RIVERVIEW — It's faster than soccer, tougher than football and offers more exercise than baseball. And for parents used to watching their children wilt away in front of a video game console, bicycle motocross is a beautiful thing.
Down a country road and tucked away behind the tall grass of a former dairy farm is a 58-acre facility that will attract BMXers from all over Florida. In a year or two, it will bring in racers from all over the country. The USA Official BMX Training Facility, a BMX track for the National Bicycle League, opened to the public in December at 12705 Balm-Boyette Road.
Although the facility isn't completed, the track has already caught the attention of BMX riders. Featuring a 24-foot starting hill, wide track and high turns, it draws about 50 riders a day on the weekends.
The track is 1,080 feet in length with three wide berms (high built-up turns), whoop-de-dos (jumps very close together) and camelbacks (double jumps). It's open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays for practices and races and eventually it will be operating six days a week.
Next to the race track, there will eventually be a dirt jump, single-track pump course for mountain biking, a dual-slalom track and a freestyle area with wooden ramps.
"It will take awhile before we can be considered as an 'actual' training facility by the NBL," said Stephen Gerardi, track director. "We need time to build up a rider base that will help fund future goals for the facility."
The only BMX training facility is the Woodward Camp in Chula Vista, Calif., where this year's first Olympic BMX racing team will be training.
"When (the facility starts) to have state qualification races, venders, hotels and restaurants will also benefit from the track," said Justin Travis, NBL field adviser.
Once the facility is complete and ready for training, Gerardi said they'll bring in professionals to offer training for BMXers.
This summer, the facility will offer BMX clinics for new riders, who want to get into the sport.
"With the exception of about 10 people, all of the riders are new," said Sean Geary of Oldsmar, who has been racing for more than 13 years and puts in volunteer time at the track. "There's still so much to do. We need bleachers, trees, sod, more clay, asphalt for the turns and tarps to cover the track during rains, not to mention lights on the track."
In 2002, the idea of building a BMX track was bounced around for a few years by many people. But red tape stopped the several interested BMXers willing to spearhead the project until Gerardi came into the picture in 2005.
During the last two years, Gerardi put in a lot of his own money into the track. His passion sparked local sponsors to help out with materials, concessions, excavation and guidance. Hillsborough County offered 100 acres free for five years with the option to lease it afterward.
In November, the facility received a $10,000 grant from the "Bikes Belong Coalition," which funded its electrical power, public-address system and other necessities. .
A group of volunteers helps out on the weekends, but there's always room for more of them. Roger Frakes assists at the turns during races and practices.
"Our dad (Roger) used to race when he was a kid," said Zack Frakes, 10. "Now, we all race."
The Frakeses come out and set up camp for the day while they race.
"Once he found out there was a track closer than Tampa, it's been our thing for the whole family," said Frakes' wife, Kylynn, who teaches second grade at Lithia Springs Elementary.