Friday, December 15, 2017
Events

Oldsmar BMX track hosts Gator Nationals this weekend

OLDSMAR

The Oldsmar BMX Supercross Track is prepped and ready for its closeup as it plays host to the 16th annual USA BMX Gator Nationals Supercross Series.

Friday through Sunday, spectators are invited to watch as off-road bicycle speed demons navigate a series of rolling dirt hills, sometimes at immense speeds.

An expected 1,000 national and international racers from 24 countries and 38 states will attempt to conquer the track, some landing a spot on their nation's team for August's Summer Olympics in Brazil.

"Some of the elite racers will be going 30 to 40 miles per hour when they hit that first jump," said Rick Hayes, one of the volunteer staff members that help run the Oldsmar facility.

Early birds from countries like Japan, Russia, Latvia and Canada were recently seen catching huge air on the slopes during practice runs.

The event is sponsored by the Florida Sports Foundation and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater Sports Commission. It's part of the "Ready. Set. Rio!" campaign, which showcases Pinellas County as an Olympic training site for volleyball, BMX racing and sailing.

It's also a qualifier for 2016 World Championships in Colombia in May as well as part of the Grand Nationals series.

Bailey Brannen, 14, of Dunedin will be competing in the latter. She aspires to make the Olympic team one day, as well as win a BMX college scholarship.

The straight-A student has traveled all over the country trying to win events in pursuit of her goal and said she's hoping to pick up some pointers from elite athletes this weekend.

"I'm going to be taking everything in when I can so I will be better prepared when I get to that level," she said.

The last time the track hosted the Gator Nationals was in October, following a down-to-the-wire $2 million renovation that won much praise from USA BMX officials and elite racers.

Volunteer track manager John Sawyer said the world-class facility has much to offer.

"We have 26- and 16-foot hills to meet Olympic standards. It's a great layout. The walls are made of masonry block while most others are made of scaffolding and wood. Plus, the weather here offers year-round racing," he said.

The serpentine dirt course filled with rolling hills and banked corners is well-groomed and coated with a waterproof sealer.

Participants at the Oldsmar facility range from tiny tots who learn skills on a "strider course" to those of retirement age. Though males dominate, more and more girls are joining their ranks.

"This sport keeps you healthy and builds confidence and self-discipline," Bailey said. "The people I've met through BMX are like my second family."

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