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Our family drives by the Mudtown BMX track in Lowell, Arkansas often. We play at the neighboring playground at Ward Nail Park, walk on the trail alongside the track and dip our toes in the pond a few yards away.
We have stopped to watch bike riders taking those hills.
My son and I recently took the opportunity to experience the BMX (bicycle motocross) track up close. He loaded his bike and grabbed his helmet and we took off for an evening ride on the track, and a conversation with some Arkansas bike racers about this cycle sport.
While my boy tested his skills on the hills, I spoke with Angie Gautney, track operator for Mudtown BMX. Like others who work to make sure operations run smoothly, she gives her time to the sport as a volunteer.
She checked the track conditions while her son also practiced on his bike in preparation for an upcoming race. Ms. Gautney and I talked about the culture of support and participation for BMX in Arkansas, as well as the work it takes to get a track ready for a race. Rocks are removed, bumps smoothed over, holes are filled: participants and family members often come together to do these jobs and keep the track safe for riders.
The track in Lowell, on property next to a city park, does not receive city funds for maintenance. It is an open track, however—anyone can come and take a ride, whether they are part of BMX racing or not—making it an asset to the surrounding community.
Mickey Lampson, whose son participates in BMX racing, also spoke with me about the sport and what it means to his family. Mr. Lampson and his son travel to other states, participating in two national BMX competitions each year. He likes the travel and the quality time it allows him with his son. For the most part he says practice and competitions are for fun and fitness, with few incidents of angry, highly competitive parents or bad sportsmanship.
Serious injuries are also rare. BMX racing is about speed—getting across the finish line first—not about knocking out opponents or being rough, a common misconception about the sport. Riders are required to wear helmets, but most also wear some protective gear in case of falls. Hills and high-banked curves are part of the challenge and fun for all the racers.
Mr. Lampson appreciates that one of the main tenets of BMX is that children “never sit on a bench,” making it a decidedly different athletic experience than sports like football or softball. Another positive for families who are interested in participating is the flexibility the sport allows. Riders are not obligated to be at every practice or race. They can practice when their local track is open (which in Lowell, is every day except during events), and sign up on the same day in the hours leading up to a race. He said Arkansas BMX tends to be a little more relaxed in the sport than in other states.
Carol Rogers and her husband Gary are the track operators for Bonzai BMX in Little Rock. She also emphasizes how flexible BMX participation is and says the sport is unique because of that. “You come out to participate when you want. There is no obligation to a team.”
She loves seeing children progress in their skills: “Watching them set a goal for themselves and achieving it. It is good exercise for the whole family and a very family-friendly atmosphere.”
Riders at BMX in Arkansas range in age from 2-70. Young children ride Striders (balance bikes with no pedals) as part of their participation and racing even before they can pedal a regular bicycle. Competition among senior participants is reportedly quite lively.
Ms. Rogers says the best way for new riders to see if they like the sport is to simply come out and try it.
My son certainly enjoyed his evening of doing just that. He is ready to go back, so we’re adding that to our list of things to do before school starts back up. BMX has gained at least one eager young fan this year.
For information on participation and membership:
Mudtown BMX, Lowell
Bonzai BMX, North Little Rock
Cabot BMX, Cabot
Author’s note: Mudtown BMX recently hosted the 2015 Arkansas State Qualifier, and has seen its share of trouble this year. Motorbike riders riding on the wet hills after rains have vandalized the track, requiring volunteers to come and smooth over the damage. Dirt is periodically needed to keep the track in good condition. Opportunities for sponsorships to help with track upkeep are available at the Mudtown BMX site or by contacting Angie Gautney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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