By Claire Withycombe

The Bulletin

“Lightning Bolt,” “The Bullet,” “Big Dave.”

BMX cyclists of all ages — and monikers — converged on the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center on Sunday for the final day of the USA BMX Great Northwest Nationals.

Teams and individuals from the western United States competed over three days on an indoor dirt track that took just as many days to style, according to Tracy Stephens, a BMX mom and local coordinator for USA BMX, the Arizona organization that sanctions the national competitions. The Great Northwest Nationals is one of 32 regional competitions leading up to Grand Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in November.

In the arena, armies of brightly clad children and grown-ups created two-wheeled traffic while babies too young to race bounced on parents’ laps, and teams congregated around tables piled high with loaves of bread, fruit and granola bars.

Stephens emphasized the family atmosphere of BMX racing, which has inaugurated its second generation of riders since its incarnation in the late ’70s.

“The professionals compete at the same events, as do the Olympians,” as amateur racers, she said. She said parents who grew up racing encourage their kids to try the sport — and sometimes vice versa.

Dave Harris, of Orangevale, California, wore long, impressive kneepads and a black-and-red jersey emblazoned with his race name, “Big Dave.”

Big Dave’s confidence is a testament to his 13-year racing career, which began when his teenage daughter inspired him to try wheeling around the track.

He’s now in the 56-60 age group.

“Oh yeah, we’ve won before,” he said of his eponymous team. “I hope to win.”

Crystal Youngblood, of Lakewood, Washington, emitted a shriek of joy as she watched her 5-year-old daughter, Emily, cross the finish line. With that finish, Emily had transferred to the mains: the final race in each age category.

“One more race and you get a big trophy,” Youngblood told Emily.

“I feel great,” said Emily, shyly nestling her blond head on a friend’s shoulder, resting up for the next round on the track.

Scott Schubert, the team manager of Bay Area team Revolution, welcomed his sons Owen, 9, and Hayden, 7, after they each crossed the finish line and removed their GoPro camera-equipped helmets. Hayden’s twin sister, Heidi, is also part of the Revolution.

Clad in turquoise and a blinding shade of yellow, Revolution is a 20-member outfit whose ages range from 7-year-old Hayden and Heidi to 46-year-old Schubert, though he himself isn’t a racer.

Hayden “The Hurricane” Schubert has a favorite part of every race: getting milkshakes afterward.

BMX bike wheels come in two sizes: 20 inches and 24 inches. The 24-inch style is called a cruiser.

Olivia Armstrong, of Bend, won last year’s Grand Nationals for the 13-14 age group girls in the 24-inch wheel cruiser category. Armstrong won the age 15-16 girls race in the 20-inch category and took second in the age group’s girls cruiser category in Redmond on Sunday.

Teenagers such as Armstrong have been competing in BMX longer than it’s been an Olympic sport. The sport gained wider notoriety in 2008, when BMXers first competed at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. There are now about 12,000 BMX events in the U.S. annually, according to Brad Hallin, of USA BMX.

“As the track has gotten bigger, the jumps have gotten bigger,” and racers are getting faster, said Hallin. But it still manages to retain its family-friendliness and spirited charm, he said. “It’s like this secret society.”

Yet the realities of an event where thrill-seeking kids congregate still exist.

“We got kids stuck in the elevator,” a race mom in a purple hoodie told Stephens.

“You don’t know where your kids are?” said the announcer, standing out on the dirt track. “They’re playing in the elevators. Gotta call the fire department.”

They got out unhurt. “Every year, one’s in the elevator,” sighed Stephens.

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, cwithycombe@bendbulletin.com

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