It won’t be the Indianapolis 500, but when Chris Dunlap returns to his Fort Wayne, Ind., home in a few weeks, he’ll still have racing on his mind.
Dunlap is head coach and creator of Mach Racing, an in-line speed skating team based out of Warner Robins. On July 17, he’ll lead a group of eight athletes to Indiana for the USA Roller Sports National Indoor Speed Championships.
“It’s awesome,” Dunlap wrote in an e-mail from the Mediterranean Sea, where he’s flying planes in support of Operation Unified Protector, NATO’s Libya operation. “Fort Wayne has been a speed skating city since the mid ’70’s ... Most of my family still lives there, so this will be very exciting for all.”
According to Kristen Guthrie with the Fort Wayne visitors’ bureau, as many as 6,000 skaters will come to town for the three-week event. It’s the first time the national event has been held in Fort Wayne -- a history spanning more than 70 years.
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The community has a passion for skating, according to Dunlap. There were two rinks in town in his youth, one owned by members of his family. As a result, Dunlap grew up racing.
After relocating to Warner Robins a few years ago, Dunlap sought to create a race team for kids who shared his need for speed.
“It’s a great individual/team sport which takes much skill, strength and stamina,” Dunlap wrote. “What I/we like most is the adrenaline rush from racing in a group doing 25+ MPH. However it is controlled and sane but unique and exciting. It beats baseball or soccer, that’s for sure.”
In 2008, he gained approval from owners Amy and Sean Alexander of Olympia Skate to use their facility as a home base for team training. He held an organizational meeting and received a solid response.
“I’ve been on the team since then,” 14-year-old Nik Lopez said before practice recently.
Lopez is part of a four-man relay team that earned a berth in the nationals based on its performance at a regional competition in Port Richey, Fla.
There are nine regions throughout the country, and each will be represented in Fort Wayne. As a result, unlike some other youth sports, the USARS is a true national event.
Relatively new to the game, Mach Racing has already made a name thanks to one of its standouts. Terrell Scott won a pair of national events last year in Lincoln, Neb. He set two records in the process.
“I knew it would happen sooner or later when I first saw him skate,” Dunlap wrote. “Natural talent. (Scott) just needed a training plan, experience and knowledge which is where I came in.”
Dunlap expects to compete in his age division at Fort Wayne. He missed the regionals because of his NATO tour. However, meet officials voted to save him a spot out of respect for his service.
Racers circle a track that measures 100 meters. Sprints (races of three laps or fewer) generally involve a fierce battle for position early. In events of greater distances, participants bide their time until the final lap or two.
“People will push,” Lopez said as he prepared for his first trip to nationals.. “Some get disqualified for pushing. It gets pretty physical, and I imagine at nationals it can get really physical.”