Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Racers young, old soar on two wheels at Oldsmar BMX


The sight from the starting tower is enough to take one's breath away. Kids as young as 4 stand on their bike pedals and thrust forward against a metal gate waiting for the signal.

Their faces are hidden under helmets, their small bodies decked out in colorful bike outfits. The signal sounds, the gate folds down and the kids are off — down a steep dirt path that soon curves upward to several clay hills and then down again. Older children might soar over both hills in one leap.

The 1,200-foot-long BMX bike racing track in Oldsmar, built in 2001 and renovated in 2009, resembles a clay roller coaster with fewer dips and inclines. BMX, the symbol for bicycle motocross, involves racing on an obstacle course of clay or dirt, patterned after off-road motorcycle racing.

"This track is at the high end of BMX tracks in terms of degree of difficulty," said John Sawyer, director of the track located just off Tampa Road in Oldsmar.

The races draw large crowds, including local fans of the sport who don't race themselves. Riders practice each Tuesday evening and race on Thursday and Saturday evenings. About 150 riders participate on a typical evening at the Oldsmar track, which the USABMX, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the races, leases from the city of Oldsmar.

The track's biggest event of the year begins tonight — a national championship that consists of a series of races slated for tonight through Sunday. The extensive list of races, which bikers from other nations also may enter, is available on the organization's website,

"We're looking at about 1,500-2,000 riders for this one," Sawyer of this weekend's event, "and about 10,000 viewers."

Prize money from USABMX begins with slightly more than $2,000 for the top, or "elite" prize, with other monetary prizes down to 16th place.

Popularity growing

The sport is growing in popularity and is now in its second year as an Olympic event.

"The Oldsmar track is one of 18 BMX tracks throughout the state of Florida," said Sawyer. "The only other one in Pinellas is in St. Petersburg."

Run by volunteers, the track's regular races are organized by age and type of bicycle. Riders are ranked by number of wins, ranging from a "novice" with fewer than eight wins to a "pro" with 25 wins or more.

"Each race lasts just under a minute," said parent volunteer Mark Henderson, a board member for the local USABMX branch. "The kids complete about 25 races in an evening."

BMX racing carries a price tag for families. The rules are strict in terms of apparel and type of bicycle, and a family can expect to pay about $100 for a biking outfit and several hundred dollars for a helmet. Some professional helmets go for $600. A used bike with regulation dimensions might cost about $200, a new one about $1,000.

All of the purchases can be recycled, Sawyer said. "Kids can bring their outgrown clothes here and put them on the fence for sale," he said. "They also can sell their bicycles."

Then there are fees. Participants pay $45 a year for membership to the parent organization, the American Bicycle Association, as well as $3 per practice session and $8 per evening for a series of races.

The risks of riding

The sport also is a risky business. Though major accidents appear to be rare, soaring over clay hills and clinging horizontally to clay walls around a bend can be dangerous.

"Bumps and bruises are common, but the kids get up and keep going," said Henderson, adding that more serious accidents, involving broken bones, might happen once in 200 races.

Some longtime riders have suffered those serious accidents and have gotten concussions as well. Josh Meyers, a 23-year-old Treasure Island native, has had more than his share.

"I've had roughly 10-12 concussions since I started biking at age 6," he said. "I also broke my ankle three times last year."

Meyers is in a league of his own among local racers. He is one of eight Americans currently vying for three spots on this year's U.S. Olympic team. Most of the time, he trains at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif. There he races at 35-45 mph, and scales a starting hill three stories high. His jumps, he said, are about 45 feet long.

A passion for this sport appears evident among participants and their parents. Meyers understands that feeling in spite of the many injuries he has sustained.

"There is no sense in giving something up if you have a passion for it," he said. "If you love something that much, you want to keep doing it forever."

. If you go

Oldsmar BMX Track

The track is at 3120 Tampa Road in Oldsmar. Practice sessions are on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. Races are from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays The championship races will be at different times this weekend, starting tonight. For more information, call (727) 786-7433 or go online to

Racers young, old soar on two wheels at Oldsmar BMX 02/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 9, 2012 7:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the third hole during the final round at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas. Woods has been arrested on a drunken driving charge in Palm Beach County , various media outlets are reporting. [AP photo]
  2. Tiger Woods arrested on DUI charge in Florida

    Public Safety

    Tiger Woods was arrested on a DUI charge Monday in Jupiter, according to the Palm Beach County sheriff's office.

    Tiger Woods has been arrested on a DUI charge in Florida.
  3. Boy, 9, hospitalized after shooting in St. Petersburg


    ST. PETERSBURG — A 9-year-old boy was injured Monday morning in a shooting in the 2300 block of 17th Ave S, police said.

    A juvenile was injured in a shooting Monday morning in the 2300 block of 17th Ave S in St. Petersburg. (Zachary Sampson, Tampa Bay Times)
  4. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  5. How Hollywood is giving its biggest stars digital facelifts


    LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp is 53 years old but he doesn't look a day over 26 in the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie — at least for a few moments. There was no plastic surgeon involved, heavy makeup or archival footage used to take the actor back to his boyish "Cry Baby" face, however. It's all …

    This combination of photos released by Disney, shows the character Jack Sparrow at two stages of his life in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales."  Johnny Depp, who portrays the character, is the latest mega-star to get the drastic de-aging treatment on screen
[Disney via Associated Press]