BMX, short for Bicycle Moto Cross, is a bike racing event were racers navigate a mostly dirt racecourse that is chock full of jumps, hairpin turns, and demands quick acceleration, nerves of steel, and cat like reflexes. The races are sprints and not marathons. Execution and experience take precedence over size and power. Weekly Heflinger Park, better known for its dog park and cricket grounds, comes alive with racers of all ages pushing their small bikes around the track at breakneck speeds. The first thing that people notice when watching BMX for the first time is that it is not just for kids anymore. It is common to have the races for older bikers just as full as the races for younger BMX riders. This could be because of the growth of BMX in the 70’s and 80’s has led to adult competitors who never really walked away from the sport. However, some of the older riders are actually new to the sport, only picking up the urge to race after brining their own sons and daughters to participate.
BMX is a rarity in the world of organized competitive sports in the fact that there is a sanctioned effort to bring people into the sport free of charge. A prospective racer can show up at a track and enter their first race for free. In most cases the rider can even borrow a bike and the requisite safety gear so they can take their first ride on the track without even having to put down a single dollar. The only things a person really is required to provide for themselves are long pants (jeans will suffice) and a long sleeved shirt. The race organizers will help with the rest.
In addition to the practically “zero cost of entry”, BMX differs in relation to other sports due to its culture of togetherness. For example, Omaha’s track is a community effort lead by a group of many. The track manager is Todd Kay, but the decisions are made by all. Todd’s main job is to apply the resources and manpower required to make Omaha’s track the best facility that it can be. Over the last few months upgrades have been made to the track to increase its longevity, safety, and appeal to racers. Two corners of the track have been surfaced with asphalt which makes the track less susceptible to erosion and more predictable for the riders. These two things increase the safety of the track which makes it more appealing for parents, and makes it faster which appeals to the riders.
Interestingly the asphalt in the corners is actually required to be laid by hand due to the steep banking of each corner. Up to 55 tons of asphalt can be utilized to craft banks up to three inches thick. These projects are accomplished through the hard labor of dozens of parents and riders who show up on work days, as well as the financial support of sponsors, racers, and volunteers. The BMX community has throughout its history been forced to band together to accomplish its goals as an “outsider sport”. It was not until BMX made its debut as an Olympic sport in 2008 that it started to creep back into the main stream American sports culture.
Perhaps due to its outsider status, BMX has been able to maintain itself as a sport that is a ‘safe space” for its athletes. At a local race I was able to speak with a young rider, Deegan Driver, and his father about their experiences as BMX riders. Young Deegan got into BMX because his dad was a former racer himself until his recent retirement from competition. Deegan mentioned how he was able to get to spend time with his dad through BMX even though his dad is very busy. He relayed to me the pride he had when he was able to qualify for the “main” (an event similar to a final) in his first event. Deegan spoke to me about the friends he made though BMX, but how he also had to explain what he did as a sport to his school mates who are more familiar with typical team sports like football and basketball.
The interesting thing about BMX is that it is an individual sport with a small team aspect. There are national teams and local teams that riders can choose to affiliate with. In the end though it is all about the individual rider and the effort they wish to put forth. More importantly than the team is the community. BMX has always been on the fringe of athletics. Due to this it has been driven by folks like Track Manager Todd, Deegan, his father, and others who feel an obligation to keep the sport thriving. There is no hazing or bullying in BMX. There is a surprising amount of racial and gender diversity too. What allows BMX to thrive is also what makes it appealing in a world where parents fight at little league games, and winning has become more important than the lessons sport actually is supposed to teach.
As a non-profit, Omaha BMX is working to build the sport of BMX in Nebraska. Omaha BMX has held prestigious events such as the Cornhusker State Games, BMX Regional Qualifiers, and State Championships. This weekend Omaha will be home to the Nebraska State BMX Championships. This race will bring the best riders from Nebraska to the metro to determine the top riders the Cornhusker State has to offer. Events start at the BMX track on Friday and go through Sunday. Each day will have many races, but Sunday will serve as the high point as there will be a swap meet, awards ceremony, concessions, and a variety of custom and vintage bicycles to admire.
James Bilodeau is photograher/journalist from Omaha. He specializes in photographing and writing about lesser known events, activities, and places that make Omaha a diverse and wonderful place to live. James lives with his wife and two sons in western Omaha. For more information, visit facebook.com/jvbilodeauphotography