An Interview With Mt. Holly Grand Prix Promoter Ken MillsBy: firstname.lastname@example.orgPosted: Jun 26, 2002
Ken Mills has been an active race promoter in New Jersey for a number of years but he is most well known as the promoter of the Mt. Holly Grand Prix. In just a few short years this "invitation only" race has become one of the premier events in the Northeast. The 96 mile event is unique in that the 12 mile circuit is completely flat. While the trend is to make races as hilly as possible, Ken has taken a different approach and has laid out a "kermesse style" circuit. The wide open course features plenty of wind and a technical final kilometer gets the rider`s attention. In fact, the race has only once finished in a fieldsprint. RaceListings.com caught up with Ken Mills for this exclusive interview.
Tell us about your background in cycling.
I first saw the 1984 Tour de France on TV and immediately became hooked on the sport. I started racing the summer of 1985 and have tried both the road and off road scene. I have raced in Europe as both a junior and senior rider. I have been involved in pretty much all aspects of the cycling world, from working in a bike shop through college to working inside the bicycle industry to promoting events and running elite amateur level teams and working for professional teams from both Europe and the USA.
How did the idea of Mt. Holly Grand Prix come about?
In 1998 I had spent part of the summer racing in Portugal and Spain while visiting my girlfriend and her parents. I was able to get a spot with a local team and rode some smaller scale UCI events like the Tour de Minho in northern Portugal. I noticed that all the events we raced in were team events, no open events. This definitely peeked my interest in bringing the same concept to US events that I had been attending. When I came home at the end of the summer John Eustice announced the plans for the first Univest Grand Prix . The team I was managing was invited and after the race I thought this style of event would do well in our area of the country. In the winter of 1999 a letter was forwarded to me by accident from a local town looking to host a bike race. I met with the people and showed them around 5 minutes footage from the Univest Grand Prix and they were hooked on that format also.
The race is a little more than 6 weeks away. How is the event shaping up?
Well, the first thing we wanted to do was slowly grow the race. For the 2002 event, we made the decision to increase the prize list to $7000.00. We have had some problems finding enough sponsorship this season but several of last year`s sponsors have signed back on for the 2002 event including Soverign Bank, Waste Management, NFL Films and CDM engineers and KMK Sports. The selection process has just started and we have just released the final details for this year`s event. I'm confident that we'll have a quality field of teams and the race committee is really just doing the fine tuning for the event.
What factors are taken into consideration when the team selection process starts?
Well the first thing of course is the team`s results for the past two years. We`re looking for teams with proven track records. Also, is the team made up of 6 strong riders or is it built solely around one rider and do they race well as a unit. What kind of program do they run? Have they moved any riders into the professional ranks? When we look at the amateur teams, we are looking for the cream of the crop. We want to make sure that the best teams are on the starting line each year.
The Mt. Holly Grand Prix has been an "amateur only" event since its inception but this year the race is open to professionals. Why the change?
After going over what we could do to bring out more people to the event, the race committee took to the idea of opening the race to professional teams after attending the First Union events in June. People want to see the best the sport has to offer and professionals are the best when it comes to any sport. We are hoping that by mixing the top amateur teams with some of the best domestic professional teams this will hopefully bring more excitement to the event. Plus we`re hoping it offers a chance for some of the better amateurs to show their talents to the directors of the professional teams.
Riders love the rolling enclosure, no "yellow line rule". How do you pull that off?
That goes back to my European experience in 1998. Not one of the events that I rode in had a yellow line rule. The promoters would use the rolling enclosure for the entire race. The authorities from Mt. Holly and the surrounding communities wanted to make sure first and foremost that the event was safe. After they attended a couple of smaller road races, they opted for my suggestion of the rolling enclosure. They felt it made the race much safer for both the riders and drivers on the road. Plus the road is only closed down for small amounts of time.
The town of Mt. Holly is very excited about the race. How do you get the town to support your event?
The office of the Burlington County Fireholders offers a lot of support with promoting the event to the people and businesses of Mt. Holly. It's really a team effort from the local police from each town to the downtown business association wanting the event to bring people to downtown Mt. Holly. The support for the race has definitely grown since the first edition back in 1999. People were pretty skeptical about whether we could pull the event off. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger each year, especially since there is a lot for a family to do when the race isn't coming through town.
What do you see in the future for the Mt. Holly Grand Prix?
My dream would be getting on the UCI calendar sometime down the road, but there are a lot of costs associated with that status of racing. For now the race committee`s plans are to just grow the event slowly and make sure we take baby steps and not grow too much too soon. We have also been speaking with a local town about promoting another large road race to go back to back with the Mt. Holly-Smithville GP and there has also been talk about doing a stage race in the future. But for now we are very happy with the steps the race has taken over the last three years.
What advice would you give other race promoters?
My biggest word of advice for other promoters is planning - every little detail will factor into whether your event is successful or not. Other things to consider is whether to run a full day of events or if one big event is better for their town. Promoters tend to forget that sometimes more isn't always better. I've had a lot of people complain that we`re not offering a women`s or master`s race during our race program. Unfortunately, we can't please everyone. And last but not least is making sure you identify what your community is looking to get out of running a race on it's streets.
For more information on the race including team selection applications please visit www.co.burlington.nj.us/bikerace