BMX bike championship returns to LI

Veteran BMX racers Tom Bivona, 36, left, of

Veteran BMX racers Tom Bivona, 36, left, of Mastic and Ronnie Gaska, 38, right, of Selden fly over a jump during a practice lap at Shoreham BMX Sunday. (Sept. 8, 2013) (Credit: Daniel Brennan)

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Ladies and gentlemen, start your pedals.

Hundreds of the best bike riders in New York will be on Shoreham's Defense Hill this weekend for the state championships at Long Island's only sanctioned BMX track.

The USA BMX New York State Championship hasn't been here for many years, says Tom Bivona, rider and publicity coordinator for Shoreham BMX, a nonprofit organization that had its 30th anniversary last year.

The championships are open for spectators to watch the best riders in the state compete on a home track.

"There's no admission," says Shoreham BMX president Rich Soper. "Just come out and watch."

RIDERS: READY, WATCH THE GATE . . . BEEP

That's the start of each race. The steel foot-high gate drops from a vertical position into the ground as the bikers take off. There are no midair spins or other fancy riding here; it's all about getting to the finish line first.

The track, made of dirt and asphalt, is a quarter-mile of loops and "jumps" or bumps. Getting over the jumps is where skill comes in, say the riders. More experienced ones can fly over them while others are slowed down a bit by riding over them.

"The best part is jumping," says Rocky Point resident Shane McDonald, who at 8 years old has competed on the national level.

Races are divided by age and skill level, and about 100 people race on a given weekend.

IT'S A FAMILY SPORT

BMX riding is a family affair, and no one exemplifies that more than Michele Blabac, 50, of Ridge. She started racing in the cruiser class (larger-width tires) four years ago after watching from the sidelines as her son, now 15, rode the track. She and some other moms decided to give it a try.

"It's fun, it's fast and it's good exercise," says Blabac. It also gets in some mom and son time. "It keeps us, for one or two days a week, doing stuff together."

In the center of the track are picnic tables under a canopy of trees for spectators, mostly family. There's always someone to help with a brake problem or a popped tire because there is a feeling of camaraderie. "We're really close like that," says Soper. "We help each other."

ON THE COURSE

Riders use the same course, whether they are 5 or 50 years old -- it's the speed and skill that vary, Soper says.

On a recent Sunday, 5-year-old Christopher Hess Jr. of Medford is here for his first race. He doesn't win but seems to have a good time racing on the same track the larger and more skilled riders take.

"I liked the starting gate," he says.

There's a "Strider" race, too, for even littler ones who ride BMX bikes without pedals, instead using their feet to control the bikes.

"My neighbors see me riding outside and say, 'Aren't you too big for that bike?' " says Michael Cammarata of Patchogue.

Now 35, Cammarata has been at the track since he was 15, and often competes in the national races.

NATIONAL LEADERS

Also here most weekends is Cheyenne Noud, 19, of Ridge, who has been riding since she was 4 and races at the nationals, too. Like a good many of the riders, Noud recently returned from an Eastern Divisional Race in Louisville, Ky., where she placed seventh in the main race. In 2009, she took first place in the Grand National, also in Kentucky, calling it "the best feeling in my racing career."

"I'm not relying on a team," she says. "It's just me and my hard work."


2013 USABMX New York State Championship

WHEN | WHERE 1:30 p.m. pre-race Saturday (practice starts at 10 a.m.) with finals at 10:30 a.m. Sunday (practice starts at 8) at Shoreham BMX, Defense Hill Road, north of Route 25A, Shoreham

INFO 631-821-5569, shorehambmx.org

ADMISSION Free for spectators

 

Correction:  In an earlier version of this story, Tom Bivona's last name was  misspelled.

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