Monday, November 14, 2011

Florida State Qualifiers in Jacksonville: Great track, great friends, great racing! (bad SSA)

The Florida state series is somewhat of a novelty to us. We've never completed a season, often unwilling to travel far south to Miami, West Palm, or wherever to attend the championship. The boys do love the competition though, so we try to hit qualifiers when the timing is right. Some might argue with me, but I feel that Florida has the most competitive state series in the country, with qualifiers typically having the feel of a small national. All that said, I'm really not a huge fan of the money-grubbing organization known as the SSA (Sunshine State Association). While I'm certainly not wanting to see it fail, I would like to see a huge shake-up. From what I've heard, there's just not enough love for the local tracks. From what I saw this weekend, there's not a lot of respect for the riders shelling out the race fees that pay their bills either.

On a bright note, the track couldn't have been better. According to Vikki Wright, "...Donell did one hell of job." He most certainly did, Mrs. Wright! Thank you Mr. Wright for a job well done! I can't go without thanking Michelle Messing either, who clearly has a grasp on marketing and event planning. Great job! Oh, and Bill, I hope you figured out how to cook that frozen chicken. Many thanks to all of the volunteers. You helped make up for what the SSA was lacking.

The SSA seemed to struggle Saturday, with what seemed to be some odd attempt at combining their system with the ABA moto system. Riders were called to staging for mains before anyone knew their moto numbers or gates-- unless you were one of the mathematical geniuses who happened to know the correct method for determining gate placement. The riders in the first 20 motos (2 of whom were MY boys), sat in staging for 90 minutes, as there was no announcement made as to what all the trouble was. This was disrespectful and unacceptable SSA!

Once things got rolling, both William and Wyatt had great kids to ride against, making the spectating fun, and the podium finishes worthy. Not that my kids need anymore trophies, but at $40 an entry, one would think the SSA could cough up a little more than some medals that a little birdie told me only cost a buck and a half. Thanks for nothing.


William battled it out with Joey Leto in 10x and 10c, finally grabbing one win in cruiser on Sunday. He gave it his all in 10x, and took the silver, only to have a DQ called on him a few moments later. Of course I didn't waste any time investigating this matter, with my curious son trailing behind me. Apparently, William was called out by the corner marshall in the first turn for crossing the white line. Ok, I've seen that line crossed a gazillion times with no consequence, which ticked me off. As this was just a SQ that we care nothing about, I took a deep breath, took William's silver from around my neck, and handed it to the officials and told them to stick it where ... ahem.... thanked them politely for their information. William's reaction? "I don't care. It's not like I won."

SSA, if I could have DQ'd YOU, I would have.

I absolutely can not end this on a sour note. The weather was beautiful, and our friends were there in abundance. The boys raced well, and I puffed up like a peacock overhearing parents who don't know me from Eve talking about the fast kid with the long blonde hair in 8 int.

We can't pass up the ride time at some of our favorite tracks with some or our favorite friends. Expect to see us at the qualifiers in Sarasota and High Springs. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing some positive changes the newly elected board will bring to the SSA.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ride With Me

My kind-hearted neighbor told me recently, "I don't do Jesus." This tickled me to no end, as I thought to myself, I really don't 'do Jesus' either. Through all of my years of Sunday school and MYF, I never believed that a compassionate person, no matter who or what they worshipped, would be doomed for eternity to the fiery pits of hell. Why would I worship someone who would do THAT? And yet, my head is often filled with thoughtful prayer as I stand at the fence and watch my sons climb the starting hill to take their places in the gate.

Emerald Angel, Mignon Wolfe 1996

So, if I don't really "do Jesus", who am I talking to?

My mom was an artist, painting angels and flowers and all things beautiful.

William's Firetruck, Mignon Wolfe 2004
On the back it says, "To William on your 3rd birthday. I will love you always, Mimi"

She died suddenly one November when William was only three. Flooded by grief, one thought raged in my mind. She'll never know her grandsons. 

William and my Mom, August 2003

I often wonder what she would think of them. I think she'd marvel over William's tenacious drive for perfection in all things, and laugh over my complaints about the way he nit-picks his brother. "He's just like your sister at that age",  I imagine her saying with a knowing smile. How would she feel knowing her seat at our piano is now occupied by Wyatt, who, with his blonde locks and vibrant personality, is her spitting image?

My Mom and Wyatt,  Mardi Gras 2004
I'd like to think she'd burst with pride. To her, they would be the most wonderful boys between here and the moon.

I wish she could stand by me at that fence and share the excitement and anticipation. Instead I send my silent plea. Keep them safe. Ride with them.

Seven years later I allow myself to dream that she is where she is meant to be.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

BMX Friends

Kyle Wyatt and Wyatt Parker
Their first race was against each other when they were 4!
Today I asked William who his best BMX friends are. "How many do you want me to name? There's Grant, Ricky, Gabe, Zach, Dylan, Joey, Carson, Cole, Brady...." You get the idea. When I asked Wyatt, his answer was simple... "Kyle".

What's interesting about this is that most of their best BMX buds go at it with them tooth and nail on the track, with the most long-standing friendship/battle belonging to William and Grant Green.
William (left) and Grant Green- 5 rookies: Winter 2007
Last weekend we raced the Alabama state championship at Circle City BMX in Dothan. If we had to claim a home track, this would be it. Being from Tallahassee, we feel homeless in the BMX world, and Dothan continues to take us in like a cute lost puppy. Naturally I coerced the Greens into joining us to give William some good competition, and selfishly, me some time to hang out with Grant's mom, and my friend, Mandi.

William and Grant are the best race of the day in 10x and 10c. William powers out of the gate, but Grant's strength and endurance makes it a drag race on the last straight every time. Mandi jokes when William takes the win. "Dang! I told Grant to take him out!" "I expected him to run into William's back tire at any moment." I replied. Truth is, these boys would never do that. There's a long standing history of mutual friendship and respect that allows them to ride elbow to elbow, crank to crank.
William - gate 6, Grant- gate 7: 6 novice, Fall Classic 2007
Oak Mountain regional 2008: 7 novice

William (left) and Grant: AL state championship 2008?
Grant and William: SE Regional Championship 2011
William (center), Grant and "Little Joe" Herring (left)
AL State Championship Sept. 2011 (photo: Susanne Dube)
Wyatt got to race an old friend too. Kyle was there, giving it his all, despite the fact that he rarely rides anymore. As soon as those two cross the finish line, they're off to the woods or jumping in a ditch, looking for any kind of trouble to get into.
William, Wyatt, and the Dothan boys: Kyle, Matthew and Joe (2008)

Wyatt and Kyle (St. Pete 2009?)

Wyatt (#517) and Kyle (#31) Dothan, Sept. 2011
photo: Susanne Dube

Half of the year, while William waits for his birthday to roll around, he goes elbow to elbow with his other BMX buds, Dylan Shipley and Zach VonBergen. On the track, there's no holding back, as these guys push each other to go harder, while always maintaining that level of respect that one has for a true friend.
Dylan (848) and William- 2009?

William, Wyatt and Dylan in the Felt pits: Grands 2011

William and Zach always have a great race
photo: Jon Larson

New teams bring new friends as well, and William being welcomed onto Factory Felt made way for new friendships-- not just for him, but for our whole family!
William and team mate Ricky Castro

It's always a fun time in the Felt pits.
William, Wyatt, Gabe Hatem and Coleman Habib
I sometimes worry about Wyatt being the odd man out, or worse- the pesky little brother. He seemed to spend a lot of time in Louisville playing that part, especially with William's 13x team mate Anthony Catlow. As we said our goodbyes in Louisville and wished everyone safe travels, I thanked Anthony for being good natured and patient with Wyatt. "Sometimes William's friends think he's a pest", I said. To my surprise, Anthony smiled and said, "I don't. I think he's cool!"


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 NBL Grands: an Emotional Finale

"You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."
-- Johnny Cash

On the first day of practice in Louisville, I received news that has sat like lead in my heart, dampening my spirit, and weighing down the corners of my smile. Knowing that I couldn't share this with my son before his biggest race of the year, I shoved my sad secret as far back as I could where it still crept out to cloud my thoughts.

The Felt Boys and Wyatt
Wyatt went 2-2-1 in motos
Photo credit: Kevin McMeans
It was a mostly joyful time in the Felt pits. We won our battle for scaffolding, and Vann, Wyatt and I thanked William for his "awesomeness" that afforded us this opportunity. He'd better keep up the good work because I don't think I could stand watching from the ground again.

Motos passed smoothly for both of my boys, and all the Felt riders. Wyatt cleared quarters easily, but ended 5th in his 8 challenger semi. In the 8 cruiser semi, he went down with his friend and Schanewolf team mate Derek Wright, which was equally disappointing for both boys.

Despite not making making his mains, Vann and I heard from several people who raved about Wyatt's improved riding. Vann and I are very proud of him, and he should be proud of himself too!

Misty Castro and I hugged each other in shared relief after William and Ricky qualified for the 10x main, only to have our hearts sink for the Hatems, who were standing a few feet away. Semis are tough, and Gabe Hatem not making the 11x main is a testament to the fact that sometimes the top riders don't. We heaved a collective sigh after all the Felt boys cleared cruiser semis.
As this video protest shows, Grant Green (10x)
is across the line and going to the main!

As mains began I felt my stomach lurch and the lump rise in my throat. Our first Felt rider up was Marcus Christopher in 8x. This little boy is so skilled and so fast. We knew the win was his. Our pit area was hushed as Marcus crashed going all out for his win.

William and Ricky loaded the gate shortly after, leaving me no time to offer a word of comfort to the Christophers. As the gate dropped in 10x, it appeared as if we might get our wish-- Felt riders in 1 and 2. William was well positioned on the inside, with a plan to sweep up to take the inside line on the second straight. All this was in William's head as he was sent down going into the first turn. Hurt and anger filled me all at once, and it felt terrible. Misty was there again. My sweet friend hugging me and shedding tears of joy for her son's 10x victory, and tears of hurt for William and me.
William dominated his 10x motos
photo credit: Mark Mascara

Ricky Castro celebrated another national title with his win in 10 cruiser. Fortunately this was a clean race and William pulled 4th. He rode well, and Vann and I were proud, but William felt shamed and disappointed. His winner's heart has trouble accepting it, and yet he must, and move on.

Yesterday I broke the news to William that his best friend Thomas, a kind-hearted soul who came back strong from a liver transplant, jumped our bike ramps, and climbed the trees in our yard, has been diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoma. He has been pulled from school to begin 18 weeks of chemotherapy. His mom asked that William please call and write to Thomas because they won't be able to see each other for quite some time. Learning of his friend's suffering helped pull William out of his black hole of self-pity and self-doubt that he's been swimming in since mains on Sunday.

I found it odd that through all of the sadness, joy, disappointment, anger, relief, pride and resolve, my eyes remained dry. Yesterday in the car, as Don Williams and Emmylou sang "If I Needed You", the tears finally came.
William, Wyatt and Thomas


Friday, August 5, 2011

The National Bicycle League: A Grand Tradition

"A house divided against itself cannot stand... It will become all the one thing or all the other."-Abraham Lincoln, 1858

Event t-shirt: 1985 NBL Grands
Compliments of Christine Gurley
Clouded by the events of the NBL's final season, it can be easy to forget its beginnings. Founded as a non-profit organization in 1974, the National Bicycle League would expand to become the oldest sanctioning body of BMX racing. Offices were first located in Florida, and eventually moved to their final resting place in Gahanna, Ohio. The first national series, the "War of the Stars", began in 1977 with 11 races in 7 predominately eastern states.

Pleasant Valley BMX- 1980
Meredith Lidstone's first BMX race

1983 NBL Grands
1983 NBL Grand's - Nashville - 16 & Over girls
Compliments of Meredith Lidstone

Wyatt training with Bill Madden
June 2011
NBL BMX racing grew into the hearts of young riders throughout the '80s. So much that several of those riders are still out on the track today. Riders such as Bill Madden, Meredith Lidstone, Christine Gurley and Darin Houston, with rich histories on the track, continue to set positive examples for young riders. They're the ones who truly know this sport, and have the potential to be excellent coaches.

No one can argue that the NBL had a strong beginning with loyal members. In 1977, to document events and share them with the world, the NBL produced the first issue of BMX Today (originally published as Bicycles Today), the monthly magazine that covered all regional and national NBL sanctioned events.

Bicycles Today
January 1981

William was lucky enough to occupy a full page
in the final issue of BMX Today- November 2009

After a 32-year run, publication of BMX Today came to an abrupt halt. It was then that things started to smell fishy. While  information had become increasingly available on-line, as well as race reports and photos, there's just something about seeing it all in print, and being able to hold it in your hand, that was suddenly missing. Everyone suspected financial troubles and pondered the future of the sanction, but I'm not sure anyone suspected it would come to a sad end. In the meantime, racing continued, while the NBL awaited a savior.

Enter Gary Aragon.

At the 2010 Grands our savior appeared, promising to grow the sanction through a new fee structure. With large turn-outs at early season races, his plan seemed to be working. Cruiser and open classes over-flowed because kids could race as much as they wanted at no extra expense. However, by May 2011, the free-for-all was ending, and skeptics could finally say I told you so.

The sad thing is we let one man sink our ship. Or did we? When the new fee structure was set, my family took full advantage of the savings, each kid racing two bikes all season long. Had we paid for all of those races, it would have cost us a fortune-- a fortune that could have saved our sanction. Therefore, I hold myself partially responsible for the ultimate demise of the NBL.

"... I found it kinda strange that there would be two different sanctions for a sport this size but really didn't give it much mind. As the years went on I became more and more involved in teams and had a chance to really see the inner workings of what the sanctions really do and the differences in their business styles. It tickled me to see how riled up some people got defending one sanction over the other and my stance on it was 'Who cares? It's just BMX'! I never waved a flag for either side nor did I throw myself in front of a moving train in defense of one over the other. NBL was in my backyard and that was the single reason we rode in the NBL. My position was that I was the consumer and as a consumer why would I wave flags or shout from the highest mountain that the product that I buy is the best product in the world and could do no wrong. I like Pepsi but I'm not going to stand on any street corner shouting out their praises. The only result of doing something like that is you will create a monster that senses they could do no wrong, nor do they have to continue to win you over as a consumer."

 -- Carlos Perez, team manager, Factory Felt/SC Action Sports

Under the guise of USABMX, the NBL has been "bailed out" by the American Bicycle Association. It's not really a bail-out though, but a take-over. Labor Day weekend the NBL will say goodbye after 37 years. Our final Grands in Louisville, Kentucky will mark the end of long-standing NBL BMX traditions.

Where all the kids want to be...
Ricky Castro having his National #1 photo
taken after winning 8x and 8c in 2009.
Compliments of Misty Castro

"...The final NBL Grands or should I say the final USABMX/ABA Grands... I was hoping they would allow us to finish it out with all the traditions that came from 30 years of NBL racing, but just like any big corporation taking over a smaller company they decided instead to showcase this as their introduction to all the NBL families instead. USABMX/ABA will put their stamp on this Grands good or bad and make sure everyone knows who's the boss. There will be no more scaffolds dotting the front straight. Instead they decided to bring in their sponsored rigs and advertisers. For a first timer this will look very professional and neat. 

But for all the teams who gave their blood, sweat and money into the NBL season this will only come across as a shun.

-- Carlos Perez, Team Manager- Factory Felt/SC Actionsports

The Felt Skybox- 2008
"All the kids get excited when they join the team to hang up there!!
It's status!"-- Misty Castro

There will be no scaffolding for us this year. A hard-earned rite of passage that new factory riders look forward to. All of us who have been devoted to the NBL were hoping we would be allowed a last hurrah at the NBL Grands, but it seems that there won't be much semblance of the organization that was once a thriving leader in BMX racing. While there is some sadness to this, racing will continue as always, under the new flag of USABMX.

"... I think having one sanction overseeing the sport is a positive thing. It will bring in new sponsors and allow riders from all over the country to truly compete for a unified national title."- Carlos Perez

I would like to forget the NBL as it has been over this past year, and instead remember the NBL as it was in its glory days.

Goodbye NBL---


I'll be adding interesting photos as I stumble across them.

Darin Houston contributed these two photos from a long ago race in Milton, FL. This track had two gates, and switched directions each day.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

To Oak Mountain and Beyond: Wonder Friends Forever

Heather Parker and Mandi Green-- Wonder Friends
Last weekend the Southeastern BMX community came together at Oak Mountain BMX in Pelham, AL to celebrate (and mourn) the final NBL SE Regional Championship. Because of the new and unbendable (ha!) 2011 rules, many riders, including mine, were not qualified. Unlike many, we knew going in, and registered both boys for their respective open classes, in order to prepare them for the national qualifier on Sunday.

Wyatt and Brady battled it out in 8-9 open.
Racing seemed somewhat secondary as the fun commenced. Our family gathered with some of our oldest and dearest BMX friends, the Greens and the Wolfs. We welcomed my cousin Joan Beth, a Birmingham local and excellent freelance photographer*, who came to visit and photograph the boys. We even had a visit from our old high school pal Chad Johnson, who we hadn't seen in 20 years, but still shared his cold beer with us like it was yesterday.

Grant and William dominated 10-11 open. 
On Saturday, to make things more interesting, the Greens registered their boys Grant (10x) and Brady (9x) in open class with William and Wyatt. All four boys raced hard on the track, and played just as hard off. Post race, we lingered at the track for hours, sharing barbecue and swapping race stories, while the boys explored the woods. The party continued well into the night, eventually relocating to the home of the Johnson family in Pelham, where we carbo-loaded the boys with pizza.

Grant and William pushed each other hard on Sunday, sharing all motos in 10x and cruiser. It is always fun to watch these two, knowing they've been racing one another since the age of 5, each mindful of the other, but neither one giving an inch.

Best photo of the day- 8 challenger main
I bet this little guy will wear gloves from now on!
Wyatt continues to exhibit rapid development in speed and skills, as evidenced by his 2nd place cruiser finish on Sunday. He rode hard against tough competition in 8 challenger, and finished 4th.

It was hard to say goodbye to our friends after such a fun weekend, however, we were able to meet the Greens for a day at the beach just yesterday. Mandi and I talked for hours, while watching the boys skim and boogie board, counting heads each time they emerged from the rough surf. It's funny how you can know someone for years, and suddenly be surprised...

Wonder Woman by Mel Ramos
a Christmas gift from my Incredible Hulk
Eat your heart out MG.
Mandi: "You do know that I am Wonder Woman, right?"
Me- confused: "Um. No you're not. I am Wonder Woman."
Mandi- indignant: "How can this be when I AM WONDER WOMAN."
Me- snotty: "How many Wonder Woman t-shirts do YOU have? I have seven-- top THAT."
William- perfectly timed: "She's not lying Miss Mandi."

Then I proceded to blow her mind by primping myself with my limited edition Wonder Woman lip gloss neatly contained in my Wonder Woman cosmetic case. You'd have thought I revealed the golden lasso. Mandi has promised to reveal her true self at the Grands by sporting her Wonder Woman outfit. Please, dear readers, make sure you remind her of this promise.

The boys ditched the sand and water when William and Grant discovered that the X-Games were on at the bar. As the sun set, the bartender passed them a round of Shirley Temples, while they sat wide-eyed and happy, watching their heros.

After seeing them together like that, somehow I knew this was only the beginning.


*All photos in this post are courtesy of Joan Beth Smith unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Save the Cruisers!

This past weekend we ventured to Indiana so the boys could race in the NBL Hoosier Nationals in Evansville. We were all itching to go, not having raced a national since before the formation of USA BMX. I won't lie. After months of taking advantage of the NBL's fuzzy math, it was painful to pay entry fees for two boys racing two bikes for two days. It occurred to me after registration that I was not offered a discount for cruiser. I seem to recall, back in the pre-Aragon days, that cruiser, with 20" registration, was half price.

After handing all my money over to Erma, it didn't surprise me one bit to see cruisers with "for sale" signs lined up along every fence.

Wyatt prefers his cruiser to his 20"
Photo credit: Susanne Dube
It was exciting at the beginning of the season to see the flourish of new cruisers. William had been on a cruiser for a while, but we decided to get one for Wyatt too. Why not? Racing's free! At every race, cruiser motos were stacked-- nearly always having semis, and sometimes quarters.

We were mildly disappointed, but not surprised Saturday when William's 10 cruiser moto was mixed with 11-12. I don't know anyone who wants to drive 10 hours for a mixed class, but William kept his chin up and hoped for the best.

William did his best to keep up with the 11x and 12x in cruiser, resulting in a good sandwiching between the older riders in the first two motos. Not wanting to take a needless risk before his 10x main, William took it easy in the third round of cruiser.

After the dust settled on William's win in 10x, his mind turned to cruiser.  Looking thoughtful he said, "I can get second-- I know I can." When the gate dropped, he gave it everything he had, carving through the first turn in a solid second. With the 11x breathing down his neck, William stayed strong on the cranks. His bike control wasn't quite ready for his speed, and he began to slip on the last straight. It was so close at the line, we couldn't tell if he had finished second or third.

I met William at the finish, asking him where he placed. He shook his head, "I'm not exactly sure." He went on to explain how he had been given the 2nd place chip. His 11x opponent pleaded with him-- "My dad will kill me if I come in behind a 10x!" William, not wanting to be responsible for this poor kid's demise, swapped chips. When final results were posted Monday, we discovered that William did in fact finish second. I hope that poor kid is still alive.

All of this drama could have been avoided if significant discounts had been given for cruiser registration.  Kids love cruiser. It's another opportunity to get on the track. It also gives challengers like Wyatt an opportunity to race experts and see where they stand.

As plans are made for the 2012 season, I hope drastically reduced fees are implemented for cruisers, to encourage riders to fill these motos once again.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Big Daddy Knows

Big Daddy knows when to congratulate.

Big Daddy knows when to console.

Bid Daddy also knows when to give a tongue lashing.

Big Daddy knows when to let go.

Big Daddy knows when to smile.

Big Daddy knows when to be proud.

Big Daddy knows how to build a new bike,

so his son can impress the crowd.


Big Daddy knows when it's been a long day,
at a race in a place far, far away.

Big Daddy knows they can go to staging alone,
but chooses to walk them anyway.

We want Big Daddy to know we love him.

Happy Father's Day!