Urban archeology unearths lost velodrome in Detroit

Restored by the Mower Gang and given new life as The Thunderdrome

There is no denying that the Motor City has seen better days. Detroit, which was once the fourth largest US city, lost more than half its population since its heyday in the 1960s. In Dorais Park, near the infamous 8 Mile corridor, there is one of those all but forgotten reminders of the city’s former days ­— avelodrome.

While never officially buried or entirely lost beyond sight, the concrete track was overgrown — like many of the city’s parks that are now all but forgotten — when it was “rediscovered” last year by Tom Nardone.

He, along with a few volunteers, is the brainchild of the Mower Gang, and he spends his time uncovering interesting – and seemingly forgotten – areas of interest in the Motor City.

“What I try do is some community service,” says Nardone. “There are a million fun things to do in the city, but I like to spend my weekends doing something that helps kids.”

Nardone had heard about the velodrome more than a decade ago, but it wasn’t until he used Google Maps last year that he actually “found” it. “I heard about this abandoned velodrome,” said Nardone to BikeRadar. “I thought I knew where it was. I heard people were racing go carts around there.”

Before: it took Tom Nardone and his gang the better part of a summer to restore the velodrome

In fact, go carts weren’t the only things being raced around the track in its past life. The Dorais Park Velodrome was built in 1969, and used throughout the 1970s even as the city saw a decline.  In the 1980s racing ended at the velodrome, and it was unofficially “abandoned,” and fell into disrepair. Worse still, the track was used as a course for illegal car races – which have badly damaged it and even caused the banking to settle – while more recently it had become a neighborhood dumping ground.

After finding the location through the Internet and finding the “oval” track, Nardone was determined to do what he could to bring it back. “This wasn’t just cleaning up a soccer field. It was really rough, and you couldn’t ride a bike around it.”

When he began to consider clearing it there wasn’t even a complete path all the way around, however, despite this Nardone believed a couple of weekends and 10 volunteers could complete the task.

After: while not a pristine surface, the Dorais Park Velodrome is back in action

In reality, however, it took nearly a whole summer of weekends; with 10 full days alone spent clearing it. And while the final results are rough — and the days of track bike racing probably still in the past — Dorais Park has become home of another type of racing.

Enter: The Thunderdrome, a regular series of events in which competitors race mini-bikes, mountain bikes and mopeds around the reclaimed track. Organizers Andy Didorosi and Ben Wojdyla began the races last summer and plan to do three this year.

As for Nardone, he’ll be there racing. “I’ll be out on my motorbike,” he said. “I leave the pedaling to the other guys.”

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