Pirate Race Productions, a relative newcomer to race promotion, is starting to shake things up in the cyclocross community. Cyclocross Magazine recently spoke with Andrew Stackhouse, Managing Director of Pirate Race Productions, to discuss the making of a cyclocross promoter, how to provide value to race sponsors, and the growth of ‘cross in “emerging” markets.
CXM: Thanks for talking with us Andrew. How in the world did you become a race promoter?
Andrew: Well, I got into cycling in my mid-20s while rehabbing my knee from a skiing accident. I was working in management consulting and our offices shared the same venture capital as Derby Cycles, so I got a great deal on my first real bike, a Raleigh M-80. About a year later, I tried my first mountain bike race and, despite going over the bars and into an icy marsh, I was hooked. Several years later my wife and I relocated to Austin, Texas for her PhD program. I joined Texas Cycling, which ultimately gave me the network of support I would need to put on races.
CXM: That’s when you decided to run away from the real world and be a full-time race promoter?
Andrew: That started in the summer of 2005 when I decided, for some reason or another, to put on a weeknight mountain bike series. There was an old golf course in the center of Austin that I thought would make a killer race course. It was dangerous, and illegal, so I started a word-of-mouth campaign for the “pirate race.” We’d usually get a dozen or so people to come out and race for thirty minutes, all self-scored and judged, until the thorns got so bad we had to move venues.
CXM: And that MTB series morphed into a ‘cross series?
Andrew: I eventually found the Austin/Del Valle Motocross Park, which was fully-lit and close to downtown. It was an affordable venue and the University of Texas team came out in force to help pull it off. I had done one ‘cross, on my 28-pound dual suspension MTB, the previous fall and figured I should also offer a ‘cross race just to attract more business. Fortunately, we had some guys with about six decades of ‘cross experience who showed up with barriers and assistance to point me in the right direction.
Almost everyone started racing the mountain bike short-track event, but eventually more and more people shifted over to ‘cross, including me. The series really took hold but I was offered a great job in DC. I founded Pirate Race Productions and talked a bunch of the hardcore racers and volunteers into joining my board so that the race would keep going. I left DC after only four months and returned to Austin to see if I could make it as a full-time race promoter. I got a job at Mellow Johnny’s and soon founded the Lone Star Cyclocross Series with Capo Apparel as my main sponsor.
CXM: Let’s see…Austin to DC and back to Austin again. Wait, you’re putting on ‘cross races in North Carolina also, right?
Andrew: Yeah, my wife got a job last year at Appalachian State so I took Pirate Race Productions to the East coast. I started the High Country Cyclocross Series in Boone, NC, but kept a toe in Austin by forming “Team Pirate Race Productions,” which gave me a great volunteer pool to host the Texas State Cyclocross Championships: the Lone Star Cyclocross Festival in January of this year. Also, about that time we absorbed a team whose sponsor went under, and now Pirate Race Productions has over 60 people racing in Texas, New England, Colorado, the Bay Area, and North Carolina. I’m most proud of the fact that we have a group of women on the team who are really passionate about ‘cross. I’m eager to expand their numbers and bring more kids into the sport.
CXM: Wow, it sounds like you would have a great legacy if you stopped now. What’s on tap for the future?
2009 High County Cyclocross Series Poster - HCCX
Andrew: This year Pirate Race Productions has already hosted two road races and a weeknight crit series. HCCX will happen again this fall, along with our “Three Peaks NC” at Beech Mountain on September 25. It promises to be the most brutal of the American ‘cross epics. I’m also working on adding a race to the North Carolina cyclocross series calendar.
CXM: Given the current economic climate, how have you managed to find sponsorship for the races?
Andrew: All of our races partner with a local charity to help them raise money and to give our events added exposure and a larger volunteer base. This year we donated $1,100 to Wine to Water and raised over $2.500 for the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center. Our value proposition to sponsors is that we have a sophisticated method for driving their message to an audience that actively consumes the news we generate through social media, traditional news outlets, and direct contact.
CXM: Now that you have experience in two different regions, how does ‘cross racing in Texas and North Carolina compare?
Andrew: ‘Cross racing in North Carolina and just over the border in Tennesse is a lot more vibrant than in Texas, where the weather allows the road and MTB season to essentially never end. However, we generated a lot of excitement about the Lone Star Festival from racers in the Mid- and Northwest who were eager to travel somewhere nice in January. With the Worlds coming to Kentucky in January, and talk about Nationals moving to January also, I think there is a ton of potential for Lone Star to be a great tune-up event.
CXM: What’s your forecast for the future of ‘cross?
Andrew: I expect the exposure from Worlds will draw more racers into our sport and cause a lot of regions to seriously look at extending their seasons later in the year. Most of our ‘cross base in TX, TN, and NC are road racers. Mountain bikers will probably fuel most of the growth. I expect that traditional cycling sponsors will reallocate their funding accordingly if turnout continues to grow in these markets. Pulling new sponsorships beyond well-placed cycling fanatics will require ‘cross to make a substantial leap into the public consciousness.
My plan is to better leverage Pirate Race Productions’ year-round calendar of events, a national amateur team, a relationship with a legendary stock car race track, and to continue our focus on partnering with non-profit groups to help us convince new businesses that investing in our events represents a smart allocation of their marketing dollars.
CXM: You’ve got your work cut out, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pirate Race Productions putting on Cyclocross Nationals sometime soon. Thanks for the great talk!