As the Oklahoma mountain bike race series sprints towards its first race of the season, with the first race on Sunday, February 23rd at the Lake Tom Steed mountain bike trails at Great Plains State Park, we wanted to bring you an in-depth look at the man at the helm of Tour de Dirt, Corey White, also known as “The Wizard”. If you don’t know Corey, he’s a mountain biking beast, able to leap and climb any rock on a bike, blaze through any trail no matter how difficult is, host a popular live weekly update (The Weekly Wizard Update, Tuesday at 8pm CST) on Facebook and YouTube (and organize an entire race series. In this exclusive interview with Corey, read about how he got started cycling and racing, and what his vision is for the Oklahoma Tour de Dirt series.
Oklahoma Outside Events: When did you first discover cycling, and what has your cycling journey looked like to this point in your life? Did it change your life in any way?
Corey White (a/k/a “The Wizard”): I discovered cycling in 1999. I was a basketball player and about that time my knees and ankles were struggling with basketball so I wasn’t sure what to do next. I’ve always been an athlete so doing nothing was not an option. I was fishing at Lake Elk City in 1999 with my oldest (who is now 23!) and saw some guys riding around the lake on bikes. I’d ridden a borrowed mtb a few times in college, but didn’t have time to pursue it then. Seeing them brought back those memories and I tracked them down in the parking lot. They told me about a shop in Elk City and I bought a cheap Giant Rincon (I still have the frame), rode it for about a month with toe straps and fell in love! I got shoes and cleats for Christmas and the rest is history. I’ve been doing it now for 20’ish years and racing TdD that entire time. I still have the t-shirt from High Point Ranch, which was my very first race in 1999.
Cycling was a hobby that allowed me to continue being an athlete, stay fit, and have fun. It also allowed me to connect to an entirely different group of people. The more I raced the more I loved being around this community of people and the friendships that have come from it. So within just a few short years it was no longer just a hobby. It then became my passion and with that I began to develop my skills and personality within this group. As I met more and more people and became a complete and successful rider and racer I gained confidence and so much happiness.
Much of my time developing to the level I’m at currently was mainly in racer mode. I was mainly concerned with making myself a better person and racer. I like to think that I’ve never been one of those overly competitive jerks, but I no doubt am a competitive person. I believe I was successful in staying humble while becoming a successful racer and I feel that I’m still doing that, but my direction is slightly different now.
I’m still working to improve my fitness in small increments and plan to continue being highly competitive for many years to come. However, I’ve recently changed my focus a lot. At this point in my racing career I feel that I have plenty of knowledge to share and I’ve found it very satisfying to help many of the newer riders out there. Leadership in all the various aspects of cycling never really was a goal of mine, but for whatever reason it seems to have found me J. Whether it be directing our Bike Lab MTB team, doing clinics and pre-rides for various groups, running the TdD, or helping individual riders find their way and improve their skills, it seems that my old classroom teaching skills are paying dividends.
I do have a wonderful family. My three boys have grown up around cycling and all did Kids Kup when young. They are successful and in college and working and I’m very proud about the wonderful young men they have turned into in spite of my crazy racing travel schedule. But in truth, cycling is my life. It defines me as much as being a good father. And I’m good with that.
Oklahoma Outside Events: Can you give a brief history of Tour de Dirt, how you see racers and/or this environment has changed over the years?
The Wizard: Tour de Dirt started in the late 1990’s. In the beginning, I believe that it wasn’t actually called Tour de Dirt (TdD) and was directed by OEF. Sometime around the 1998-99 period it was coined Tour de Dirt. I believe OEF actually continued to run the TdD until around 2007 to 2008. At that point, Terry Tietsort became director and TdD operated out of an organization called Team Crunch. I took over the organization in 2016 and we partnered with OEF once again. The Tour de Dirt race series operates under their umbrella, but I have sole management control of the TdD.
I think that while much has changed with technology, equipment, and training the biggest change is availability of knowledge. A lot of this has to do with social media and the internet, but I think the team structure and comradery between everybody and even between teams had greatly increased availability of information. Back when I was just starting Cat 1, finding information on nutrition, hydration, training, bike setup, race prep, etc… just wasn’t there. The Cat 1 racers then weren’t as willing to share their secrets and there were only a few teams. Because of the team structures we have as well as the many veteran riders that are VERY approachable, new riders can come right into racing and not only improve quickly, but get very good in half the time. It’s not unheard of for riders to now come in and move through the ranks to Cat 1 in 2 to 4 years and be successful. It took me 5 years as a Cat 2 racer to start getting podium wins. It took another 3 to 4 years before I could get on Cat 1 podiums. That’s 9/10 years total of training and learning to just get close to where I’m at now. Riders aren’t that patient now.. lol.. However, with the information at their fingertips they don’t have to be.
One thing that has not changed is the community! I’ve never felt so much acceptance and general caring from and for such a wide ranging group of people. It’s the same great feeling now as it was in 1999.
Photos by J. Black Photography
Oklahoma Outside Events: What are your goals for or what you want to see in the future of the Tour de Dirt Race Series?
The Wizard: As always, I’d like to increase participation, but never at the sacrifice of becoming commercialized in any way. I prefer grassroots type events and would never look at moving in any other direction for the TdD race series. In fact I honestly don’t think many series of races will ever see corporate success like a Mid-South or DK200 or Leadville, etc.. simply because of the commitment to do many races. Right now the only series that is seeing that type of success is the Epic Rides series and that is simply because they are throwing thousands of dollars to get pros to them, and that in turn draws other riders. However, it’s only a few races so it’s almost not like a series. Anywhoo….
The TdD has had ebbs and flows, but essentially we’ve just stayed about the same over the past five years. I don’t see that moving one way or the other. I feel there are a couple of things in play here that keep us from increasing participation. The sheer number of events is overwhelming and a huge population of riders that only want a recreational experience.
Even as close as five years ago there were distinct seasons that didn’t overlap for most disciplines. With the growth of Gravel and CX added to the existing marathon and cross-country mtb as well as road, you can now race three different disciplines at almost any time of the year with no clear “season”. So because of this it’s extremely hard to provide a series that can keep people interested & motivated over 8-10 races. We have tried a variety of things to alleviate this situation. One was shortening our season to be done before CX. I like being finished with the series earlier, but I’m honestly not sure this has had much of an impact on our numbers. We have discussed moving to an even shorter season (maybe 6 or 7 races) and getting it all done by June. For now, we will continue with the Summer break and finish in early October.
The second part of this is the recreational rider. I understand it, but it’s just not something I could “only” do. I love recreational riding, but I also love racing, improving, and testing myself. However, there is a huge group of riders that only want to ride recreationally. You can witness this at an event like Chili Bike where they will have 400 to 500 riders. Yet we average only about 140 racers for every race. For many of these riders they simply have no desire to race. They want to just ride with their friends for fun so there really isn’t a way to tap into that group. Additionally, many simply have barriers to racing whether that be family, time, money, etc… It’s really hard to alleviate those issues from our side of things, but we do our best. In my opinion we offer a pretty solid event for the cost. In fact, we haven’t increased the fees for TdD in at least 10 years. I also feel that we offer an event that is welcoming and very family friendly. So we’ll just keep plugging away and see how things play out, but it sure would be nice to average about 300 racers for each venue.
Photos by J. Black Photography
Oklahoma Outside Events : What do you want the 2020 Tour de Dirt racers to know about the first race venue/event, and how are venues selected?
The Wizard: Typically, the process to determine race venues has little to do with me personally. I do sometimes have to make decisions about venues, but often it’s very fluid and I just roll with what is going on with the promoters and locations at that given time. Lake Tom Steed is a little different because this is my home trail and I have actually been maintaining this trail since around 2005. I can’t even begin to total the hours of weed eating I’ve done out there! It definitely is a special trail for me simply because it’s my home trail and I’ve put so many hours of work into it. I took over when the creator of the trail (Dave Borrell) passed away in a kayaking accident. Steed used to be a staple race in the TdD in the early 2000’s and I actually took over the race in 2005 and promoted it again in 2006.
Steed is located in the Great Plains State Park so camping is available and tons of RV spots are available. It’s a really beautiful park and I’d call it a hidden gem simply because so many people don’t realize it’s there. Snyder is the closest down with amenities, but we are pretty rural so looking for a BnB to stay in is probably your best bet. Altus is actually 35 mins away and has everything you’d need if a little drive wasn’t a problem.
The trail itself rivals with Medicine Park for difficulty, but the structure of the rock is much different. You get a ton of rounded granite rocks and boulders that are mostly imbedded in the ground so it’s rare to have anything loose on the trail. I’d venture a guess that not a single person can “clean” the entire loop. It’s not for the faint of heart, but oh so satisfying when you realize that you’ve gained the skills and confidence to ride it. Love this place!
Oklahoma Outside Events: Is anything else you want people to know about TDD, you, the races, or something that most people don’t know?
The Wizard: A few TdD things that I’d like to get out:
- Check out our newly designed website for all events (oktdd.org)
- Kids Kup will have team challenge like the adults (new this year)
- Encourage “recreational” riders to at least come pre-ride and hang out
- Join me on the Weekly Wizard Update and feel free to shoot me messages with any topic you’d like me to discuss
As for me, I’m a pretty open book. LOL… One thing I would like to mention that’s not necessarily me, but a combo of me and TdD. This year I plan to hold a little impromptu “Beginner’s Clinic” each Sat before race-day and then lead them on a pre-ride. I’m essentially going to do this for free and just have a “coffee can donation” available. This money will all go back into the TdD with the plan to assist with fees for some of our junior riders. Outside of that I have a couple of other possible future projects that I think are pretty cool, but I’m not far enough along to release specifics. I won’t leave you fully hanging though, I’m looking at organizing some Trans Oklahoma biking trips as well as possibly doing a little light coaching for new riders. I’m not looking to be a full coach like many we have now, but more to work with young or new riders with their initial development.
Cheers.. the Wizard J