Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Electrifying Weekend at the Derby City Nationals

"Genuis unrefined resembles a flash of lightning, but wisdom is like the sun."*

"Where ya from Billy Bob Jim?"

"Alaska. Fairbanks."

I heard the small, familiar voice from across the pits. Cool as a cucumber, he looked like a minion relaxing in a yellow Dans Comp rain slicker. His friend and team mate Carly sat next to him, as he spun a tale for her aunts.

"I'm 12, and extremely gifted. I've graduated and will be heading to college soon."

At that, I intervened. "His name", I said, "is Wyatt! He's 10, from Florida, and in the 5th grade!"

Carly, Wyatt and William smiling through the rain.
Mildly surprised that he could spin such a tale, one auntie asked, "So, he hasn't graduated?"

The first rain delay on day 2 of the Derby City Nationals clearly brought out my youngest child's creative nature.

We all breathed a sigh of relief as the sun came out and the track was uncovered.

Our sunshine didn't last long.

As semis came to a close, the sky began flashing. Mains thundered on as the skies grew darker. Vann decided to walk with William to staging for his cruiser main.

While Wyatt and I headed to the first straight to spectate, we couldn't help but overhear talk around us. No one could believe the race was continuing in the lightning. Rain is one thing, but I don't know of a sporting event that carries on in such conditions. I was pondering this when it happened. The sky suddenly cracked and my ears buzzed. Wyatt was faster than me, and ran for the tents with me on his heels. A sit rep was issued upon our arrival. Frightened faces told us it had struck just beyond the tents in front of us, splitting an unsuspecting tree.
Photo credit: Mike Carruth

One of our older Felt riders had been warming up in the parking lot when the lightning struck. He felt the surge of electricity through his hand that rested lightly on his brake lever. I heard several accounts of buzzing ears and small jolts. As far as I know, no one was seriously injured, but it wasn't over yet.

As the skies opened up, officials rushed to cover the track. Several riders, including William, were trapped under the staging tent, as the rain and lightning continued. Under the pits, it was standing room only as we huddled together in ankle deep muddy water.

A brief video of our situation, compliments of Meredith Lidstone:

At last I saw Vann and William running towards us carrying William's cruiser. He quickly tossed it in the trailer, said it was time to make a break for it, grabbed up a petrified Wyatt, and the four of us ran.

We made it to the car, soaked to the skin, but safe. At the hotel and finally dry, we were all too tired to eat.

It was then I realized that I was livid. Our safety had been compromised. Had the race been postponed when the inevitable storm approached, when the first flashes were seen, we would have been safe away before lightning began striking within yards of us. 

I combed the USABMX rulebook for anything concerning weather. This is all I found:

Once a race has begun, meaning the first gate of the first round of motos has dropped, the track operator, due to inclement weather or other extreme circumstances, may postpone that race.

That is ridiculously vague.

Here's what the National Weather Service has to say about lightning during sporting events:

The National Weather Service recommends officials of organized sports have a lightning safety plan they follow without exception. The plan should give clear, specific safety guidelines to eliminate errors in judgment.

In general, a significant lightning threat extends outward from the base of a thunderstorm cloud about 6 to 10 miles. Therefore, people should be in a safe place when a thunderstorm is 6 to 10 miles away. Also, a plan’s guidelines should account for the time it will take for everyone to get to safety. Here are some criteria that could be used to stop activities:

  • If you see lightning. The ability to see lightning varies depending on the time of day, weather conditions, and obstructions such as trees, mountains, etc. In clear air, and especially at night, lightning can be seen from storms more than 10 miles away provided that obstructions don’t limit the view of the thunderstorm.
  • If you hear thunder. Thunder can usually be heard for a distance of about 10 miles provided that there is no background noise. Traffic, wind, and precipitation may limit the ability to hear thunder to less than 10 miles. If you hear thunder, though, it’s a safe bet that the storm is within ten miles.
And then the kicker....

No place OUTSIDE is safe in or near a thunderstorm. Stop what you are doing and get to a safe place immediately. Small outdoor buildings including dugouts, rain shelters, sheds, etc., are NOT SAFE.

To read more, visit http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/sports.htm.

For the safety of all riders, their families, volunteers, and officials, I am urging USABMX to immediately address this issue, and implement strict safety guidelines in the event of inclement weather.

There were some things I saw and heard this weekend that prompted what I have to say next.
THANK YOU, Carlos Perez for being a team manager and leader who cares more for his riders than winning a team sheet. While we are grateful for the support of our sponsors, it's the people on our team and leading our team that mean the most.

See you all INDOORS at Disney!


*- Franz Grillparzer (Austrian poet)


  1. You've been featured on Next Level BMX!


  2. Wow!! I can't believe this!! 2 of my daughters are involved in BMX racing and I couldn't imagine them being out there under that metal roof and the metal poles surrounding it during a lightning storm. A little rain is one thing but come on!! We want our children to have fun and BE SAFE!!! Thanks for sharing. I'm new to the blog thing and trying to find some blogs that are interesting to me. We are a bike riding family, love the outdoors. We have 3 girls including twins. Any recommendations? I'm having trouble finding my way around this sight easily right now. I have a blog if you would like to check it out. Just my crazy daily life blog. reallifeaslauren@blogspot.com Good to find another bmx momma out there!!