This Year's Race Is Safe, But Unless New Sponsors Can Be Found There Will be No 2005 Cactus Classic
The Cactus Classic has had its fair share of mishaps in its eight-year history. One year, Chad Hedrick lost three wheels on rough pavement on his way to winning the race. Another year, a wind storm knocked down the finish line. Then a couple of years later, the timing computer crashed, leaving a 12 minute gap in the race results.
Yet despite it all, this funky little marathon in the Arizona desert (maximum participation: 187) has retained a loyal, if small, following.
Zephry's Marathon Skating site ranks it seventh on its Top Ten list of marathons. And RaceReports calls it a personal favorite.
But alas, it looks as though the Cactus Classic may be the latest roadkill on the slumping inline skating highway.
"This might be the last year" for the race, said race director (and racer) Ed Wachter. "We have decided that if a certain amount of money can be raised by March, we will go ahead with next year's race. But if that money is not raised, then we are not going to do it."
The amount the race committee has its eyes on is $15,000.
Wachter said committee members had agreed earlier this year to make this year's event (Nov. 7) the final Cactus Classic. But they changed their minds after hearing that the rival Long Beach Inline Marathon might also be discontinued (also for lack of sponsorship.)
"We thought that if we were the only marathon on this side of the country, that might help our numbers," Wachter said. So the committee postponed a decision on the fate of the marathon and set the March deadline for finding the $15,000.
The marathon is an all-volunteer effort, Wachter said. No one gets paid, except the police officers who handle traffic control. But it still costs $22,000 to put it on. Most of the money goes to rent barricades, traffic cones, highway message boards and traffic cops.
The prize money is a minor expense. It amounts to three percent of the registration fees of $65 or $75 per skater. The first-place finishers this year will get a modest $150 to $200, Wachter said.
The Cactus Classic, smaller than its more successful cousins, has always struggled with finances. But things have gotten worse with the slump in the inline skating industry.
The city of Tucson has been no help. When organizers proposed holding the marathon there, the city proposed charging them $20,000 to use its streets, Wachter said.
Its current host, the town of Oro Valley, 15 miles north of Tucson, has generously provided financial support, (even though skating is technically illegal there, except on marathon day!) But the skate industry has been less and less helpful.
Only three skate industry companies contributed money for this year's race: Bont, Rollerblade and Bones Bearings. And they all provided less than $1,000 each, Wachter said.
Other companies provide the marathon with skating gear, which will be given away as raffle prizes. "But that's not what you need to put on a race," Wachter said. "You need money."
Committee members and friends of the Cactus Classic are looking for new sponsors. They are talking to local Tucson area companies and also trying to interest big companies, like Coca-Cola. But so far nothing has panned out.
To try to increase participation in the race, the committee has toned down the racecourse this year, Wachter said. Typically, the Cactus Classic has been tough and hilly with its finish line at the top of a steep grade. But this year's course has fewer, gentler hills.
Committee members hope this will encourage more casual skaters to register. But "we are never going to get the numbers they get in Duluth [at the NorthShore Inline Marathon.] And that's what the companies want," Wachter said.
The NorthShore registered 4,024 skaters for its 2004 full and half marathon.
"Even if we got just 250 skaters, I would be so happy," Wachter said.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Burnson