+25 Years of Racing Excellence
By Joey Lee
Cycling in the southeast is quickly gaining in popularity, although it will probably be a while before it has as big a following here as it does out west, or in Europe. But did you realize one of the oldest and most successful bicycle racing teams in the region is based right here in Mississippi? This spring, the Herring Gas Cycling Team is beginning its 26th season of racing and winning.
It all started in the fall of 1986 in a bike shop in Natchez. The shop’s owner, Dave Soper, got Ed Herring interested in riding a bike. Herring’s passion for the sport grew quickly and by the spring of 1987, the Herring Gas Team was up and racing. Frank Moak, a young Mississippi cyclist at the time, played an integral part in the development and management of the team. And to this day he stands as the only original member, still racing and managing.
The other team members from that first team include: Joe Arnone, Brad Barnes, Karen Barnes, Jason Halberstat, Kelly McGinnis, Jim Phyfer, Bruce Sanders and Tommy Smith. “We like to keep the team between eight and ten guys,” Frank said. “That way it’s a manageable number. Since we all work for a living (outside of cycling) and life can get in the way, we know that out of eight, we’ll have at least four or five of us at each race.”
Since its inception, the team has recruited some of the most talented riders in the region. “We look at our competition,” said Frank. “If someone starts beating up on us in races, we start looking at them for our team.” But he stresses it’s not all about success on the road. In selecting potential team members, they look for a love of the sport and they look for personalities that will work with the existing team members.
Since these riders come from throughout the region, they seldom get to train together. But they do have a multi-day training camp before the season starts (typically in February). Also, with the travel involved in racing anywhere from 25-40 days a year, they really learn each other’s personalities, becoming close and enabling them to race well together, as is quite apparent by their results.
Regional races are the team’s main focus, mostly to give their sponsors the most bang for their buck (Herring Gas is a regional company). So when they’re putting their race calendar together, those races get top priority. However, the team will, and has, travelled quite extensively throughout the country and even as far as French Guiana and Belize.
When I said this team is successful, that was an understatement. Last year alone they had 23 first place finishes and 19 second place finishes. They won the LAMBRA Road Race and the Team Time Trial. They saw a second place finish in the Mitchell Memorial Road Race in Cincinnati, Ohio, won stages in the Mississippi Grand Prix and the West Feliciana Grand Prix and came in the top ten in the Junior Elite USA Cycling Championships in Bend, Oregon.
If you look back through their history, you’ll see that winning has been a tradition since the beginning, with more than 100 district championships, a rider winning a national championship on the track (velodrome), winning the LAMBRA Championships 11 of the past 13 years and members going on to the US National Team and the Olympic Trials. In 2005, the team competed in a race in French Guiana hosted by the same group that puts on the Tour De France, taking third overall in this 11 day race against some of the top riders in the world.
Frank said that one of the most special memories for him was taking third in the team time trial at the Tour of Belize. This is a Union Cycliste Internationale (International Cycling Union is the governing body for cycling around the world) event, which means they were competing against some of the best cyclists in the world. It was Frank’s first podium in a UCI event and it was with all of his teammates. The team also had a stage victory and won the King of the Mountains competition that year.
“We’re a regional team that can go national and international and be competitive,” Frank said proudly.
One of Frank’s greatest sources of pride is the fact that the Herring Gas Team sponsors chose to put their products and dollars behind this regional team. “It says a lot about our team,” he said. “They get asked for sponsorships by thousands of teams and clubs and they see our regional, Mississippi-based team as worthy of their support.” Given the team’s historical success and future prospects, I think that’s a wise investment of their marketing dollars.
Frank Moak – HGC Team Manager and Team Anchor
The glue that has held The Herring Gas Cycling Team together for more than a quarter century, aside from the Herring Gas Company’s sponsorship is team manager, Frank Moak. He has been an integral part of the team since day one and has also been (and continues to be) one of their most prolific riders.
Frank developed an interest in cycling in his early teens, racing BMX bikes in vacant lots and when he was 16, he and three of his friends rode from Mississippi to Kentucky. But his interest in the bike waned for a few years as life, and college got in the way.
Years later, he started running to try to lose the weight college had added but found that he kept getting injured. So he started riding again. Before long he entered a race in Starkville and ended up winning. Frank got his first racing license in 1981. “I won that first race and have raced bikes ever since,” he said.
His accomplishments on a bike are quite extensive, having won more than 100 races in his career. He won a gold medal at the US Olympic Festival in 1985 and at one of Herring Gas’ first big races, he won the road race. “This was a great win for me, since it was one of our first races, at home, in front of my friends and sponsors,” he explained.
“A couple of years ago at the Sunny King Criterium in Alabama, I finished third out of 116 guys,” Frank said. “But what I’m proud of is that if you add up the ages of the first and second place guys (they were 19 and 21 respectively), they still weren’t as old as me. I was 50!”
“But one of my favorite memories is being on the podium at the UCI event with my entire team in
Belize,” he said.
One of the most attractive parts of bike racing for Frank is the fact that no race is the same, “To be successful, you have to read each race, pay attention and adapt to it,” he explained.
In bike racing, there are road races, criteriums and time trials, with people specializing in these types as well as sprint and mountain specialists. Typically riders have a specialty within those disciplines but occasionally you find a special rider who does equally well with all three. “Most of my life I’ve been an all-around rider, with some specialty in time trialing and sprinting,” he said. “But as I’ve gotten older I guess my time trial has improved and I’ve lost a little speed.”
The members of the Herring Gas Cycling Team are not professional cyclists, they all have day jobs and train and race around busy work and family schedules. In Frank’s real life, he owns and manages several properties, is married and has two daughters.
When I asked what advice he would give to people looking to get into bike racing. He said he remembered the words of a former world champion, “Start by riding your bike, then ride it some more and then ride it some more,” he said. “You have to get in a lot of miles on your legs, and I’m not just talking about 20 a day, I’m talking serious miles.”
After more than 30 years of racing, Frank is still going strong and beating guys half his age (and younger)… all while managing The Herring Gas Cycling Team, holding a full time job and a being a husband and father. Let’s hope he keeps it up another 30 years.