The Straits know bike racing. Rachel and Kyle Strait have been fixtures on the dirt scene for years, creating their place in the mountain bike community through a combination of progressive riding, impressive results, and open-minded outreach. So, it’s no surprise that when Covid-19 threw a giant pedal wrench into plans, they were thinking of creative ways to do what they do best: ride hard, with friends. Neither of them necessarily set out to be race promoters, but when the stars started to align to create a new event, they weren’t about to let the moment go to waste.
Having a property big enough to build trails on creates its own opportunities. Like having private race sessions. And also coming up with a name for your spot. “We were just goofing around and wanted to come up with a name,” says Rachel, “My dad came up with it actually. He was just riffing off the idea of “Green Acres” and said, ‘You know, you really should call it Strait Acres.” The name stuck, and then gave them some leverage. “We’ve been able to brand it and create an LLC,” says Rachel, “And with Kyle’s course building background, we’ve been able to market the dual slalom race and build up some awareness.” Sometimes, it pays to have a badass backyard.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU DIRT, MAKE A DUAL SLALOM COURSE
Unusual circumstances offer unusual opportunities, and as far as 2020 went, unusual was the word of the year. But it also had some welcome surprises in store. “People have always told us we should have an event at the property,” says Rachel, “But we were concerned about liability, and also our schedule was crazy. Then 2020 came along and everything got cancelled. So, we had an idea to help our friends and ourselves fulfill commitments to sponsors by creating a new event.” It was time for an event to come to Strait Acres. Or rather, it was time for the Strait Acres name to go to an event.
“In 2020 the event was small, and invitation only. 16 riders, eight going on to the finals,” says Rachel, “We stuck to the Covid guidelines for the state, so there were no spectators. But we were super stoked to offer equal prize money for men and women,” she says. “We got great coverage and were able to provide content for our friends who are pro racers with various sponsorship commitments.” From there, it was clear that 2021 offered even more opportunity. Like a proper race, with more riders and even spectators.
“Tom Spiegel is a real force in the California racing scene, and he approached us about doing a slalom race this year,” Rachel says, “We weren’t 100 percent sure about being promoters, but when we realized we could get insurance for an event through USA Cycling as a club, we formed one: Strait Acres!” From there, things started happening fast. “We got the call from Summit in March about the possibility of it happening there”, says Rachel, “Fast forward to the end of July and we have a race!” From March to July, of course, a million things had to happen to get the event ready to go. But here’s the thing: Sometimes the trick to pulling off the seemingly impossible is just to start.
Dual Slalom isn’t the most well-known style of racing here in the US. However, the format is part of the super popular CrankWorx tour, which has been expanding the audience. For Rachel, DS is still something she’s getting used to. “I’m pretty new to it. I’m more of an enduro racer,” she says, “You really need to be comfortable going fast, keeping speed, all with someone across from you. Kyle’s been racing DS since he was 14. It’s been a passion for a long time. Back in the day, DS was the MAIN event! Crowds were lined up to watch it into the night. It’s not as popular now, so it’s great to bring it back a little.”
Fast, competitive and easy to watch, it’s a perfect race for spectating. “Even though the format isn’t everywhere, CrankWorx does have DS as an event so it’s nice to get younger riders exposed to it,” says Rachel. And getting younger riders more time on the course was a big part of her focus. “We had some of the younger female riders who weren’t in the Pro class ride with the Pro women, just so they could see where they were at, in terms of their riding. That was super cool.”
The Strait Acres event was all about equal billing for men and women. “We wanted to have solid prize money, and we were able to have a $20K pro purse, with equal money for men and women,” says Rachel, “It’s the highest payout for a single event Dual Slalom race. Athletes get frustrated by having to travel all over the world, only to not get paid what they are worth. We wanted to make sure it was worth the trip.” With over 200 amateur riders, it looks like plenty of people besides the pros felt like it was a worthwhile trip. Not bad for a first-year event, especially when most of the exposure was through word of mouth and social media.
PART OF THE YAKIMA FAMILY
Yakima and Rachel go way back, so when she said she was putting on a race, you know we were into it. “Yakima was a gold level sponsor!” says Rachel, “It was awesome to have them be involved. They brought a truck down with some new racks to show off. It was super cool for me to check it out and see how it works.” Soon, she’s going to have her own truck to show off. “I’m going to be a Ford Bronco ambassador! I’m excited to get my new Bronco outfitted with Yakima gear. It’s going to be a sweet year.” Rachel’s no stranger to testing gear, which means she knows what she likes. Her go-to bike rack? “HoldUp EVO! I love it. It’s such a nice way to carry our bikes.”
As for the future of having more Strait Acres races, Rachel is leaving it open for now. “We’re still racing so it’s hard to put more work in than what the one race needs,” she says, “We’re a little conflicted! Our goal for 2022 is to have two events, but who knows what the future holds.” Based on how the Straits roll, don’t be surprised if Strait Acres is a straight up series before you know it.