Rehabbed park brings the "Thunderdrome" to Detroit
A rehab of a nearly forgotten velodrome has brought the "Thunderdrome" to life in Detroit.
The Thunderdrome — a race for all things on two wheels — had its first run on Oct. 16, drawing more than 500 racers and spectators. Bigger plans are on the way — all the brainchild of Andy Didorosi and Ben Wojdyla.
The two got the idea in September. Less than four weeks later, more than 500 racers and spectators were at the park for the first race held at the velodrome in 22 years.
A velodrome is a banked paved track for bicycle racing. This one, at Dorais Playground, a park at East Outer Drive and Mound Road, was steadily becoming concealed by creeping grass and weeds.
Didorosi, who owns Paper Street Motors, a small business incubator in Ferndale, and Wojdyla spent several weeks clearing tons of soil and grass, and pouring 4,000 pounds of concrete to seal cracks in the track. Volunteers also pitched in for two days to make the track race ready.
Most of the interest in the event was drummed up through Facebook, Didorosi said. The general interest in the event surprised Didorosi and Wojdyla. Many of the initial donations came from people in Italy and France who simply wanted to offer encouragement. About $400 in donations came from people outside of Michigan.
Spectators came from out of state, as well, Didorosi said, many leaving with an upgraded opinion of Detroit.
"Small or medium projects like this are the catalyst of changing opinions abroad," he said.
The event raised about $3,000 in donations and $20 entry fees from about 120 racers, they estimate, though the receipts are still being tallied.
About two-thirds of the money will go toward recouping repair costs for the track; the rest will go towards further repairs to the velodrome and donations to the city's Recreation Department, which manages the parks.
Despite the repairs already made, the track is in need of new concrete in some sections because the sandy foundation underneath is giving way, Didorosi said.
"It really needs to be rebuilt," he said.
A special bonus for racers? Following the race, they got a chance to soak in Pabst Blue Ribbon, thanks to a sponsorship from the beer maker.
Other sponsor-donated prizes included vehicle parts, gift cards and merchandise that in some cases is best kept in the sock drawer. One sponsor was Tom Nardone, president of PriveCo Inc. in Troy, which operates a string of websites, including Vibrators.com.
Nardone also runs a volunteer group called the Mower Gang that cleans up Detroit parks and participated in the Dorais Playground cleanup. Winners of the "Powderpuff" class race for women received vibrators as prizes.
"We can't turn down prizes," Didorosi said.
The organizers are looking to hold three more events in 2011, and is in talks with a bicycle messenger group in Brooklyn, NY, that wants to hold a joint race with the Thunderdrome organizers.
More ambitious plans are also being considered.
"We're not adverse to taking the show on the road and taking our Detroit brand of insanity to other cities and states," Didorosi said.