power record. The key is not being afraid on the bottom corner: it will save you plenty of watts and heartache.
Getting There & Getting Home
Loudon is pretty easy to get to from anywhere north of Boston. That said, you’re probably driving given the time and location. Most people will go 93N to 393E to 106N. Seacoast folks will probably use Route 4. If you’re north of Loudon, you’re going 93S to exit 20. It’s 2019 everyone, just Google this, there’s no public transit ninja routes in New Hampshire. Gate opens at 5:15PM EDT, no admittance prior to.
Sunapee, and the face of the operation Danielle Ruane, does an amazing job with this series. Multiple times a summer they have pizza night after the race and sometimes even cannolis They have primes to keep the sprints interesting, and they post results within 24 hours. They are constantly trying to innovate and keep things fresh. It works.
The group of regulars is exceptionally welcoming and many times you’ll get to the gate and find everyone waiting to get in, hanging out and chatting. Post race, most people hang around for a bit to talk about weekend rides and races and general life stuff. It’s what a scene should aspire to be. Keep in mind that you’ll often be sharing the infield area with the superbike racers for their weekend series, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, or one of the numerous sports car clubs that pay exorbitant fees to push their machines to the limit here rather than 93N near Methuen. Be courteous of them and they’ll respect your space. There are bathrooms open for changing and showering: use them.
I’ve heard plenty of people say that it’s too far from the city, but one of these mid-summer Thursday nights when the races are the longest (pushing 90 minutes), you should ditch work early and make the drive. You won’t be sad you did. You’ll probably want to come experience the other courses.