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Oldsmar BMX Supercross track: It's a race to the finish

OLDSMAR

It's down to the wire for the city. The public grand opening of the renovated BMX Supercross track, one of only a handful of Olympic-level tracks in the country, will be in less than a week, and city workers as well as community volunteers are rushing to complete the finishing touches.

"We'll get it done," said Lynn Rives, Oldsmar's leisure services director. "We are devoting a lot of city staff to this."

The grand opening will be followed by the Gator Nationals, Oct. 16-18, which includes the fourth and final race of the USA BMX North American Supercross Series. The event will be used by some racers as an Olympic qualifier for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

The annual event is expected to bring more than 6,000 visitors from about 16 countries to the track, located inside Canal Park.

The new two-tier track has replaced a 13-year-old track. At a cost of $2 million, which includes money from a Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grant, the new facility includes an elite course with a 26-foot start hill for the most experienced riders and an amateur course with a 16-foot hill, as well as an area nicknamed "the strider course" for youngsters just learning how to maneuver their bikes. At 4 acres, it is twice the size of the old one.

According to Craig "Gork" Barrette, chief communications officer for USA BMX, based in Arizona, the new facility's design boosts Oldsmar's track over other supercross tracks in the country.

"Having the dual hills brings the track up to a world-class level, and it means it makes it possible that Oldsmar could host a world championship one day," Barrette said. "I know the people in Oldsmar have been working their butts off on getting it done on time (for the Gator Nationals)."

Indeed, for weeks, Rives and his staff have been spending their waking hours at the track. On Oct. 2, when journalists from the Tampa Bay Times visited the track, Rives pointed to a work trailer on the site. "See that? I'm here so much, we call that my condo."

Workers, who were keeping an eye on distant clouds, had tarps ready to protect the course if needed. They prepared to lay sod along the edges of the course. They also were planning to add more fencing and rails.

"But some won't be turned into permanent rails until after the Gator Nationals," Rives said. "That would be just a difference of cosmetics, but everything, the temporary fencing, everything, is cemented in the concrete."

The city had aimed to have the project completed by summer's end, but at the end of August, the opening date was postponed to October. City staff admits that there have been obstacles to completing the course. One concerns a lawsuit between the city and subcontractors for Tampa Bay Construction and Engineering, the firm hired to build the project. The other has been the record rainfall in the area.

Though Rives did not want to discuss the lawsuit, he voiced his frustration over the weather.

"The weather really has made it not go along as quick. We started building the clay portion and then the rain came and because the clay mixed with dirt in the rain, we had to do the clay over again," he said.

For the last several weeks, Mayor Doug Bevis, a former engineer, has checked on the track frequently.

"As an engineer, I just like to see how it is going," he said. "But I've been wanting to make sure I was aware of the progress, too.''

Bevis stressed that despite any weather or construction challenges, he expects the track to be ready for the grand opening.

"We have the deadline that can't move," he said. "You know, we were talking about this, about the construction issues, and we realized, hey, houses get built all the time, but BMX tracks, they don't."

Along with a non-moveable deadline comes another important fact.

According to usabmx.com, most of the Oldsmar area hotels are sold out.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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