YUKON - Key elements in the success of any sport include the ability to attract youth to its ranks, teach proper fundamentals early on and then put those learned skills to the test.
Yukon BMX Raceway is doing all of those, wrapped tightly into a two-hour package, with its newly created BMX Racing League.
The raceway is one of two sites in Oklahoma to take part in the nationwide movement to pull in youth to the sport.
According to the racing league’s national website, there are 28 sites in 20 different states taking part in the program, as well as one in Canada. The other Oklahoma site is Sand Springs BMX.
“We have seen a spike in interest for BMX racing just from our league for sure,” said Yukon raceway operator Jason Willey.
“It’s been a huge uptick in response from people that didn’t realize we were here or they remember from the 1980s and ‘90s and that it was a sport.”
The Yukon league, which recently wrapped up its first session, runs six weeks and racers learn and compete one night a week for two hours. The first session was a huge hit, pulling in riders from El Reno, Yukon, Mustang and throughout Canadian County.
“It looked fun and I love riding bikes so I wanted to do the league,” said El Reno 11-year-old Gavin Cowan.
Willey said the key draw for the league with riders like Cowan was that it was for newcomers to the sport.
“The league is a six-week program and it’s tailored to those that know nothing about the sport. It’s 100 percent beginners, we don’t even call them novice yet. The age limit is 4 to 15 years old and we encourage the parents to come out with them,” said Willey.
Another unique aspect to the league is that parents don’t have to shell out a lot of money in advance for equipment to see if their child would like to stay in the sport long-term. The league costs $129 and riders get a T-shirt and a specialized nameplate.
The raceway provides the helmets and the bike for any racer to use. Those having their own BMX-style bike are allowed to race those, if they wish, or can use a league bike like Cowan did because “their bikes are geared more toward racing.”
“They get to keep the jersey and the numbered plate. Then at the end of the league we give them awards for how well they have done. We also provide a 50 percent discount on the BMX membership for those who want to keep on racing,” said Willey.
Each week league members warm up on the track before gathering in a group session for skill training from former BMX pro racer Adam Scott. The original fee covers coaches instruction and the weekly practice and racing fees, which are charged to racers on nights other than the league.
“Since it’s geared for kids that know nothing about it, we do drills on things anywhere from getting comfortable with being on the track to racing side by side. The kids want to do it, so we want to educate them on how it’s done.
“We show them how and why to do it and then put them in races at the end of the night,” said Willey.
Each member can race up to four times each league night.
“We go over what we learned that night and then put it to use. Five out of the six weeks they are getting experience and learning how to use what they have learned,” said Willey.
Cowan said he liked the pace of the league.
“It was laid-back and they didn’t try to throw a lot at us. Just a few little things each night,” said Cowan.
Willey says the response from league members has been great, with 37 of the original 40 to sign up for the inaugural session completing the entire course.
“Those kids can roll over into regular action when the league is done and we give them a discount. We’ve had a good retention percentage with those kids and we expect them to keep going with regular racing or the league again,” said Willey.
Willey said he was surprised about the high number of racers to stay the entire session, even after some wrecks.
“There are some bumps and bruises, but they are kids and they are resilient and the ones that have a big heart for it jump right back up. Some are a little more timid after a wreck, but it’s no worse than getting hit in the chest with a baseball or getting hit in football. All sports are dangerous,” said Willey.
Cowan, who took a spill on the first jump of his opening-night race, said most of the riders who did crash were a little timid for a while.
“I popped right back up but it took me a couple of minutes to tough it out because I hurt my hand and my leg. But I still kept going,” said Cowan.
Despite the mishaps, Willey says he’s seen each and every rider grow over the league’s session.
“The progression from the second night to the last was obvious. Most of the kids are racing wide open, but there were a few that were still timid, but nothing like the first night,” said Willey.
Cowan said he learned a lot from the league, and hopes to get into regular racing once he gets some gear.
“I learned a lot from the league. I learned how to keep myself on the bike when I go up high on a hill. Instead of flipping off (the bike), I learned how to anchor myself to it,” said Cowan.
Willey said there are plans for another league, most likely in the fall, and parents can check the national website for information at www.bmxracingleague.com.