Three beers from the finish line
July 29, 2016
To borrow a phrase from a 1970s cigarette advertising campaign, "You've come a long way, baby."
Park City native Tanner Putt and his fellow competitors in next week's carefully choreographed Tour of Utah would have trouble recognizing the bicycle road-racing scene as it existed in Park City 40 years ago.
In July 1975, a Salt Lake Tribune story on an Olympic development bicycle race written by sports reporter Craig Hansell began this way:
"PARK CITY – Californians Rich Hammen and Jane Buyny braved cattle, sheep and a rampaging horse here Sunday to win the final bicycle races of a three-day National Points event.
"While Jane and the women cautiously rode around cattle blocking the course, the men were plagued by sheep and a loose horse trailing a 30-foot chain as it ran wild through the pack of riders."
Hansell didn't say whether the horse went on to finish the race.
Recommended Stories For You
In the early 1970s the local counterpart of Tanner Putt was Bob Kassow, a free-wheeling jock of all trades who seemed to be able to master any sport he tackled, including climbing, skiing, surfing and running.
In a February 2007 column in TUNA News, the newsletter of The Utah Nordic Alliance, friend Al Davis recalled that Kassow was a member of the Park City Resort ski patrol when they met in 1969.
"In the late '60s Bob, Kenny Soares, and Jim Tedford shared a house in Park City for which they paid a princely sum of $25 per month for rent," Davis wrote. "The trio was well known as the full-time night ski patrol, easily recognizable by their bright orange warm-up pants and for their antics of turning off the lights before the last skier was down the run.
"In the summer, Bob worked as a surveyor but his real passion was bicycling."
Oakley resident Tom Noaker, who arrived in Summit County in the fall of 1972, credits Kassow with introducing him to bicycle road racing. Noaker said he had just bought what he called his first real bike when Kassow invited him to go on a training ride from Oakley to Coalville, up the largely unpaved Chalk Creek road to Evanston, then back to Oakley on the Mirror Lake Highway.
"That was a ride that just about killed me," Noaker recalled. "It was 130 something miles. … And Bob was an instigator; he was great at that. I think the longest ride I had done to that point was maybe 60 or 70 miles. He was like, 'Oh yeah, it'll be hard but you'll be fine. We'll stop in Evanston, et cetera et cetera.' And, long story short, I was crushed by the time I got to the top of Bald Mountain coming back from Evanston and still had to ride to Oakley. I'd never really ridden that far. I had no idea what I was getting into."
In 1973 Kassow finished second in the Utah State Championship Road Race, missing the title by about 18 inches, according to a story in The Park Record. As one of the top three finishers he earned the right to compete in the national championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But Kassow said he wasn't sure he would go.
"The Park City 100 is coming up at about the same time and I'd like to enter it if possible," he told the paper.
The following year Kassow won the state championship and entered the Olympic Team Development Cycling Event that was to be held in Summit and Wasatch counties. Noaker said the road race was held on a hot July day on a course that started in Park Meadows, took State Route 248 out to (old) U.S. 40, headed south to Keetley Junction (now underneath Jordanelle Reservoir), headed east to Kamas and up the Mirror Lake Highway to Bald Mountain Pass, then returned to Park Meadows on the same route. He said the men's roster included perennial national contenders John Howard, Wayne Stetina and his brother, Dale.
"Those guys were kind of the cream of the crop, and then (there was) our local hero, Bob Kassow, who was every bit their ability," Noaker said. "But he did have rather a bad day that day, and he stopped at Kamas in a store and bought three or four beers and rode across the finish line drinking a beer about 20 minutes after the other guys finished. I thought it was hilarious. I never realized anybody would do that in a competitive event. But that's the way bike racing was back then.
"In Park Meadows at the time there were, what, six houses? And somebody painted a stripe on the road and that was the finish line. And there were USA Cycling officials on hand to record the final results. But I still remember Bob riding across the finish line drinking a beer. And he had two empties in his pocket. He said, 'Yeah, I pulled the plug on that one. I was too hot and dry.'"
Later that year, Kassow finished sixth in the Senior Men's Division of the U.S. National Road Championships in Pontiac, Michigan, just behind John Howard.
In July 1976, top-flight male and female racers from all over the West were in town for what was being called the Park City Bicycle Classic.
"Some of these men are supported by working girlfriends who serve another important function during races," The Park Record reported in its July 8, 1976 issue. "Said one, 'During a race I spend most of my time on some god-forsaken hill waiting for him to come by and give him water and bananas.'"
Among the prize winners in the three-day event was the local hero. "Park City's Bob Kassow finished fourth Saturday and won a ham Monday," said The Park Record.
By this time Kassow had embraced another sport – Nordic skiing – and quickly became proficient enough to earn his certification as a cross-country instructor. In the 1976-77 ski season he and two other instructors, Steve Erickson and Jim Miller, joined forces to start the White Pine Ski Touring Center. In an article on the new enterprise in the Jan. 12, 1977 issue of the Deseret News, sports writer Ray Grass described Kassow as "a former alpine instructor-bicycle racer turned Nordic nut."
During that ski season, Kassow met an Atlanta-based flight attendant, Jane Ellison, and moved to Georgia about a year later, according to Al Davis's column in TUNA News.
"Thanks go to Bob for his efforts in those days," Davis wrote. "None of us could have imagined how popular the sport would become in an alpine community like Park City."
Davis was, no doubt, talking about Nordic skiing. But he could just as easily have been talking about bicycle road racing.
In Atlanta, Kassow continued to compete in road races, as family members testified in this 2006 tribute:
"Among cyclists, he was known as the old guy who would regularly beat the younger cyclists in their own age category. In 1996 he was one of those chosen to carry the Olympic Torch on its way to Atlanta. In 1997, he was the Silver Medalist in the Masters World Championship in Quebec, Canada."*
In Park City, road racing took a step toward respectability with the arrival of the annual Vaughn Angell Memorial Stage Race in 1982, named after a national-caliber Utah cyclist who later died in Vietnam.
The 1982 race, which attracted more than 115 competitors, involved a hill climb from Snow Park to Silver Lake in Deer Valley, a criterium (lap race) on Main Street and Marsac Avenue, and a road race in Deer Valley.
By that time, Noaker said, he had opened a bike shop, New Park Cyclery, which was a co-sponsor of the event. "I was riding my bike back and forth from Oakley to Park City six days a week to run my bike shop. But I wasn't racing."
However, he said he was talked into racing when the race returned in 1983. "In fact the first bike race I ever did was the Vaughn Angell Stage Race."
The schedule called for the road race to be held on Sunday, June 12. The course went from the base of Deer Valley to the top of Royal Street, which at the time wasn't completed, Noaker said.
"It snowed that day," he recalled.
"The 9.5-mile course which the various divisions rode from three to six times would have been nothing to sneeze at without the storm," Park Record reporter Nan Chalat wrote. "With it, the ride was a true endurance test."
By 1984, Noaker was starting to emerge as the heir apparent to Bob Kassow. In June he finished sixth in the Utah State Road Race in Herriman, south of Salt Lake City. In 1985, he won the men's veteran division (ages 35 and older) in United States Cycling Federation (USCF) sanctioned road races in Moab and Portneuf Valley, Idaho, and at the Utah state championships. The state title earned him the right to compete at the USCF National Veteran Championships in North Carolina, where he finished 14th in a 182-rider field.
At the start of the road race in North Carolina, Noaker said, he and another racer inadvertently bumped tires. "He turned around and it was Bob Kassow!" he said. At that time Kassow held the same title — veterans' champion – in Georgia that Noaker held in Utah.
Another rising star on the local cycling scene in those years was Madonna Harris, a native of New Zealand whose first competition was the 1984 Vaughn Angell race. By the following spring she was winning races and by summer she had signed a contract to ride with a new all-women's team, Fitness Unlimited. Harris went on to represent New Zealand in the Olympics in both cross-country skiing and cycling. She is one of only two athletes to compete for New Zealand in both Summer and Winter Games.
In 1985 the Vaughn Angell Memorial Stage Race was condensed to a single event, a criterium, on a course that went up Main Street, down Marsac Alley, then left on Heber Avenue to the bottom of Main Street.
"It was 183 vertical feet a lap times 15 laps," Noaker said. "That was the last Vaughn Angell. After that the merchants on Main Street started throwing up their arms. They felt that closing Main Street down for a bike race was not appropriate. So we were never able to do it there again."
Noaker said that speeds on Marsac Avenue that day reached 48 to 52 miles per hour.
At that time – and still today – at the highest levels of cycling, athletes use tires that are glued onto the rims, Noaker said. "And you have to be careful not to ride the brakes too hard, heat the rim up and melt the glue (or) the tire will roll off. And that did happen in that race. There were several crashes at the bottom. The street was all hay-baled, so if you did go down you'd slide into the hay bales and not the curb or the gutter. But, I mean, really at that speed when you're down you're going to lose skin."
Noaker won the veterans' division easily that day, coming close to lapping the field. He said he still has a photo taken at that race.
"I've got a leather hair net on and my shorts are too short. … I mean, it's hilarious when you think about bike racing (then). I don't even know how we did it back then. We didn't have the gears. I think I rode a six-speed, or maybe a seven-speed cog on the back. Nowadays it's 10 or 11 on the back and two on the front, and the gears are closer together. And the bikes are so much lighter.
"And we put up insane-fast times. I don't know how we did it."
*This tribute comes from Bob Kassow's obituary in the Dec. 6, 2006, edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His friends say that, while living in Georgia, he cultivated yet another passion: British sports cars. It was while driving one of his cars that he was killed. In his honor, the Atlanta Austin Healey Club now holds an annual event, the Bob Kassow Memorial Kruise.