Tour de Moore Leader Slows Down
For more than three decades, Bruce Cunningham has been a fixture at the Tour de Moore Road Race.
Since the event began in 1976, he has cruised every inch of the various routes on the back of a motorcycle, trouble-shooting, coordinating security and volunteers, and just enjoying the races.
"My one regret is that I never got to race in it," he said.
That may soon change. This year will be his last as full-time director of the 100-mile bicycle race, which will be held Saturday, in conjunction with the annual Springfest in downtown Southern Pines.
"I think it would be fun to ride in it after being director for 34 years, just to see it from a different side," Cunningham said. "Maybe this will inspire me to hang up the managerial mantel and get back to being a competitor."
Cunningham will "transition" to a lesser role in the coming years, ultimately handing over the director reins to members of the Sandhills Cycling Club.
"I will still be involved over the next few years until all the knowledge I have up here," Cunningham said, pointing to his head, "is transferred to them so they know everyone to talk to, what paperwork needs to be done, and everything else they need to know to host this event."
Brian Thomas, president of the Sandhills Cycling Club, praised Cunningham as the driving force behind the event.
"He (Cunningham) is really what has kept this race going over the years," Thomas said. "He has done it so many times he knows the names of everyone involved and knows it frontwards and backwards."
Accidents Change Routes
Through the years, Cunningham, a Southern Pines attorney and avid cyclist, has seen it all -- world champions, Olympians, two generations of families competing, riders from nearly a dozen foreign countries, a horrific wreck and more.
"This area has such a unique flavor and appeal to the cycling community," he said. "Southern Pines is known around the country as a good place to ride, with good roads and good people."
The Kiwanis Club of Pines started the event in 1976. The idea for the race came from the late David Drexel.
He envisioned a 100-mile event through the towns and picturesque countryside of Moore County that mirrored the Tour De France, the world's most well-known cycling event.
As a result of the race's popularity, other cycling events and festivals -- like this weekend's Springfest -- have grown out of the popularity of the Tour de Moore.
With all its success over the years, the event may never have started had it not been for Cunningman's hard work, supporters say.
A month before the first race, Drexel called his friend Cunningham and asked him to help with a problem. State law classified bicycles as vehicles and the State Highway Patrol determined that the event would be classified as illegal vehicle racing under the law, and officers refused to work the event.
"Over the next two weeks, I negotiated a settlement with the Highway Patrol, the attorney general's office, the governor's office, and we came up with a resolution that it would not be a race, it would be the Moore County Bike-a-thon for 99 miles until it got to the city limits of Southern Pines and then a one-mile race," Cunningham said. "For the next four or five years, it was known as the Moore County Bike-a-thon until we got legislation passed that says you can do it if you get a permit."
Six Highway Patrol troopers worked that first race. At its height in the early 1990s, nearly three dozen patrolmen were needed.
In the early years, the race attracted the biggest and brightest stars in the world of competitive cycling. In the early 1990s, as Moore County continued to grow and its roadways became more congested with traffic, organizers were forced to change the race route for safety.
A permanent route change came following an accident in the early 1990s when a motorist drove into a pack of riders on N.C. 24-27, sending 28 riders to the hospital. Seven of those were admitted to the hospital.
'Best Seat in House'
Over the years, Cunningham has gathered plenty more pleasant memories.
Once he said he received a call from a cyclist from New York who was riding the train down to Southern Pines to compete in the race. He expressed concerns about the distance from the finish line at Vermont Avenue and to The Jefferson Inn, his hotel.
"He said, 'I will have just finished a 100-mile race, will I be able to make it back to my hotel from the finish line,' and I told him he could probably coast there," Cunningham said.
Then there was a time when the race was coming down Young's Road and happened upon a horse and its rider.
"The horse got spooked and chased the pack for about two miles," Cunningham said.
More memories are sure to be made this year.
Three categories of racers will start at the Campbell House and ride down Youngs Road and out to Woodlake, where they will complete a 14-mile loop several times before returning to Southern Pines and finishing at Vermont Avenue. The race begins at 10 a.m. and should finish about 1 p.m. About 200 racers are expected to participate this year.
And right there with them will be Cunningham, perched on the back of motorcycle, radio in hand, ready to enjoy his favorite race.
"No. 1, I'm there in case something happens," Cunningham said, "and No. 2, it's the best seat in the house."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2477 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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