SoCalCycling.com caught up with 45 + SoCal Cup Winner Benny Parks, who races for the Jessup Auto Plaza Cycling Team which is based out of the Palm Springs area. We have known Benny since the late 80’s, so it was fun to see him win the Title and catch up with him for this interview.
SoCalCycling.com: Congratulations on winning the 45 + SoCal Cup title, tell us about your win and any special strategy you had.
Benny Parks: Ever since the end of last season, we set our goal to win for this season. It was great to kick off with the first road race win of the year; certainly a motivating start! From there, things fell into place. Once you have the first win, the challenge is on… it’s real!
My strategy was to be consistent. By that, I mean top 5’s; you can’t win every race, but if you’re top 5, you’re earning points for the season. Each race is different, so it’s hard to pinpoint specific strategies for each race. I didn’t win with one race, but with thirty races throughout the season. Basically, I kept an eye on the good riders, and did my best to stay on top.
SoCalCycling.com: How did you get started in racing and riding?
Benny Parks: I started racing motorcross competitively when I was twelve, and turned amateur-pro when I was sixteen or seventeen. I broke a lot of bones along the way! At eighteen, I had a bad crash, breaking one leg in half as well as breaking the other ankle. After that, I’d had enough! From there, I was in limbo as far as what path I wanted to take athletically. I spent time at the gym, and wound up buying a Bridgestone bicycle from a friend of mine for fifty bucks, deciding to ride to work and save some money on gas.
I was still quite interested in the motorcycle scene, and would often stop by stores and pick up a magazine. One time, I went into the store and saw a magazine on the shelf called, for those of you who raced back in the early 80’s, “Winning Magazine.” On the cover was a picture of Francisco Moser, who had just won the Paris-Roubaix, and I thought “wow! There’s another sport besides motocross that has cool uniforms!!!” From there, I grew. I started riding more and more, and went to the local bicycle shop and asked if there were any other riders. The owner told me that there was a localized ride on Tuesdays in Palm Springs, so I went decked out in my red high school gym shorts, white t-shirt, and tennis shoes, and tried to ride with them! Both out of place, and out of my league, Mike Accaro, a rider from Italy, took me under his wing and mentored me. He was extremely instrumental in my development in cycling, and got me started in racing. From there, here I am now!
Photos © Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com
SoCalCycling.com: It’s been a while since we were teammates. How has the racing scene changed over the years?
Benny Parks: Frank, those were some good times together back in the 90’s when we were racing for Schwinn, and traveling beyond California to the Southwestern states! We had some long hours on the road.
The level of racing is much deeper and more organized than it was then. There are also many more teams and definitely a wider variety of races to choose from. The only thing that hasn’t changed is we still have (Ralph) Elliot! He’s a SoCal staple!!
SoCalCycling.com: Since you live out in the desert in Palm Springs with the 100+ degree heat in the summer, how do you train in that type of weather?
Benny Parks: With Icepacks!!! But seriously, it takes a good deal of determination. The recovery is a big challenge. First of all, I ride quite early in the morning. You have to be done early because by 9:00 a.m. the temperature is already 100+ degrees, and the insulated water bottles frozen the night before are getting hot by 8:00ish. And… I don’t stray too far from the AM/PM to fill up with ice! That’s about it.
SoCalCycling.com: How is the riding and training out in the desert area?
Benny Parks: The riding is great! We have plenty of flat work on the valley floor, and mountains on either side. All around, there’s a good variety of riding. As far as weather goes, in the wintertime, it’s hard to beat the desert! There are a lot of pro-teams that have their winter training camps out here.
SoCalCycling.com: You have a younger brother Todd Parks that also races; did you have a major influence on him racing?
Benny Parks: I don’t think I had that big of an influence, but the story goes… In the mid 1990’s, we had a race here in the desert called Tour of Palm Springs. I met other riders outside of California that were going to be racing here. A few contacted me needing some housing. At that time, Todd had been riding some, but wasn’t 100% committed as he was building his business. I asked Todd if he would be interested in housing a good friend and a good rider who was no less than Kent Bostick, one of the favorites to win the race. So Todd and Jill had a really cool experience with a pro-racer. They were in awe of his professionalism and how much he could eat!!! It was a great experience for Todd. I believe Todd is still in contact with Kent. From then on, Todd was all in. My bro is a super good rider!
SoCalCycling.com: Do you see any young up and coming talent coming through the ranks?
Benny Parks: My little nephew Julian seems to have some talent, but he just turned 12 and at this point he’s experimenting with a lot of different sports. It’s hard to say where it will go, but time will tell! I had a chance in the late summer to ride with Phil Tinstman on a training ride. He had a young junior with him who looked like he had potential and was very enthusiastic about cycling, which is always a good thing to have!! I know MRI has a nice junior’s team, but I really don’t know of any juniors on a personal level. However, I’m always super-jazzed to see them out there, to keep our sport growing.
SoCalCycling.com: Have you been able to mentor or influence any new talent in cycling?
Benny Parks: Lately, no. But I have mentored a few riders in the past in the early to mid 2000’s. They trained here in the winter with our great weather. They were introduced to me through an ex-pro friend of mine that knew the National Team Coach who then contacted me. At that time he had two young prospects, both who stayed with me every winter for a couple of months. They both went off to race in Europe. One got a contract with Slipstream, and from there, he got another contact with Argos-Shimano. I was really happy to be a mentor to those two; it’s a really cool thing to do if you ever have a chance to do so.
SoCalCycling.com: I know you’ve been a vegetarian for awhile, is this still the case? If so, do you have any tips for being a cyclist and vegetarian?
Benny Parks: Yeah, those were the days; but now, I’ve moved away from that and have incorporated meat into my diet. Also, I can’t forget about my Pringle Chips, Ben and Jerry’s, and oh yeah, my f**king Twinkies!
But seriously, knowing what I know now, I was definitely low on iron and protein as a vegetarian. I’m not a vegetarian anymore by any means. Since I returned from retirement, I’m not nearly as strict. Danny Pate stayed with me about four years ago and really got me into Porterhouse steaks. So yeah, one cow a month is good for me!
SoCalCycling.com: You raced mountain bikes for Ritchey in the heyday. What do you think mountain bike races could do to make the scene more popular like it was in the 90’s?
Benny Parks: First of all, the problem for me was getting the results back in a reasonable amount of time. We would have to wait up to two hours or so to get the results, which was BS. From what I hear, that continues to be a problem. I think the waiting has taken its toll on the mountain biking scene. If that could be rectified, it would be a big fix. Lower the cost of entries to race, which is totally out of hand. Also, they need to monitor the riders better, because there is a lot of cherry picking going on. In my opinion, those three things would be a good start.
SoCalCycling.com: Do you still train on your Mountain bike?
Benny Parks: Hmmm….. I do like riding my mountain bike as the mountain biking here in the desert is probably some of the best in the country! It’s good to get off the road and into the mountains where it’s peaceful.
SoCalCycling.com: You raced for Jessup Auto Plaza Cycling Team out of Cathedral City this year. Tell us about the team and program?
Benny Parks: Andy and Dan Jessup have wanted to keep their team having a home-grown flavor. We’re all local desert riders, and that’s been working really well for us. I’m super lucky to be sponsored by Team Jessup—Dan and Andy give the team great support. The treatment is no less than what a super-pro would get; from picking me up and dropping me off at my front door for all the races, to dining at five star restaurants. They go above and beyond. They are the best a teammate could ask for!!
In terms of the program, our program was to race, have fun, and get great results and to promote our sponsors.
SoCalCycling.com: What are your plans for next year and the team?
Benny Parks: Well, as most of you know, Andy was hurt quite badly in the early part of the season at Redlands. That has put a lot of stress on Brian and me. Andy is an awesome teammate, and would do anything for us, so losing him and not knowing whether or not he’ll ever come back to racing…it makes me think twice about my own racing. That being said, AJ had just gotten back on his bicycle after six months off the bike. He was on a training ride, and was hit from behind by a car just two weeks in, and broke his back. So, that’s really tough for his team and his sponsorship. Andy has committed full team sponsorship for 2014, and I don’t see our program changing much as far as the racing schedule goes.
I want to give a super big thanks to my teammates Brian and Andy for their 110% commitment, help, and their own sacrifices for me to win the cup. Also, a shout out to all the Masters 45+ riders for racing me FAIRLY throughout the year. Finally, an exceptional thanks to Greg Liebert and Jeff Kosmo for being great sportsmen when I was racing at Devil’s Punchbowl and had gotten a flat very early on in the race. They neutralized the race, asking the boys to wait up for me as I chased to get back on. That was sportsmanship at its best!
It is both mine as well as Team Jessup’s privilege to be the Masters 45+ SoCal Champs!
Interview by Frank Sarate, SoCalCycling.com