This week’s interview is with Joe Jefferson, who emcees and promotes races, including: MABRA Senior Criterium Championship, Tour of Washington County, Fort Ritchie Classic and Breast Cancer Awareness Cyclocross Challenge. You probably know Joe if you’ve come around the corner in a crit, struggling to hold on, and you hear this booming voice over the loudspeaker system urging you to work a bit harder to catch back on, insulting your taste in cycling socks, or both. Joe also traditionally runs “The Back Nine” at the NCVC’s Ed Sander Memorial / Lillypons cross race. He occasionally drops bombs on the MABRA listserve, soliciting opinions on serious issues, or just making funny cracks about people. Joe isn’t to everybody’s taste; in fact when I first heard him at the races, I didn’t like him much. I’ve since come to appreciate his brand of humor quite a bit and I deeply respect him for promoting a lot of races, and for bringing a lot of added joy to our events.
1) Say, aren’t you Joe Jefferson? What’s your deal?
Hometown: Hagerstown, MD
Where you live now: Hagerstown, MD
Family situation: Married with 9 year old twins. (Boy and Girl)
What you do in ‘real life’ when you aren’t doing bicycling stuff: Director of Cooperative Education at Shepherd University
2) What was your first bike? What do you remember about riding it?
First racing bike as a electric blue Shogun 600 with Shimano 600 components. I remember it had those tire savers on it to prevent flats and that they would make this cool humming noise when I would crank it up. This was the bike in which I first started doing rides of over an hour in duration.
3) What kind of riding do you currently do?
I attempt to maintain some sort of racing fitness but have been restricted by time and a shift in my priorities. Family obligations and announcing have moved racing to the back burner, so I go hard when I can get out and look to train for one or two specific races a year. Everything else is just a race for survival. I tend to ride my cross bike on the local fire roads or C& O Canal in the winter but only when it is to cold or windy to hit the road.
4) How did you get into race emceeing?
I started announcing at the races that our team (AVC) promoted. Then I started to request from other promoters like Arch McKown, Jon Wirsing and others, from there things started to grow.
5) Is your involvement in race publicity activity limited to emceeing? If not, what else do you do?
I really don’t have a business per se but I do announce other sporting event and work at weddings or parties. My co-promoter (Tim Lung) and I have assisted other clubs with promoting events and we work together to direct the Antietam Velo Club which is sponsored by the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
6) What are the most fun type of events to work? Do you have a favorite?
I love to work at any venue that can gather and enthusiastic crowd. The best races are the ones that are promoted in the center of their host cities. The Bethesda Grand Prix was one of my favorites, and the Reston Town Center Grand Prix has established itself as a longstanding and fine downtown event. The Grand Prix of Wilmington is a classic because there is so much happening on every block, while Bike Jam in Baltimore has an 11 year history of bringing the best to Charm City. The Capital Criterium, CSC Invitational and the US Air Force Classic are also great events, but they have the financial resources to outsource some of the promotional duties.
The cross circuit is a completely different monster and Charm City Cross has raised the bar in terms of race promotions. The back nine at NCVC’s Ed Sander race at Lillypons is great too. Cyclocross is two parts competition, one part dance club and one part frat party.
Oh I almost forgot to mention the Manayunk Wall in Philadelphia as well as Lemon Hill. Both of those locations are must visit race venues.
7) Is there any type of event you dread working? Care to name names?
Time Trials “And they’re off. . . and they’re back.”
8) You’ve seen a lot of racers plying their trade. Which ones do you remember, and why?
I saw Sean Yates racing a criterium in DC without a helmet. He came through the first turn so fast that the entire bike started to slide out yet he still managed to ride it out.
I saw Bryon Walton ride from Westminster to Hagerstown to compete in a race. He won the event and then rode back home.
I was at the race in Philly when Lance won the Triple Crown and when Bart Bowen became the first rider to solo in the event.
I got Greg Lemond’s World Championship gloves after he raced in Philly. He went on the when the Tour later in the year.
I remember seeing Erik Saunders (former local star) place in the top 20 in Philly.
One of the coolest was the 2006 National Road Championships when I announced the Road Race the Ramon Benitez won. I also announced the TT and the Criterium, and Ramon podiumed in all of them.
9) What’s the high point you’ve experienced as a result of your involvement in racing?
From a racing standpoint I enjoyed several Cat 4 wins, but the best was winning one of the earlier Hagerstown Challenge Crits. Placing third in the 2006 edition of this event as a cat III was one of my best results ever.
In announcing, getting the chance to announce the 2006 National Championships and the final stage of the 2006 Tour De Toona were career highlights, but they pale compared to the honor I felt when Richard Fries asked me to co-announce the 2008 Harlem Skyscraper Crit. Richard is a guy I look up to as something of an announcing mentor and role model. So when he is asking me to be involved in an event it means a lot.
10) What’s the lowest moment you’ve lived through as a result of racing?
The fact that I still have the opportunity to race from time to time keeps everything in perspective. I know that I can be competitive “if” I come in to the event prepared physically and mentally, but racing in MABRA is not like it used to be. There are very few opportunities to sit in and get warmed up during the event. You need to be fueled up and warmed up from the start or be prepared to sit on the sidelines and talk about what could have been. I have had very few low points, but there were two memorable rides where I was praying to be shot. Two years ago I met Ramon Benitez in Frederick for what was to be an “easy” four hour ride with “some climbing. Four and a half hours later I was begging to be left on the side of the road. Last year I went out for another four hour ride with my team, after not being on the bike for about two months. I told my wife that this was the dumbest thing I had done that year. And it was, until I followed up the ride by taking my kids to see High School Musical II.
11) You tell a lot of jokes, make cracks, and sometimes encourage racers. Where do you come up with your material? Some of it is really hilarious, but not everybody appreciates the high wire act that humor entails.
As I youngster I grew up in a neighborhood were most kids cracked jokes about each other (by the dozens). You had to have thick skin and be creative and that is where I started with getting my material if you will. Some inspiration comes from episodes of Sanford and Son along with the Richard Pryor eight tracks, but a lot of the stuff is off the cuff and I can sometimes cause raised eye brows. I walk a fine line and I hope that people see it as entertainment. You can’t make everybody happy but I try to keep the majority pleased. It’s a work in progress.
12) Do you get feedback from racers on your commentary? What feedback sticks out most in your mind?
Many riders know me and give me great feedback. One sticks out. I once said Marc Frazer was going out the back faster than a bowling ball down an elevator shaft. Marc emailed me the next day and said enough with the bowling ball jokes but it was all in fun.
[Ed. Marc is short and built like a brick house – an extremely fast brick house.]Facebook has let people give me a lot of feedback, and most of it is positive. As an announcer my primary goal is to please the people that pay me, and I think I do that. Ultimately, my life expectancy in this career is dependent on how well the peloton receives me.
13) As somebody who promotes racing in this area, how have noticed the racing scene changing over the years?
There are far fewer club/teams promoting races now as compared to the past and the season has tending to be top heavy. What I mean is that there are a boat load of races up until the middle of July and then the local racing seems to drop. Road races are few and far between as are time trials. Business park criteriums are also on the decline.
[Yeah, well, I’m not sure 1.5 mile turn-left-four-times races are all that much fun for racers – they tend to look all alike. Neighborhood crits, on the other hand, and downtown crits, are lovely…]Our club (AVC) is promoting a stage race some what like the old Giro De Coppi but we struggle with securing enough road guards for the road stage every year. I am sure that many teams fear the work it takes to promote events, and as a consequence a lot of riders have to travel out of state to compete in road races or time trials.
One other thing that I have noticed this year is the increase in participants all across the board. We (AVC) had over 400 participants in Fort Ritchie and that is our highest number ever. The City Bike RFK Criterium was another event that showed an increase in overall rider participation. Many events have enough riders on the wait list to stage a separate race.
14) Where do you see the local race scene going in the future?
The MABRA region is a hot bed for talent so the competitive aspect of racing will only get better. Economics may play a part in dictating race promotions but I don’t think that most riders are in this sport for the money. We are smarter than that. The biggest threat to the road scene is the constant shifting of dates in the NRC calendar. I think that the Tour of California has changed their date to correspond with the weekend that Wilmington and Baltimore events are schedule. The domino affect of this is that they will have to shift days and the lower budgeted events will then have to scramble for whatever is left. This may result in fewer events in the region in the future.
Cyclocross is the new big kid on the block and that aspect of the sport will only grow. I wish that the cross season would start later thus giving road racers the opportunity to compete in longer road events in September. Then the cross season could last until late January. Cyclocross in the snow, now isn’t that an interesting idea.
15) Can you name some of your favorite people to work with in this area – promoters, officials, and other people – and tell us why you like working with them? What makes them stand out?
Rob Laybourne because he has done this for so long and he trusts the staff that he hires. Randy Inglis for many of the same reasons but also because he trusted me to deliver the goods at the next level. I am a being selfish in saying this but I have respect for any promoter that has hired me as they were building their events, and then remembered me when their event made it to the next level.
Promoting an event can suck at times. So, I actually have a lot of love for every promoter regardless of whether they work with me, or some other announcer. I especially respect the promoters who somehow manage to secure the same great venues year after year. Teams like Evolution come to mind when I think of this.
Jim Patton is one of my favorite officials as well as Lou Strader but that has not always been the case. It is fair to say that as a promoter I have butted heads with most officials on more than one occasion. Still, these guys bring their A games most of the time. I have a lot of love for Judy Miller and Dave from Big Guys Group, for the work that they do and a lot of respect for out moto-officials. All you have to do is travel outside of the MABRA region to gain a sense of how much better thing are here. I have been at races where the crew consisted of one official with a clipboard and another to turn the lap board. We pay more here but we typically get more. Shout outs to Mimi and the crew as well as Karen and her mutant dogs.
16) It’s always all about the racing. Assume you get invited to a big post Tour de France criterium, and you have the opportunity to emcee it. Which current racing pros can’t you wait to see, and why?
First I would hope it had a hill in it so I could tease Cavendish for hanging on the back like the train on a wedding gown. I would love to see Robbie McEwen, Petacchi, Steegmans, and Farrar.
I would want to watch McEwen because he could win a sprint between to beer cans.
I think that Petacchi still has the jets. Steegmans is an up and comer with a lot of power and I think he was held back by having to work for Tom Boonen. I would want Boonen there so I could play the rap songs “White Line” and “Don’t ride the White Horse”. You also have to have Tyler Farrar there, USA baby!
17) Okay, we’ve heard your cracks on local racers – at last year's crash-ridden muddy Ed Sanders race last fall, I almost had to stop, I was laughing so hard. But which of those top pros would you crack on, and what do you say?
This is going to bore you, but pros are not cracked on a lot. They are pros for a reason. First of all you don’t want to piss off a pro and have his or her DS complain to the promoter. Second pros have swag and I am a swag nut. However, here are some of the things that I have said that typically draw a chuckle or two.
This thing is strung out like Amy Winehouse
The field is tighter than of panty hose two sizes small
He is out the back faster than a bran muffin with a prune juice chaser
He is moving faster then a fat man in a buffet line
One out of the money is like kissing your Aunt with the mustache
That move stinks like sweat sox drying on the radiator
[Ed. Yeah, I guess they call 'em pros because it's a business, and humor would just get in the way of it. Nothing sucks the life out of a fun thing like getting paid to do it for a living.]
18) You probably have some other project – maybe race-related or a charity – that you’re involved in. Care to tell us about it and why we should care too?
We (AVC) would love to put a prologue in the Tour of Washington County but need to figure out the logistics of that. We are also attempting to do a twilight event in Hagerstown, MD and a road race in Clear Spring, which is west of Hagerstown. Personally I am trying to get on board with Cross Vegas and the NACT later this year.
19) What question have I left off that you’d like to ask yourself, then answer?
I think you got it.