Man vs. Machine to pit cyclist against steam engine in race from Grand Canyon to Williams

Grand Canyon Racing partners with Xanterra and the Grand Canyon Railroad to bring back a 50 plus mile race

The Man vs. Machine race pits a turn of the century steam engine against professional cyclists. Rob Krombeen helps promote and kick start the event. Ryan Williams/WGCN

The Man vs. Machine race pits a turn of the century steam engine against professional cyclists. Rob Krombeen helps promote and kick start the event. Ryan Williams/WGCN

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - After 24 years, a race pitting professional cyclists against a 1900s era steam engine in a 56-mile race from Tusayan to Williams is making a comeback.

In the fall of 1991, 300 racers pushed their limits to beat a steam powered train engine. The cyclists beat the train, with the winner finishing ahead of the train by a 15-minute lead.

For the last several years Williams Justice Court Judge Robert Krombeen has worked diligently with Grand Canyon Racing and Xanterra, a concessionaire at Grand Canyon National Park, to bring the race back.

"I'm affiliated with Grand Canyon Racing and we've been partnering with Xanterra and the Grand Canyon Railroad to bring back the Man against Machine race," Krombeen said.

Krombeen's dream of bringing the race back to northern Arizona started after a friend told him about the event.

"A good friend of mine was going to Northern Arizona University (NAU) at the time (in 1991) and he raced in that event," Krombeen said. "He told me about it in Williams many years ago and it has been in the back of my mind to bring the race back."

The original race was staged from both Tusayan and the Grand Canyon. The steam engine left from the train depot at the park while around 300 bicyclist raced down Highway 64 from Tusayan.

Last year Krombeen was given a VHS tape containing original footage from the 1991 race.

"I received a call saying 'We found something I think you might be interested in,'" he said.

The old VHS tape was in a storage closet. After reviewing it, race organizers decided to use parts of it in the race's first promotional material, a 45 second video clip that can be found on YouTube.

Over the next two years Krombeen talked to Xanterra staff about partnering with the concessionaire for the event.

"We met with Xanterra and they've been very enthusiastic about bringing (the race) back," Krombeen said.

Xanterra agreed to help finance and promote the event and to provide the steam engine.

"We were trying to do it last September but we just weren't able to bring it together soon enough. Some of the participants had other things they needed to focus on." said Stephen Pelligrini public relations manager at Xanterra. "We're real excited that it's going to happen this year and is coming to fruition."

After gaining Xanterra's partnership, Grand Canyon Racing applied to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to obtain permits to use Highway 64 as the race route.

In accordance with ADOT regulations race organizers obtained letters of support from local communities in the area.

At the Dec. 3 Tusayan Town Council meeting Krombeen asked for the town of Tusayan's support for the event.

Tusayan town council members agreed and sent a letter to ADOT, which stated: "Tusayan's economy is tourism based and anything we can do to encourage visitors to our area, without diminishing the travel of those who are constantly coming to visit the Grand Canyon, is accepted positively, with this race potentially drawing many to our area."

Krombeen agreed the race will have a large economic impact for Tusayan, specifically by attracting a large number of visitors for the race. Krombeen said race organizers would like to partner with local businesses during the weekend of the event to offer discounts for visitors and participants.

"One of the ideas we have is to include weekend discount packages to the participants," Krombeen said. "Most of these people are family people. They like quality lodging and quality food and beverage. We want to try to get them to come to a weekend event where we can offer, for example, discounted rates at the IMAX and for them to be able to come to the Canyon and to Tusayan for an extended stay."

Coordinators anticipate the race will draw a large crowd and said, depending on this year's turnout, they would like to make it an annual event.

"We are enthusiastic about participating this year, it's going to be a great weekend experience for families, especially in the fall when the weather's good," Pelligrini said.

Possibilities for the future of the race and how large it could become depend on the amount of publicity and promotion it receives.

"We are trying to promote this as a bigger picture," Krombeen said. "It will be a significant economic impact for Tusayan and Williams but one of the things we want to do is to be good partners with Tusayan and Williams."

Having the support of Tusayan and Williams has already helped race promotions and helped to get the process underway.

"Getting the local law enforcement and communities behind us is part of the process for the ADOT permit," Krombeen said. "We are in the permitting process now and the development process for marketing and promoting it."

With the help of Xanterra's public relations and marketing resources out of New York, coordinators have started with promotional ideas.

While the race may have international possibilities, Krombeen said Grand Canyon Racing and Xanterra plan to start with local and national publicity first.

"We are looking at it mostly regionally, especially for this first year," Krombeen said. "With promotion going beyond that with the internet and Xanterra's participation, we are not limiting that, but our real focus is going to be the region and national level."

Additionally, Grand Canyon Racing has committed to providing transportation for participants who need to get bicycles and gear to Tusayan on the day of the event and will also be coordinating public safety efforts.

Similar to the 1991 event, racers will start in Tusayan, most likely at the Grand Hotel, while the steam engine will start from the train depot at the Grand Canyon.

The train will follow the track from the Canyon to the Williams Depot, a distance of around 65 miles.

Bicyclists will race on Highway 64, a distance of around 56 miles.

In addition to the steam engine on the track the day of the race, the regularly scheduled train will run as well.

A big part of Xanterra's promotional appeal will be to offer a selected number of tickets to individuals wanting to ride in train cars attached to the steam engine during the race.

"It's going to be a special train, apart from the round trip-daily train. So it will be an exclusive ticket to ride that train," Pelligrini said.

The railroad is still working out the details for tickets on the steam engine and how much the tickets will cost.

"There's a lot of people who watch and wait for steam runs to the Canyon," Krombeen said. "(They wait) to book those passes. So (Xanterra's) going to promote the train itself to those people."

The race will take place Sept. 26.

Race coordinators hope to have the website ready with early registration available within the next few months.

Proceeds from the race will go toward local charities.

"It will be a significant economic impact for Tusayan and Williams but the actual monies that are generated are going to be targeting local non-profits," Krombeen said.

Mayor of Tusayan, Greg Bryan welcomed the idea of the race, saying it was a good idea.

"To me it sounds like a great idea," Bryan said. "Just another reason to have people visit us up here."

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