Who said there is no politics in racing?

Chances are — it was you!

It’s understandable.

We often think that off-road racing sits outside the political struggles of Washington DC.

You think your carefully scheduled, mapped-and-ready trail fun doesn’t seem like a place you would find politics anyway.

You’re probably the kind of person that finds a way to avoid all the drama of politics in the first place.

If it gets too bad on TV or Facebook, you just take a trip out to your favorite trail and escape it all.

Besides, politicians don’t care about my off-road races.


If only that were true.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, even off-road racing has been politicized.

When did this happen?

Actually, a while ago.

But you were just ignoring it.

By avoiding the actions of your politicians, they acting in your best interest without you.

How did they know my best interests?

They didn’t, because you never told them.

They passed bills, laws, and new regulations hundreds of miles from your races, without any of your input.

It’s only when these bills, laws, and regulations have a direct impact on your races, do you suddenly notice something is wrong.

But then it’s too late.

Or is it?

If you haven’t been hiding in a cabin in the woods, cut off from the world, you might be aware that the national election for President of the United States is coming up next week.

Many of your friends, family, and social media outlets are talking endlessly about who should win, who should lose, who should be offended, and who should go to jail.

Just like most elections for President, this election has all sorts of people politically charged.

But unlike other elections, you can no longer put your head in the sand and pretend politics do not have an impact on your races.

Especially when you go about operating a business, using public land, operating a business ON public land, or just trying to make money with that business in general.

Many race promoters do not want to even think about politics.

They often say, “Leave me out of the politics. I just want to build races”.

Sorry. You cannot avoid it any longer!

To be successful race promoter, you need to be aware of the people making the political decisions that will have a huge economic effect on how you plan, promote, and direct your events.

However, in this season of political drama, you need to know what issues can aid or disrupt your racing efforts, and who is for or against those issues.

Do you know what those are?

In case you ARE someone who just came out of the wilderness, here are a few issues I think all race promoters need to pay attention to:

#1 — The Issue of Land Ownership

Issue-at-a-Glance: The US Government owns 640 million acres or nearly a third of the U.S. landmass.

That might seem like a lot to some of us on the East Coast, where several states have less than two percent of land controlled by the US Government.

From Texas to the Atlantic Ocean, the US Government averages about 5-percent or less land ownership in most states, with the most in North Carolina at 11.8-percent.

If you live in one of these States, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

However, if you’re a race promoter in one of the Western States, you understand the problem all too well.

Here is just a brief look at what the US Government owns of each State from Colorado west to the Pacific Ocean:

  • Nevada – 84.5 percent
  • Alaska – 69.1 percent
  • Utah – 57.4 percent
  • Oregon – 53.1 percent
  • Idaho – 50.2 percent
  • Arizona – 48.1 percent
  • California – 45.3 percent
  • Wyoming – 42.3 percent
  • New Mexico – 41.8 percent
  • Colorado – 36.6 percent
  • Washington – 30.3 percent
  • Montana – 29.9 percent

If you want to see the complete accounting of what the US Government owns of each State, check out Just How Much Land Does the Federal Government Own — and Why? by Frank Jacobs of bigthink.com.

In Jacobs article, he states that the map of Federal Land ownership is “stunningly effective at bringing home [its message that] Federal land ownership out west is huge.”

Who owns all this land?

Jacob’s points out that according to the Congressional Research Service, a majority of the land is administered by 5 federal government agencies:

  • Dept. of Agriculture — United States Forest Service (USFS)
  • Dept. of the Interior — National Park Service (NPS)
  • Dept. of the Interior — Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Dept. of the Interior — Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • Dept. of Defense — Various Agencies/Military Branches

But the amount of land ownership out West is not the biggest part of the problem.

The problem, especially to race promoters, is the federal mismanagement of that land due to complicated, inconsistent, or blocked recreational opportunities.

The federal government agencies, that are responsible for rules and regulations, have created a bureaucratic nightmare that Jacob’s identifies as a fight between “… good stewardship of the land … [and too much] … government intervention… [in how the land is used]”.

As a race promoter, this issue directly impacts your capability to use public land as a race venue.

The more land the US Government owns, and then shuts off to recreational opportunities, the fewer areas you will have to host races.

Therein lies the political issue.

Are you for environmental protection via the blocking recreational opportunities to federal land?

Or are you for the public use federal land, with conservation guided by a managed permit process?

Furthermore, should the federal government even be in the business of owning that much land?

Or should the States be given back their stewardship responsibilities of the land inside their own borders?

Not an easy subject to consider.

One side wants environmental protection, the other wants conservation by permitted use.

See. Not so easy.

As an American, which side do you agree with most?

As a race promoter, which side you think agrees with your principles the most?

Can there be a balance between environmental protection and conservation?

#2 — The Issue of Land Access

Issue-at-a-Glance: This issue focuses on HOW you access public land that is already been set aside for public use.

If you’re a mountain biker, this one is very important to you.

Especially after recent reports of lawmakers banning mountain bikes in wilderness areas that once allowed them.

Take for instance the case of Bitterroot National Forest in Montana presented by Vernon Felton of Adventure Journal.

In Felton’s article, he cites how the US Forest Service changed the rules in 2015, and made mountain bikers no longer welcome on 178 miles of singletrack trails.

Why the ban?

Critics of mountain biking believe that mountain bikes cause more erosion or disturbed wildlife more often than other trail users.

And are using the Wilderness Act of 1964 to kick mountain bikers off trails that use to allow them.

While the Wilderness Act of 1964 does not include mountain bikes (because they didn’t exist then), Felton points out that a number of environmental protection groups convinced the US Forest Service to change their regulations in 1984 to explicitly prohibiting mountain bikes from wilderness areas.

The new regulation has now been expanding by changing the wording of the prohibition from “[…] motorized to mechanized transport”.

This change prompted the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, to also change their definition regarding mountain bikes.

According to Felton, the change resulted in banning of mountain bikes from 762 wilderness areas in 44 states.

Think about that for a second.

With no congressional approval, a handful of US Government organizations kicked mountain bikers off nearly 110 million acres, or “[…] roughly five percent of the American landscape”.

Did you know that happened?

Or did you know that is still happening?

On the other side of this issue, advocates like Mark Eller, communications director of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), have defended mountain bike use on public lands.

IMBA continually argues that a “[…] vast majority of independent, peer-reviewed studies indicate that mountain bikers are no more impacting on natural resources than other recreational trail users.”

IMBA has lobbied heavily to get mountain bikes removed from their federal portrayal as a motorized vehicle.

Some mountain biking advocates have gone as far to create campaigns that illustrate how mountain bikes are not motorbikes, with t-shirts like Lindarets Motorbike Shirts to Benefit Human-Powered Trail Access.

So where you do you stand on this issue?

Do you think that we should allow everyone to use public land, only allow some to use public land, or allow no one to use public land?

Do you believe the argument provided by organizations like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, that explicit prohibition of mountain bikes in wilderness areas owned by the federal government is a good thing?

Or do you believe organizations like IMBA, mountain biking’s largest advocacy group, when they state they want to work with policy makers and competing trail users to, as Felton puts it, “preserve access on existing multi-use trails by redrawing proposed wilderness boundaries, and/or employing alternative preservation classifications that allow for bike access”.

Race promoters who host mountain bike races tend to fall into the “work with policymakers and competing trail users” camp.

However, there is yet another issue hiding within this controversy.

From the dark side of environmental movement comes people that are so invested in removing mountain bikes from public lands, that they willing to injure or even kill riders with boobie-traps.

From wooden-boards full of nails as was found in Eagle, Colorado, to punji stake traps discovered in the United Kingdom, extremists been going to great lengths to prevent even the limited access by mountain bikers.

Unfortunately, these traps do not discriminate and injure hikers, backpackers, trail runners, and horse riders right alongside mountain bikers.

Nor do they help the environmental protection cause.

Another issue that is has multiple sides.

Some of these sides have real consequences to them.

So far, when it comes to finding a balance, the IMBA’s Public Lands Initiative is one of the few efforts that tries promote bicycle-friendly approach towards public lands protection.

The other side wants mountain bikes to be banned from even more wilderness areas.

Where do you see yourself in this issue?

Can there be a balance between environmental protection and mountain bike use?

Or is it banning mountain bikes today, and then trail runners tomorrow?

#3 — The Issue of Diets and Food

Issue-at-a-Glance: Science, nutrition, and dietary philosophies all offer different choices when it comes to what racers eat, and what racers want to eat.

Time for a political issue that is a bit easier to digest (pun intended)!

Once upon a time, pizza was a great post-race food.

Boy, have times changed!

Take for example an article from The Clymb.com’s blog titled 12 Items I Want To See On My Next Marathon Aid Station Table.

Notice you don’t see pepperoni pizza on a list like this.

In fact, you don’t see meat on that list at all.

Where is the beef jerky?

Where is the pizza?

Where’s the beef?

Meat, among other interesting foods, is no longer considered acceptable racing foods in certain circles.

Welcome to the political world of food.

Yeah, I didn’t get the memo either.

Who knew that food could be so contentious.

On one side you have the herbivores (those who do not eat meat or fish) that defined by terms like vegans and vegetarians.

On the other, you have the omnivores (those that eat anything, including meat or fish) that defined by terms like carnatarian and meat-eaters.

Which side do you see yourself on?

More importantly, which side is most represented by your customers?

Don’t know?

Try this.

Put out 20 pepperoni pizza’s at your next race.

Yup. Those racers that came up to you to let you know what they thought about pizza as a post-race food will identify themselves very quickly.

But is the alternative to offer only fruits, grains, nuts, and vegetables?

It could be.

But then there are the complaints you might get from the pro-pizza crowd, seeing all of this as rabbit food.

What’s a race promoter to do?

Your choices are simple on this one:

  • 1. Walk the thin line by providing options for both
  • 2. Take a position — one side or the other — and stick to it
  • 3. Don’t offer post-race food at all

Walking the line can work in pleasing most customers.

But it will require you to spend more on post-race food to satisfy everyone.

Taking a position can work too.

It lets everyone know where you stand on this issue.

But it may also cost you many of the customers who have the opposite position.

Increased costs or lose customers?

Of course, you could just stay out of the post-race food business altogether.

That might not make anyone happy.

When it comes to the politics of food, what is your position?

You could try what Adventure Addicts Racing (AAR) has done.

During the AAR’s most recent events, the Adventure Rush adventure race, they put out spaghetti.

How is spaghetti a position?

Because this spaghetti was both with meatballs, and without meatballs.

Plus, both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike can eat spaghetti.

It’s like the United Nations of foods.

Complimenting this post-race spaghetti, they added in garlic bread, salad, and a few other dishes to round out the assortment.

Expensive? Maybe.

Good? Absolutely!

A balanced position on the whacky politics of food?

You decide.

Time to Vote

There are certain world views that you will either support or not support.

The truth is, you and your customers will care deeply about some issues, but not others.

It is your job to know what those issues are.

By taking ANY position on ANY given subject, there will be consequences associated with it.

Regardless of the issue, always remember to stay cool, polite, and honest about where you stand.

You can navigate politics towards your best interests, so long as you understand how this issues can and will affect your business.

However, to help you survive the political world of the race promoter, there are a few important skills that you can learn to keep things from going off the deep end.

First, determine where you stand on the issue most important to you and then find out where the power bases are.

Who are the movers and shakers that are on your side, and who are the people with hidden clout that want your side to fail?

You need to sort your political enemies from your political allies and understand who stands to win or lose the most.

Second, you need to become adept at discovering the information that lives in the world of facts, not hidden within the world of spin, rumor, or innuendo.

Know that everyone has an agenda.


Your job is to determine which of your representatives will really address your concerns, or just telling you they will address them to get your vote.

Voting records are important, and words do mean something.

Particularly the use of precise language.

Hold your elected official’s feet to the figurative fire, and do not allow them to be vague or noncommittal.

There is always a reason if they do not want to take a position on a subject.

Find out what that reason is before you act.

Finally, you need to predict the political pitfalls that could hurt your business, and determine what you can do to head off unfortunate events.

Have a contingency plan in place in case a political fight does not go your way.

Additionally, be ready to act if a political decision DOES go your way too.

Ultimately, success in politics only comes to those race promoter’s who stop blaming politics for their problems, and start handling these issues, before they handle you right out of business.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!