By Kyle LoJacono
The hundreds of children who race at Tampa BMX Raceway in Lake Park now have a newly refurnished track to race on.
“We are recapping the track with fresh clay mixed with binding chemicals to make it like concrete,” said Art Heinrichs, president of Tampa BMX. “That will make the grip better for the racers and prevent erosion during the big race coming up.”
The improvements are in preparation for a Gator Nationals race April 9 to 11 at the park, 17302 Dale Mabry Highway. Last year there were 3,500 spectators for the race. This year there will be 1,000 riders and Heinrichs said he expects at least as many people to come and watch. Some of the riders were participants in the 2008 Summer Olympics and many will try and qualify for the 2012 games in London.
Improvements to the raceway were finished March 14 and were paid for by Tampa BMX, which is a nonprofit organization. The new clay, chemicals and equipment cost about $1,500.
“All our income comes from practice fees, race fees and sponsorships,” Heinrichs said. “We don’t get any of the fees to enter Lake Park.”
It costs $3 for a two-hour practice session at the park and either $2 or $4 for a competition depending on the type of race. The $2 fee to enter the park goes to the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department. Heinrichs said the organization does not charge anything to watch the race.
The fee to enter the park started last October, but those in Tampa BMX have not seemed to mind.
“I’ve been to many races at other parks that charge $5 to get in, so the $2 here is nothing,” said M.J. Peters, Land O’ Lakes resident and BMX racer. “If there had been a $2 fee before then no one would even notice now. The reaction to the fees is only because it is something new. People just have to get used to it.”
Peters, 25, started racing in 1995 and currently races in the expert class for people 19 to 25 years old. Other large BMX racetracks in the Tampa Bay area are in St. Petersburg, Riverview and Sarasota.
“The county needed more revenue to support the park,” Heinrichs said. “I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen years ago. I think it hurt the number of racers we had at first, but now the racers are all back and Tampa BMX is as strong as ever.”
Heinrichs added that Tampa BMX would not be able to put on large races like Gator Nationals without the help of the county, which provides things like bleachers and trash cans.
BMX stands for Bicycle Moto-cross. The bikes are designed to travel on uneven terrain and the racetracks usually have obstacles to avoid as well.
Racers at Tampa BMX are generally from north Hillsborough county and Land O’ Lakes. Riders can be as young as 2 years old, but children that young need to have an adult present for them to ride.
Heinrichs said all riders must have a BMX license and insurance to race on the track, which costs $50 per year. He also said those in financial need can qualify for a waiver of the license and insurance fee. The organization also loans out certain equipment.
Heinrichs, who became the president three years ago, said he and other volunteers receive no money for their work with Tampa BMX, adding that most volunteers are riders or parents wanting to help their children.
“My son Tyler (14) rides, but I didn’t know anything about BMX riding until he started,” Heinrichs said. “My daughter Allie (16) also rides.”
Another young rider at the park is 13-year-old Randy Howard, who races in the 13-novice class and has been riding for two years.
“I just love going fast, jumping and winning,” said Howard, who lives in Lutz. “It’s just fun to get faster…My little brother (Riley) rides too and I get to teach him how to ride faster.”
Riley is 9 years old.
Peters agrees with Howard.
“I love the thrill of being on the track,” Peters said. “When you’re racing you are your own team and you’re the only one that decides if you win or lose. It is really addicting.”
Peters also stated how much better and faster the track will be now that the improvements are completed.
“I can’t wait for Gator Nationals,” Howard said. “It’s my first time in it and I hope I win.”
Mike Nowicki says
My grandson, Devin Harrison, just turned expert in December. He is 12 and from Middleburg, Florida. He has been racing since just before his 7th birthday. We will be attending the Gator National. By the way, there is another association besides the NBL in Florida. The American Bicycle Association (ABA) is mostly west of the Mississippi River but there are two ABA tracks in Florida in Oldsmar and the former NBL track in Orlando and the Oldsmar track had a Gator National last month.