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Aaron L. Dylewski
by on April 10, 2019

DETROIT — Jimmy Capela won $115 last month racing at the velodrome. But back at Renaissance High School in Detroit, not all of the 14-year-old freshman’s friends even know he’s a track cyclist.

“Some have no clue, but about half know that I do it, and they think that it’s pretty cool. But they haven’t really tried it out for themselves,” Capela said. “Others think it’s weird, because nobody does that anymore.”

Even fewer kids his age understand Capela’s dedication: six days a week at the Lexus Velodrome, racing, training, constantly improving. While his peers obsess over basketball and football, he said, he dreams of joining a cycling team in college, turning pro, and winning Olympic gold.

High school freshman Jimmy Capela has been training and racing at the Lexus Velodrome since it opened in January 2018.  Photo by Nick Warunek

Capela and his older brother, Jackson, began riding five years ago at Bloomer Park, another velodrome in Rochester Hills, Michigan, a far northern suburb of Detroit. They switched to the Lexus Velodrome when it opened in January 2018. After all, it’s much closer to home—right here in their city.

The Detroit Fitness Foundation, a non-profit that runs the 64,000-square-foot Lexus Velodrome, reported strong first-year numbers for the facility: $900,000 in revenue (leaving it only $50,000 in the red) and an estimated 35,000 people through its doors. In year two, ambitions include raising revenues to $1.5 million and launching an American professional track cycling league.

“With the indoor velodrome and its location in the city, it’s really grown the opportunity to get people into the sport. Without it, they might have never been able to participate in cycling,” said Chris Donnelly, president of the Michigan Bike Racing Association. “The first year has been about growing and establishing themselves, but they’re really getting up to speed now.”

The velodrome’s giant white dome is hard to miss from I-75 in Detroit.

The mastermind behind the Lexus is a legend in the tiny world of velodrome design, Dale Hughes has built about 25 tracks around the world, including Bloomer Park; venues for the Asian, Commonwealth, and Pan American games; and, most famously, the track for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Hughes, 69, has never left his metro Detroit home. A longtime presence in Michigan cycling, he was an ideal candidate to spearhead the dream of a Detroit track from the anonymous donor—a mysterious cycling lover with a small fortune from the auto industry—who bankrolled the facility’s $4.5 million in start-up costs.

With ample funding and freedom, Hughes crafted his dream facility. The Lexus has three “fields of play”: the 166-meter track itself (one of three indoor tracks in the U.S.), a 1,200-square-foot fitness studio, and a flat running track around the outside. All three operate simultaneously, and the facility has hosted activities as varied as disc golf, roller derby, bike polo, a car show, and a Kentucky Derby party where cyclists raced as the horses.

The infield is available for events, and during races it’s filled with a lounge selling booze and food, plus party suites with couches inches from the track—and TVs to watch the riders zoom around the other side.

“It’s a very cool atmosphere, and there’s an energy to the place. There’s a lot of stuff going on,” Donnelly said. “It’s been really positive that way, as a central hub for the cycling community.”

Hughes believes the future of track cycling lies in exciting, spectator-centric races, and all the velodrome’s amenities are geared toward that vision: the bar, the suites, the $10 ticket prices, the constant races in various formats, the generous prize money, and even the relatively small track size.

Everything is livestreamed and blasted out on social media, and Detroit’s local PBS station broadcasts select races. Hughes said he plans to use these events as the foundation for his proposed track cycling league—he’s calling it the American Cycling League—beginning with a 10-race series in September.

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Aaron L. Dylewski
I hope they bring Bloomer Park's Veloodrome to Troy.