The Valley Preferred Cycling Center – Bob Rodale’s Dream Inspires Countless Champions For More Than Three Decades!
The Valley Preferred Cycling Center – the most celebrated velodrome in modern American cycling history – can trace its beginnings to the dream of one inspired visionary and its legendary success to the inspired dreams of countless champions who began their trek to glory on its 333-meter track.
Known for the first 20 years of its existence as the Lehigh County Velodrome – or simply “T-town,” as it is affectionately referred to by the national and international racers who make their homes here each summer – the concrete crater in a corn field was the idea of publisher Bob Rodale. Rodale fell in love with track cycling while competing as an Olympic and Pan American games skeet shooter in the 1960s. The president of Rodale Press and later publisher of Bicycling and Mountain Bike magazines knew in his heart that the excitement and colorful action of this healthful sport could capture the interest of Americans.
Rodale was a visionary but he was also a practical businessman. He made sure his dream was built to last by consulting with numerous national and international cycling organizations, racers and knowledgeable contractors. Construction began in 1974 on a plot of land in Trexlertown, PA, owned by Bob Rodale and his wife, Ardath. As the work progressed and the track took shape, Rodale worked with community leaders to create programs such as the Air Products Developmental Cycling Program that would spark a local interest in bicycle racing. He also donated his land and the partially completed facility to Lehigh County in return for a pledge that the county would continue to support development of the track and its programs.
Rodale reached out to two of the most celebrated cyclists of the 1960s and 1970s – Jack Simes III and David Chauner – to bring his dream to life. Working with the late Artie Greenburg and announcer Brian Drebber, Simes and Chauner launched an immediate effort to attract top international cyclists and events, creating a foundation that has made the Valley Preferred Cycling Center the most active and successful velodrome in the United States.
The first race was held on October 12, 1975. There were no locker rooms for the athletes, no rest rooms, and no seats for the fans – there wasn’t even a railing at the top of the track. From those early days when Jerry “The Gentle Giant” Ash and Leigh “The Tree” Barczewski and his brother Les, along with cycling greats such as Gil “Gibby” Hatton and women riders such as Sheila Young and Connie Paraskevin reignited the sport of track racing in the United States, Rodale’s dream did catch the imagination of the American cycling public.
Simes and Chauner were followed by equally imaginative and talented leaders, from Leigh and Karen Barczewski to Pat McDonough and Marty Nothstein, and the concrete crater continues to produce world-class competitors and events.
Since the mid-1970s, the Valley Preferred Cycling Center has hosted World Cups, Olympic trials, the Junior World Championships (twice), national championships and countless major international competitions, creating stars and producing top international competitors, such as former Junior World Sprint Champion Sarah Uhl, who won her title in a dramatic finish in the last race of the event in front of a cheering hometown crowd.
Over the years T-town has endeared itself to the racers as much as the racers have endeared themselves to the crowds. Riders such as Uhl and the late Nicole Reinhart hold special places in track memory along with past luminaries Shaun Wallace of England and Paul “The Animal” Pearson of Allentown and heroes of today, such as World Championship Silver Medalist Ashley Kimmet of Allentown and multiple National Champion Bobby Lea of Mertztown.
There is no doubt the greatest of them all is Marty Nothstein, a local kid who grew up in the Air Products Developmental Cycling Program, the Bicycle Racing League that now bears his name, and the famous Friday night racing program that has attracted the Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Britons, Chileans, Argentines, Italians, Danes, Germans, French and Russians over the past 30 years. Nothstein went on to win Olympic Gold, Olympic Silver, three World Championships and more than 30 U.S. National Championships during his 15-year career. He is now the Chief Operating Officer and Assistant Director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, where he works to continue the great programs and events that have made T-town an international destination for the world’s best track cyclists.
During the course of Nothstein’s career and in large part due to his international success, the Valley Preferred Cycling Center also gained powerful and influential allies that have helped it remain the premier velodrome in the United States. In 1995 the facilities were rebuilt to add new grandstands that hold 2,000 fans, new shower and locker facilities for the athletes, top-notch restroom facilities for the fans, and a world-class concession stand that offers value-priced food and beverages for the cycling enthusiasts who trek to the track several nights a week during the racing season.
Renamed the Lehigh Valley Velodrome when those renovations were completed, it hosted former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who took a Friday night lap around the track in front of the fans during one of his annual cycling excursions around the commonwealth, and cycling legends such as Greg LeMond and Bobby Julich have been known to show up at the bi-annual bicycle swap meets that draw thousands of cyclists from all over the East Coast.
Though Bob Rodale’s life was tragically cut short in a 1990 automobile accident in Russia, his dream lives on through the support of his wife, Ardath, his family and Rodale Inc., along with the community support that has continued because of Bob Rodale’s early efforts to build a cycling facility that would become a prized icon of the Lehigh Valley.
The velodrome is now managed by a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation that continues to promote track cycling – just the way Bob wanted it. Thanks to the generousity of Valley Preferred, a community partnership of doctors and hospitals, the newly renamed Valley Preferred Cycling Center continues to lead the nation in quality competition, championship racer development and community programs that offer the opportunity for racers and non-racers to enjoy the thrill of bicycle track racing in the nation’s most-loved and most-successful velodromes in modern American cycling.
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