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Allez! Allez! - Thursday Night Racing, Part IV
by David Teall

This project began … with a little piece on my humble beginnings as Dave Skiver's protegé in 1975. [Then there] was the Cliff Mueller story, a leap forward in the chronology, because, in my opinion, Cliff had a huge impact on the tone of the races at a time (1980-83) when the membership numbers were beginning to really take off. A bit nostalgic on my part, but I see those days of the Pied Piper of O.O.I.P., not only as golden years, but as the beginnings of a new era for the club. Now … it is possible to see my "golden years' as a product of the early club's growth from the Bowling Green based Wheels Inc., to the larger geographical area (including Toledo), and the Maumee Valley Wheelmen. One of the significant developments of this growth was when a Belgian emigrant joined the MVW in the mid-seventies. His name was John Petiniot.


Most everyone should recognize the Petiniot name from somewhere. Ifnot ultra-distance runner Jim Petiniot, whose on-foot mileage might put some cyclists (author, for one) to shame, or his son Chance, the local X-country star, then perhaps the John Petiniot Memorial Trophy, currently the property of [the] club champ … , will ring a bell. That there are few current members who knew John Petiniot is testimony to our number of years as an organization. It also points toward our lack of historical perspective. On the latter point, I shall try now to set the record straight.


Born in Belgium, John Petiniot emigrated to the United States in 1930 when he was eighteen. He eventually wound up in Toledo, where he had a long career working at Jeep. Shortly after his retirement in 1977 John started coming out to watch club races. Dave Skiver, who became very close to John, believes that he must have come across a flier in a bike shop or somewhere, and then "just showed up in his van one night to watch a Thursday race." John came to nearly every club race after that, often bringing along his wife and daughter Patricia. When John learned about federation racing, he started driving to the weekend U.S.C.F. races also. Skiver said that he saw John at every weekend race. John offered Dave rides to the weekend races, which he occasionally accepted, and the two grew close.


My most vivid memory of John Petiniot is from the spring of 1979, I can't remember if it was April or May. I do remember the miserable weather: fifty-five degrees, steady drizzle, windy, all on a Thursday Night at the old Dutch road course. It was one of those nights where you put your bike together with you street clothes on, then change in the car with the motor running and forget about any warm-up. Only about eight of us started the race, there were a few (I'll mention no names) who did not even put their bikes together. But the weather did not stop John Petiniot. Now Dutch road was a seven-mile rectangle near Whitehouse, not exactly a great spectator course. It's not like Scotch Ridge, where you can get a glimpse of the back-stretch while standing on a nice grassy hillside. In fact, at our start/finish line on the corner of Stitt and Keener Roads, one must either stand on the road or in the ditch, which is exactly where John stood, cheering and coaching us on as we plodded along for three laps (the race was shortened due to conditions) until Skiver finally won the sprint.


When I spoke to his son Jim Petiniot recently, he tried to describe for me the source of his father's enthusiasm for cycling. "It was like going back to his childhood [in Belgium]," Jim said. "His immigrant experience was the key." That John was from the 'Old Country" was, of course, a big plus for the Wheelmen. Cycling was even more Eurocentric back then, and the trickle of information coming into the U.S. on the European scene was not easy to obtain. Bill Hammond had special subscriptions to some European journals, Scott Gerkin had made a pilgrimage to race in the Low Countries, and Mark Tyson got his hands on some French newsreels that were a real treat to watch, (mais, je ne le comprends pas,) all in an effort to bring something of the real cycling world home. John brought a piece of that continental world to club races with his patronage. It was nice to have someone at the races who could shout out encouragement in something other than football metaphors. Allez! Allez! Allez!


John Petiniot died in August 1979. He had been with the Wheelmen for less than two seasons. The day before he died, John was at Scott Park watching his six-year-old grandson Chance ride sixty miles in the Pepsi Marathon. At the funeral, Gary Dauer, Mark Tyson, and Dave Skiver were pallbearers alongside three members of the Roadrunners. At the winter meeting later that year, Skiver proposed that the new rotating trophy that Jim Black had just donated to the club be named the John Petiniot Memorial. "John was a guy who just really loved cycling," Dave said, and went on to describe how many times John had driven him to races, always refusing gas money because "he was going there anyway," how John was like a father to him (his "racing father"), and how John generously patronized our club and the sport. Skiver wanted the new trophy to honor, not only the man, but his love for the sport. He realized then how necessary people who really loved the sport would be if the club were to grow. Skiver wanted the most prestigious award that the club offered for racing achievement to be a memorial to those whose love for the sport make the racing possible.


It's hard for old-timers like myself to believe that nearly [twenty] years have gone by since John Petiniot passed away. That there have been [twenty] successful seasons of MVW racing with [twenty] more names added to the championship trophy that bears his name is due in no small part to the fact that more people have come along who have had, like John, a passion for cycling. Throughout those years the club has leaned heavily on a handful of members who, week after week, set aside their personal aspirations for the greater good of the group. These are the people Skiver had in mind when we dedicated the John Petiniot Memorial Club Championship Trophy.


In the process of penning out the above, I've come to realize how presumptuous it was of me to begin an oral history of the club with little vignettes of the racers who have had, in mine opinion, something to say about the development of that long-standing MVW institution of Thursday Night Racing. Retelling the John Petiniot story has reminded me that institutions like the "Breakfast Club", the Equinox, the Dirty Derailleur, and Thursday Nights, that make the MVW such an attractive club, don't just happen by themselves. At the end of this season, a [twenty-fifth] name will be added to the club championship trophy. [(The names of previous champions, 1974-1978, were also inscribed when the trophy was dedicated.)] Too often in the past we have leaned too heavily on the same handful of people to run things. The Race Committee has added a new twist for 1994, the Race Director of the Week, giving championship points to the weekly director and making at least one week of participation mandatory. Besides being a great idea, the weekly directorship can, I think, forge a closer link between the championship and the true spirit of the John Petiniot Memorial.




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