In its third year, Scott Lagasse Jr.’s Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety brought together a collection of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, Olympians and Ironman triathlon champions, riding in the name of increased cyclist safety and motorist awareness for cyclists on the roads.
The event is the brainchild of NASCAR driver Scott Lagasse Jr. A resident of St. Augustine and a cyclist, he is all too familiar with the dangers cyclists face on the roads. Partnering with the Florida Department of Transportation and its Alert Today Florida Program and People for Bikes, a national cycling advocacy nonprofit in the interest of helping create a greater awareness among motorists for bike riders on Florida roads.
With that, Lagasse Jr. tapped his fellow drivers, a group that is increasingly using cycling as a vehicle for fitness for their day jobs as race car drivers. Seven-time Monster Energy Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, a noted cyclist and triathlete, was joined by fellow Cup drivers Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola on the Sunday morning ride.
And with the crossover of drivers taking part in multisport events, several professional triathletes joined in with the motorsports stars, including former Olympians Jarrod Shoemaker (USA) and Dirk Bockel (LUX), 2012 Hawaii Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave (GBR) and American Olympic-distance pro Kaitlin Donner.
A grey, rainy morning gave way to sun and warm skies for the cyclists as they took on at 45-mile loop a spirited pace, heading north from the famed Daytona International Speedway around the Tomoka Marsh State Aquatic Preserve, then south back to the track on Ocean Shore Blvd with the Atlantic Ocean as a scenic backdrop.
“When I woke at 5:30 this morning and heard the rain hitting the top of the bus, I was like “no way!” Lagasse Jr. said. “This is my baby, so I take it very personally. I messaged Jimmie and he said ‘we’re all-in regardless.” To know they’re that committed to helping make this happen, I’m so grateful.”
With a police escort courtesy the Daytona Police Department, the Florida State University Police Department and the Flagler and Volusia County Sheriff Departments, a group of about 45 cyclists rode, with some NASCAR fans, having heard about the ride, waving as the group rolled by.
“I’ve been familiar with the cycling world over the years, said Monster Energy Cup driver Chase Elliott said before he would go on to claim the pole position for next weekend’s Daytona 500. “My dad had an interest in it; I remember him growing up and riding a lot. Certainly as I’ve been around Jimmie the last few years, racing against him, he’s introduced me to it. There’s days he’s rough on me; he’ll pedal me into the ground any day of the week!”
Lagasse Jr. is happy to have his event grow in popularity and more importantly, in awareness, with so many top names lending their names to his cause.
“It’s humbling, honestly,” he says. “It was started as a grassroots movement to merge this cyclist and automotive safety issue. To see the level of people that have stepped up and help make this happen—guys like Jimmie and Matt, Aric and Chase, as well as Leanda Cave and these other champions, to see those guys show up is amazing. It’s a small movement, but we hope to be making big moves in getting the message out to keep an eye out for cyclists. When you have guys like Jimmie and Chase out riding bikes, hopefully it helps humanize the cyclist and helps some motorists sit back and realize the safety element, it’s on both our shoulders.”
We hope people realize not only that it could be a seven-time Cup champ, but also that it’s always someone’s friend, someone’s family member, son, mother,” he adds.
Cave, a world champion triathlete and Miami resident, echoed the sentiment.
“There’s a lot of traffic on the roads here, and I think not many of those motorists are exposed to cyclists,” Cave said. “These NASCAR drivers with a massive following and level of exposure, knowing someone in their realm seeing that cyclist could be him, that message reaches a lot of people.”
“I appreciate everything Scott has done in trying to make it safer for cyclists, because it is dangerous,” Elliott says. If you have a driver not interested in you being out there, that can be a bad day for you. The thing is making folks aware of what we’re doing out on the road. Events like this can do nothing but help us as cyclists.”
With Florida owning the unenviable position as having one of the highest cyclist fatality rates in the nation, Lagasse Jr. says that if the event’s mission for awareness saves even one life, the efforts have been worthwhile.
“I like to think we’re helping,” Lagasse Jr. says. “And I believe we are, because I get feedback from people that I didn’t know were paying attention say they’ve seen what we’re doing. To see our state make this a priority, it’s awesome.”