Aspen Times Weekly — Dirt Devils: The new faces of BMX | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly — Dirt Devils: The new faces of BMX

by Amiee White Beazley

It's a dreary early fall night. The rain has been spitting all day, and the clouds in the sky have no indication of clearing.

I text two different dads: "Is there going to be a BMX clinic tonight?" Neither of them respond, which means the clinic is on. When I arrive with my boys, ages 5 and 8, I'm expecting only a few diehards to be there, but to my surprise there are dozens of kids pushing their bikes up the dirt hill to the staging are where the starting gate is located. The light rain earlier in the day has made the track perfectly tacky and hard, helping the kids gain speed and momentum as they bank corners and pump over the rhythm section.

Rain or shine, the local BMX scene in the Roaring Fork Valley is taking off and these kids aren't about to let it slow down.

Crown Mountain BMX is the latest sports craze in the Roaring Fork Valley, one that has been attracting throngs of kids — both young and old, girls and boys — from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. All that is needed is to participate is a bike of any kind, a helmet and the $20 entry fee. On a recent day, there were about 65 participants from the Roaring Fork Valley, including three "motos," or gates, of under 5 year olds.

"That is awesome," says Heath Johnson, "that is the next generation of riders."

Johnson is one of the people behind this grassroots effort to introduce BMX to the valley. Along with Paul Viola and John Blatz, the trio gathered in-kind and monetary donations, rustled up sponsorships, designed a logo and literally build the track from the ground up. The official opening of the track took place on Saturday, Sept. 7.

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"It's kids on bicycles," says Johnson of the sport's growing popularity. "It's a vehicle for going fast, taking risks in a safe place. They get a thrill here that they can't get anywhere else. Not on a street, or a bike path or in a park; this is the only place they can come and go crazy and it's safe and allowed. Add the element of competition and it's a pretty magical combination."

Johnson introduced his 8-year-old son, "Flying Finn" Johnson, to the sport about three years ago. They use to practice at a bandit pump track near Stubbies in Basalt. But when the town caught wind and assessed the damage the track was doing to surrounding cottonwoods, the track was abandoned. At that time Johnson approached the town to use space near Basalt High School for a BMX track. During this time he also came into contact with Chris Woods, director of Crown Mountain Park, and Woods, known as "Woodsie," was so enthusiastic about bringing BMX to Crown Mountain — where the space and infrastructure, maintenance and parking, already existed — that the idea found a permanent home.

Johnson and his wife, Tricia, now have both of their children racing. Finn's older sister, Tatum, 10, is one of the most successful riders in her age group in Colorado taking second-place in cruiser and third in class during recent state finals held in Denver.

Known for her purple-and-green racing gear with her racing nickname "Turbo Tater Tot" stitched on the pants, Tatum has an ease in her racing and positive attitude that is contagious around the track.

"It looked really fun to see the other kids racing," she says. "My dad told me stories about racing when he was a kid and I've seen videos of him racing."

Tatum enjoys soccer and skiing but says BMX is her favorite sport; it was her "dream" to have a BMX track close to her home in Basalt. Now instead of having to drive to Eagle or Grand Junction to practice, she can come to the track daily and work on the finer points of racing.

"It's really nice, I can practice every day," she says. "That's why I got really fast, really fast. Once we got the track I got a lot better. The week before states I was here every day practicing."

On the day of the clinic, 11 kids arrive from Carbondale, followed by several from Aspen and even more from the midvalley around Basalt, Missouri Heights and El Jebel.

"It's been pretty great so far," says Tatum. "It's a really successful track. Not once when I've come to ride it has there been no one else here. A lot of kids have gotten into BMX because of this track. Hardly anyone knew about BMX before. Now tons of kids want to try it out, including a lot of kids at my school (Aspen Community School.)"

Lisa Hatem, mother of Jeune Hollar, 7, and Hudson Hollar, 5, tells a similar story. Her son Husdon recently brought his racing bike for "Showing Day" at Wildwood Preschool. He proudly told his class about his sport, and kids crowded around to see his bike hear his stories of race day.

"He comes in last at every race," Hatem says with a smile, "but he doesn't care. He does it because he loves it and he wants his trophy."

Hatem's older son, Jeune, is homeschooled by her husband and the children's father, Seth Hollar, so BMX has become Jeune's social outlet as well as his new favorite sport. His love of BMX is also spurred in part by the success of Hatem's 13-year-old nephew Gabe Hatem, a Felt Factory-sponsored BMX racing phenom in New Jersey. Legends of the race track, tips on how to improve ("get in front first to win") and lots of hand-me-downs keep the cousins connected.

For Lisa Hatem there is an even more important connection that keeps her coming to the track. In December, Hatem's 44-year-old brother Fred, father to Gabe, was killed in a car accident. Hatem now wears a necklace with Fred's fingerprint on it. She holds it every time one of the boys races to calm the "mother's nerves."

"BMX was huge in his life, it was a father-son thing," she says. "When this track opened up I wanted to carry that on. This is my boys' connection to Gabe and to Fred. It's such a great way to keep my brother's spirit going. I feel like my brother is here at every race."

Crown Mountain BMX

  • • Hours: Open dawn to dusk. Closed on race days, clinics and for private reservations.
  • • Races: Sundays through Oct. 13. Registration and practice open from 12:30-1:30 p.m., racing as soon as possible. (Sanctioning & Governance: USA BMX)
  • • Race Clinics: Monday nights through Oct. 14. Ages 9 and under: 5-6 p.m.; ages 10+: 6-7 p.m. $20 drop-in fee, or $60/four-class pass. Lessons also offered daily through Aspen Dirtbike School.
  • • Gear: Aspen Dirtbike School carries SE Bikes, AXO race clothing, POC protective pads, gloves and helmets; KTM Aspen carries elbow and knee pads and body armor, including minis and small sizes, as well as a selection of jerseys and pants for racers; Basalt Bike & Ski and Aloha Cyclery in Carbondale have a wide selection of Redline BMX bikes.
  • • Info: Aspen Dirtbike School: Yvette Trincado, 970-404-0665, href=”mailto:info@aspendirtbikeschool.com” info@aspendirtbikeschool.comtarget=”_blank”>info@aspendirtbikeschool.com. Crown Mountain Parks & Recreation District: Chris Woods, director, 970-963-6030

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