Meet Butch Balzano, the man behind SRAM NRS
On Sunday’s Stage 8 of the Amgen Tour of California, SRAM’s Neutral Race Support was called into action. Superstar sprinter Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma – Quick-Step punctured at the bottom of the climb. SRAM NRS “Moto-1,” piloted by Rob Eva, quickly pulled up and jumper Bart Miller -- Zipp wheel in hand – bounded off and quickly replaced Cavendish’s rear wheel. Cavendish rejoined the race and later won the stage, his second victory at this year’s ATOC.
The flashy red SRAM NRS fleet of Volvo XC70’s and Aprilla motorcycles is a familiar sight at cycling events across the country as well as last year’s Tour of Beijing, a UCI WorldTour event. Whether it’s a charity ride or top pro race, SRAM NRS is ready to help out with mechanical expertise, a spare wheel or Specialized frames equipped with SRAM Force 22, Zipp wheels, bars, stems and seatposts. But how much do you know about the story behind SRAM NRS? We met up with Butch Balzano, its founder and director, to find out:
How long have you been doing SRAM NRS and how did you get into the Neutral Race Support business?
My wife, it’s a joke, we say it’s a hobby gone bad. It was a hobby like 25 years ago, me just doing support with our station wagon and going to races and grew and grew. More people wanted our service and wanted me to come out to events…. Now it’s our ninth year with SRAM.
How did you develop an interest in cycling in the first place?
My degree is in electronics and I have a degree from the Berkeley College of Music. I’m a piano player, and I used to tour all over the country with a band. My dad owned a bus company. He gave us this large Greyhound-sized bus. The bus was great to tour in, but the problem was if you wanted to go downtown or something the bus was just inconvenient. So I used to take a bicycle.
To make a long story short, where my wife I had an apartment there was Wednesday night criterium…. I got involved in racing. I bought a music store, had a family and couldn’t stay competitive to put the time into training, so I decided to apply my mechanical skills and the rest is history.
How many vehicles and events a year does SRAM NRS have?
On average we do a 150 events a year…. Naturally, our bread and butter is the racing but we also do a lot of fund-raising rides, MS 150. We do gran fondos and now we do triathlons and cyclocross.
What do you best about the Neutral Race Support business?
Just the camaraderie, everybody is really nice. I love the sport. That’s what keeps me in it. It’s just the flash, the glamor. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work and juggle. I’ve got a crew of 16, to keep them fed and on time, make sure they’re happy and well watered because, man, it’s been hot lately. But I love this event – it’s just so well put together, the Tour of California.
What are two or three of the qualities that go in to being a good NRS pro?
For me, personality. I take for granted that that everybody is a qualified mechanic…. If I’m looking at you then that’s already a foregone conclusion. … I like people who work well with people.… I want to make sure these guys work well together. There’s a lot of mechanics who are lone guns, they like to work alone.… That’s great for them but it doesn’t work well for me.
Back to music, we’ve heard you’ve also tour with big rock groups such as Boston.
We leave here on the 20th (of May) and on the 21st I go into rehearsals with Boston. I’m touring with them this summer…. I’m Mr. Fix It. I fix anything that breaks on the stage.
What are some of the other bands you’ve worked with?
You want me to drop names? (He says with a smile)
Sure, drop names.
Josh Groban, Aerosmith, Joe Cocker, Tina Turner.
Are there some similarities between a rock band and bike racers?
The thing with bike racers is that they’re amped out but then they calm down. Rock stars sometimes are just over the top all the time.