|RACE TRACK RUINS CYCLING DREAM
By Don Riley
Pioneer Press St. Paul MN 1984
Quick now pupils, what's the connection between gold golf balls, $10,000 racing bikes, pacemakers, wheelchairs and dentists drills?
Cecil Behringer of course. The Shakopee titanium trickster also is the only man who can gaze out of his window at a $200,00 dream turned into a nightmare in broad daylight. To put it bluntly, he's the first citizen to be kicked in the head by the thoroughbred stampede at the new Shakopee pari-mutuel plant.
"Hey, at 68 years of age, I'm still going strong and life's great" Cecil says with a grin. "Sure, my giant plans for my super velodrome bicycle racing plant never got off the ground for practical purposes. But how many guys can look out at their life's ambition, touch it and still make plans for its future? The velodrome may be down, but it's not out."
Behringer's super bike-racing plant goes down the drain because his 10 choice acres including his steeply banked velodrome are next to the $60 million horse racing plant.
"They raised my taxes from $3,000 to $12,000 on my 10 acres and that ends the velodrome dream for the moment. " he said. "But a bicycle association is talking about buying it and moving it to another site. Two or three other promoters are in the picture. It could wind up at the Dome in downtown Minneapolis but sight lines are a problem. The thing could be a great attraction. You know, it can handle go-karts, bikes, cycles, roller skaters, just about anything on wheels. Lots of people and clubs come out and use it, but I never made a dollar on the operation. Right now it's just a labor of love."
It was seven years ago this summer that Behringer unveiled his velodrome. The day it opened he was staggered by the news that a government loan had been turned down at the last minute. The money would have financed lights, concession stands, all the fringe items that make or break a business. He had put his life savings into the project and could do nothing but fall back to what he does best, surviving.
Behringer is rated one of the nation's top minds in the fields of metallurgy and precious stones. "this is what I fell back on - racing bikes." He lifts up a new frame and hands it to me, by two fingers/ "It weighs less than 10 pounds. Made of titanium. The finished product sells for about $10,000.."
"They are the greatest speed bikes in the world - over a dozen world competitors use them. In pro and amateur ranks six world records are held by these bikes. That $10,000 figure may sound high but in the end, I'm working for about $32.50 an hour. I try to turn out a couple of dozen each year."
When Behringer's bikes first hit the market, they had to overcome skepticism and ridicule in Europe. "They said they would never hold up. So I had Czech champion Ison Tcak test one up and down the steps of St.Peter's in the Vatican in Rome. The ytrwst got publicity all over the continent and proved the toughness of the bike. It's not welded. It's glazed. It's the strongest bike on the face of the globe."
Behringer comes by his love of cycles easily. He was a famed for years as the boy wonder of the six day racing tracks when that sport gripped the emotions in the 1920s and 30s. Behringer made his debut in the furious grind at age 19. The famed six day racer Torchy Peden was an early business partner. Behringer still thinks that the six day race will come back. He and a Chicago investor have built an all steel high banked indoor track that can be put together by 10 laborers in 12 hours.
"It is stored up in northern Wisconsin waiting for the day of enlightenment," Behringer says.
He was a dervish on the six day track and will never forget an incident in the old Madison Square Garden when he was feuding with the French team. "They were belting me around on jams because I was young. During one session I packed a bicycle tire pump and let one of the Frenchmen have it right between the eyes. Nobody ever bothered me again."
But you can't blast tax collectors with tire wrenches so the effervescent Behringer has turned to a variety of arts to propel his career. "The gold golf balls? A fun gimmick.. They are authentic 24 carat plate and sell in some fancy stores for as much as $55 a ball. I also was commissioned by a major firm to make lightweight wheelchairs out of titanium, but I am just getting into action. I didn't want to move to their plant on the West coast. My wheel chairs will weigh only about 9 pounds and fold up into a small package for travel."
The pacemakers? "Oh yes, I've made a special part out of uranium for them for over a dozen years. Right now, I am working on a special drill for dentists to crack through plaque on teeth. It is a few months away from perfection. I'd have to clean up all this business but I'd like to become czar of six day racing if it comes back and make sure this velodrome of mine is put to good use. I've got to live hard and long yet to get all these things accomplished."
The ultimate craftsman still has time for projects outside the workroom. He's been nominated for a national medal for his contribution to metallurgy. He's a weather expert and is in close touch with major organizations that call him for advice on everything from longer growing seasons in Russia to shorter winters in the Artic. His virtual one man show is often interrupted calls on two telephones from all over the world- from bike clubs in Paris to the mens department in Neiman-Marcus.
And all this, Behringer is interrupted once again by a couple of teenage bikers.
"Can we try your velodrome, Mr. Behringer?" a tow headed boy asks.
"Sure boys. But be careful. The surface needs a little
Behringer pauses as the lads shove off on the one-sixteenth mile track.
I'd probably have given everything else up just to run this track if things had worked out." He says softly. "I'm still just a kid bike racer at heart."