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It’s all about the push

Cassie Pence

Local Karri Willemssen finally has all the essentials needed to win this year’s Big Wheel Classic: a motorcycle suit and a tall guy with strong legs.”It’s all in the push,” Willemssen said, a six-year veteran of the Big Wheel Classic. “The pusher has to be a tall guy with strong legs. And I got one this year.”The Big Wheel Classic begins at 11 a.m. at the top of Bridge Street near the Tap Room in Vail Village. A single elimination race, two teams of four compete at a time. The team that hurls itself fastest down Bridge Street continues to the next round. Finals begin at 4 p.m.

The team of four consists of one catcher, two pushers and one rider. The catcher stands at the end of the course, throws his arms out as his teammate barrels toward the finish and hopes to hook the rider to safety as the Big Wheel flies into the hay bale barricades. The pusher does just that – pushes.One of the race’s challenges is the assembly of the Big Wheel itself. Teams have one hour to assemble the Big Wheel. They have to use everything in the box and can use duct tape and grease to spruce up the plastic vehicle.”Most people think, ‘Oh, it’s a little kid toy, it’s a piece of cake.’ But if you put something wrong, backwards, you’re screwed,” Willemssen, who rides for the CME Speedracers, said.

To excite the event just a little bit more, organizers added a jump into the semifinals.”It made the Big Wheels have to be a little more durable to make the jump,” said Joe Blair of Untraditional Marketing, the company mastermind behind the event.Willemssen said hitting the jump exactly on target is essential.”Man, you can wipe out bad on that jump because your legs have to be completely steady, and you can’t be leaning back too much because you’ll do a pop wheelie,” she said.

Dave Dempsey of Go Networks in West Vail, who raced for team Bo, recalls a small woman who strained her wrist catching the rider. Although the woman was shouting team encouragement as she exited the racing area to the hospital, Dempsey – her replacement – suggests using a burlier type catcher.”I’m a pretty big guy, about 200 pounds, and the girl was really small and skinny. It was easier for me to catch,” Dempsey said.”Your catcher has to have guts and not be afraid,” Willemssen said. “You have to have faith in your catchers. Because if you don’t have faith in your catchers, you’re going to try and slow yourself down.”

In between racing thrills, festivarians can cruise the village tasting beer from brewer’s around the state and sampling chili.”Restaurants and caterers from around the valley come out to participate in the chili portion of the event. They come out with reds, greens, exotic chili, as well as some salsa,” Blair said.The Kid Zone will offer an inflatable bouncy room and face painting. Music will play throughout the village. The climax of the event takes place at 4 p.m. for the Big Wheel race finals. Will the Tap Room defend its two-year championship reign? Or will Willemssen of CME Speedracers finally walk the victory lap, Big Wheel in hand, for the first time ever?”Please make sure they catch me. Please make sure we win. Please make sure the push is good,” Willemssen said.


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