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BMXers burn through berms

January 14, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS, Sports Editor

SEELEY — With a "whoosh" from the air-controlled starting gate, six riders sprint from the starting gate and down the hill to the first obstacle, a series of small ridges.

Fans in the stands on the north side of the track cheer, as do those surrounding the east and south sides. To the west, another group of riders is entering the starting chute.

It is just another typical Saturday night at the Imperial Valley bicycle motocross track off Interstate 8 about eight miles west of El Centro.

"You can catch her," a dad yelled to his daughter. "Just kick your legs a little harder."

Even before the first group of riders has completed the circuit on the nearly quarter-mile dirt track, the next heat is beginning.

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"We run two races on the track at the same time," explained Jeff Brisighella, an Imperial Valley BMX board member announcing the races. "We rock'n'roll them through."

It makes for some fast-paced excitement and entertainment.

"It's truly a family affair," said Ray Culp, who helped form the local BMX club.

Kids as young as 4 and 5 can be seen racing here, as well as guys in their 50s and 60s. In the stands are brothers, sisters, moms, dads, friends, even grandparents.

"Guess what I have, grandma?" a tike shouted as he ran back to the bleachers with a trophy tucked behind his back.

It's hard to pick which group is the most fun to watch.

"We have a whole new crop of 4- and 5-year-olds," Brisighella said. "They ride in a ball. They are cute as hell."

The teens are flat-out fast.

Brisighella noted there is a 7- year-old who consistently clocks 47 seconds to make it around the entire twisting 1,225-foot course, while most teens can negotiate the course in 30-35 seconds.

The older generation is simply amazing as they negotiate obstacles known in BMX circles as a tabletop, step-up, triple step-up, moguls and deep berms in corners, sometimes as deep as 12 to 15 feet.

"The 4-year-olds race about as fast as the 60-year-olds," joked Shelly Smail as she sits at the finish line marking down where each rider placed.

The El Centro venue attracts people from all over the area. Most nights more than 100 riders make the trek to the Imperial Valley BMX track. And in turn, people from El Centro travel to other tracks.

"You can race every day of the week," said Palm Springs resident Wes Wallbrecht, at the local BMX track to watch his daughter Shelby, 5, and son Jed, 13, compete.

Wallbrecht said his family, including another daughter, Chelsea, 12, usually race in Yucca Valley on Monday nights, Palm Springs on Tuesdays, either Lake Perris or Ontario on Wednesdays, at Temecula or Yucca Valley on Thursdays, Lake Perris on Friday nights, Saturday morning in Palm Springs and Saturday night at El Centro or Ontario, and Sunday at a couple tracks in San Diego.

It's amazing how much stamina the riders and their families show as they travel from site to site, basically 12 months a year.

There are some riders who belong to the 20,000 Club, Wallbrecht said, meaning they earned 20,000 points during the course of a year.

When you consider a pro rider might only earn 105 to 108 points for one night of racing, it's easy to see how much they travel, Wallbrecht added.

The sport caters to the serious rider as well as the casual one. The more dedicated riders will spend upward of $3,000 for a bike and all of the equipment.

Then there are those who like to compete for the fun of it.

"We have riders out here on store-bought bikes," Culp said.

Calipatria's Derek Nay noted his first bike cost just $25. Now he rides a special Redline BMX bike that costs several hundred dollars.

All one needs to race is a bicycle, a helmet, long pants and long-sleeved shirt or elbow pads, as well as a pad set on the bike, Culp said.

The more serious riders invest in leathers as well as other protective gear.

Nay, 13, said he enjoys racing BMX because it gives him an adrenaline rush.

El Centro's Alex Cardenas was at the track Saturday to watch his son Jason, 6, race.

When asked what he likes best about BMX, Jason quickly responded "jumping, winning."

"This is probably one of the nicest facilities in the Southwest," Alex Cardenas said, referring to the upkeep and staff. "They do a great job here."

Six-year-old Kody Hazlett of Yuma said racing BMX is fun, even though he took a spill at a race in Phoenix last year.

"He split his helmet," dad Kenny Hazlett said. "He spent the night in ICU."

But that didn't stop Kody from racing.

Besides bringing the family closer, BMX offers another benefit.

"We meet a lot of fun people," said Tammy Hazlett.

While there are riders of all ages competing in BMX, Brisighella said the majority are age 14 and younger.

"When they hit 15 and 16, they discover cars and girls," he said.

Most of the riders are boys, but the Imperial Valley BMX club does have about a dozen girls who ride.

Motos consist of a maximum of eight riders, categorized on age as well as ability, either novice, intermediate or expert.

There are three heats a rider can compete in to place high enough to transfer to the main event. For those who do not transfer, there is a trophy dash.

"Everyone gets a trophy," Culp said, although some veteran riders prefer to receive "stamps" good toward bike parts instead of trophies, having won so many trophies in their careers.

The Imperial Valley BMX club is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. Money collected goes back into the track and awards.

Costs are kept down to encourage more riders. Culp said the group charges just $6 to race, while most tracks charge between $9 and $12.

There also is a practice night Thursdays; cost is $1.

Action Saturday begins at 5 p.m. with sign-ups. Racing is usually completed by 8 p.m.

For more information, call Culp at 355-8411.

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