Medford’s Richard Fox competes in the Champions Thursday Night Cycle Series held weekly at the Champion Raceway in White City.

Racing is in his blood

Ed Garfield pulls down the collar of his shirt to reveal a scar near his left shoulder. Below it is a tattoo that says "Thumper."

That's what he named the defibrillator in his chest.

Although a heart condition will always keep Garfield off the pedals competitively, his passion for cycling still burns deep.

"I'd be the pile on the ground pulling the rest of you guys down with me," he jokes with one cyclist, who asked why he no longer races. "I'm not racing anymore, but it was really hard to go. It's a good time. Racing gets in your blood."

This is the race promoter's reason for running the Champions Thursday Night Cycle Series each week at Champion Raceway — the multiuse drag strip in White City nestled behind Southern Oregon Speedway.

Last week, about 25 cyclists — there are usually between 30 and 50 who show up — were at the track. They came from Oregon, Washington and Northern California to run time trials instead of the regular circuit races.

Garfield, 45, calls it "the boring week" because of the lack of racing strategy involved in time trials compared to circuit races. But there's nothing mundane about the energy needed for the three-mile-plus grind around the uphill course.

"It's the race of truth," says Garfield of time trials. "It's basically you against the clock. There's no hiding. No drafting."

In time trials, cyclists are discharged by the timekeeper in one minute intervals. They power through the first few steps, gaining momentum. As they pick up speed, most riders duck so their head is parallel with the ground to decrease wind resistance.

Then they wheel around the track, up and down the drag strip twice before the final exhausting hike to the top of the hill.

"The pain will be there for a couple of days," says Garfield about the course's rigorous final stretch. "The last 200 meters is an all-out explosion of effort. It's a real lung-burner."

Garfield, along with current series rider Glenn Gann, began the Thursday night series about 10 years ago as a means to help competitive cyclists prepare for bigger races around Oregon as well as helping beginners learn to race safely in a traffic-free environment.

The series also serves another purpose.

Each rider must pay an $8 surcharge to use the track. The fee goes toward insurance, sponsorships and prizes for the regular racers at the end of the season. The leftover funds are donated to ACCESS to help low income families. Also, riders who donate a can of food to ACCESS along with their fee receive a dollar off admission.

Garfield originally found his love for bike racing when he was 25 and participated in Medford's Providence Invitational — a bike race and run in the mid-80s. From there, he became a main component of a six-man semipro team out of Portland.

His greatest feat may have come in 1998, when he competed in the same event as Lance Armstrong — one year before Armstrong strung together seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

"That was a career high for me," says Garfield. "Anybody who races, to get that opportunity would just jump right in. Going up against other national champions in a power-packed field is something you don't pass up."

It was in the Cascade Classic in Bend, a five-stage event with courses of 109 and 113 miles, followed by two days of 90-minute time trial criteriums, then a 77-mile race.

In-all, Garfield trekked over 350 miles.

"The adrenaline rush is just incredible," says Garfield. "You're shoulder-to-shoulder with anywhere up to 120 guys. That's when it's really a lot of fun."

In the end, Garfield finished a respectable 97th out of 127 competitors. And, as might be expected, Armstrong won the event.

Garfield has been out of competition for about five years. But since taking the reins at Champion Raceway on Thursday nights, he's made close friends with many of the cyclists and gets enjoyment out of watching them perform on a weekly basis.

"I get a kick out of watching everyone race," says Garfield. "It's fun to watch the newer guys race. I like to give tips and training advice to them because I've been in (racing) for so long. I know a few tricks."

Some cyclists in the series have been racing side-by-side for so long, they get along like family.

"It's amazing," says Nate Bailey, 37, of Central Point, a regular Thursday Night Series rider. "The people you're going up against are the same people that are yelling for you to go faster."

For Gann, who has been racing since he was 14, the series serves as a family outing.

Individually, Gann is the points leader of the Marty's Cycle & Moore racing series — a four-race series within the Champions Thursday series — but he also loves to ride as a tandem with his 13-year-old son Stephen.

"In tandems, I think we do pretty well," says Gann.

Theresa Gann, Glenn's wife, also helps out with timekeeping while encouraging the other cyclists as a spectator.

For Garfield, Thumper may be a reminder that he won't again experience firsthand the exhilaration of competition, but nothing is likely to keep him away from the sport he has loved for so long.

"I just can't leave racing," says Garfield. "It gets under your skin. It's part of me; part of my life. I have too many good memories and have made too many good friends."

Reach Warren Blenkush at 776-4480, or e-mail

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