Gran Prix, festival a hit

Published 12:00 pm Monday, April 12, 2010

Matt Davis goes fast in Brookhaven.

On Friday night, the 32-year-old cyclist from Shreveport, La.,won the Downtown Criterium, the first and most popular race of theweekend’s ninth annual Mississippi Gran Prix. He beat outapproximately 50 other riders at hurricane-gust speed to do it, butit wasn’t the first time the four-year race veteran blew someone’sdoors off on a Brookhaven street.

“I got pulled over two years ago because I wasn’t payingattention, and the officer was nice enough to let me off with awarning when I told him I was affiliated with the bike race,” Davissaid Friday afternoon while prepping for the race. “I like thislittle downtown.”

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The Mississippi Gran Prix, one of the largest and best-payingraces on the Louisiana-Mississippi Bike Racing Association circuit,draws dozens of cyclists from across the South every year, and thisweekend was no different.

“Last year there was a race in Birmingham, and I still came tothis one,” said Travis Sherman, of Pelham, Ala., a Birminghamsuburb. “It’s just one of those classic races you mark on yourcalendar.”

This weekend marked Sherman’s fourth trip to Brookhaven for theMississippi Gran Prix, a race he said was always well executed,draws top-notch competition and pays out handsome prizes.

Apparently, those who live in the cyclists’ world tend to get toknow each other.

“We almost made T-shirts that say, ‘I know Frank Moak,'” Shermansaid, referring to Brookhaven’s most well-know competitive cyclist.”You can be in North Carolina somewhere and someone will ask you ifyou know Frank Moak.”

Brookhaven’s Amanda Hightower has only been in town about twomonths, so she may not know Frank Moak. She didn’t know anythingabout the Mississippi Gran Prix, either, but with the promise of anexciting race and a kid-pleasing, fun-jumping festival all in thesame place, she grabbed her 2-year-old son Hayes and hit thetown.

“I’ve never seen this race before, and it sounded interesting,”Hightower said. “I’m here for the bike race, but Hayes is here forthe jumping, mostly.”

Of course he enjoyed the fun jumps and cotton candy, but4-year-old Jackson Leggett is a bicycle boy, and he wanted to seethe race, too.

“Jackson loves bikes. He loves anything that goes fast,” saidhis mother, Kerri McCullough. “This is just something fun to do inBrookhaven.”

Brookhaven’s Cleo King, meanwhile, is a bicycle man. He’s justgotten into cycling to keep his health up, and was attending hisfirst Mississippi Gran Prix Friday night.

“I came mainly to learn something,” King said. “This race isgreat. I wish we could have more than one.”

Few were more dedicated than Judy Yarbrough. Still looking on asthe race wound down and darkness settled over Brookhaven, she satin her folding chair between the blaring music and the speedingbikers and took it all in.

“We’ve enjoyed the music, we’ve enjoyed the race and I think wegot the first hand stamp and bought the first hamburger,” Yarbroughsaid. “We haven’t missed a thing. The race is a great thing forBrookhaven. It brings people in and lets them see what the city isall about.”

Despite having such a good time, Yarbrough said she wasn’t quiteinspired to get into competitive cycling.

“I’ve got my stationary bike at home,” she said.