Boosted Man-Driven Xcitment

By Paul Long
Photos by Josh Triggs

Tucked away in the eastern end of Jim Barnett Park, overlooking Interstate 81, sits one of the best-kept secrets in Winchester.

For more than three decades, motocross racers have flocked to the Winchester BMX track adjacent to Bridgeforth Field, summer home of the Winchester Royals baseball team.
According to track officials, the track boasts the longest layout of any such facility within an eight-hour drive. And many racers who grew up riding at the track are now bringing their own kids to race here.

Dave Mellott is one such parent. After racing in Winchester when he was younger, the Berkeley Springs resident now watches his 15-year-old son, Sam, compete in the intermediate class.

Mellott isn’t just a spectator, though; he’s one of several dedicated volunteers who helps keep Winchester BMX events running smoothly.

Volunteers are the backbone of Winchester BMX, doing everything from running practices and events, maintaining the track and registering riders to selling snacks and helping with planning, promotion and public relations.

The appeal of this growing sport, according to Mellott, is the level of participation experienced by riders at all skill levels. Everyone who shows up gets to run at least two qualifying races at every event, with the number of riders transferring to the main races depending on the number of riders in each class.

“No one sits the bench,” Mellott said.

Safety is of the utmost importance at Winchester and other BMX tracks. Mellott said helmets, long shirts and long pants are required for all riders while gloves and pads are strongly recommended.

Track operator Tim Snapp has been involved with the Winchester track for about five years and has been running it for a couple years now. Like Mellott, he has a personal stake in the races; his son T.J. is a 15-year-old who has been riding for seven years and currently races in the expert class.

Snapp said riders like the track because of its length – more than 1,300 feet – and other unique features.

“The jumps are bigger, the track is longer,” he said. “It rides fast and has good flow to it.”

Riders compete in three different classes, starting out as novices and then moving into the intermediate class after they’ve won 10 races. Boys then advance to the expert class with 20 wins in intermediate competition, while female riders move up to the girls’ class with 10 intermediate victories.

All classes feature a minimum of three riders.

BMX is truly a sport for all ages, with riders starting as young as 18 months and continuing well into their 40s, 50s and even 60s in some cases. Young riders start out with “balance bikes,” which are just small bikes without pedals that enable them to get the hang of being on a bike before they actually start riding. And, once they do, Winchester BMX has a separate track available for younger riders.

Winchester BMX opened its season April 14 with 101 riders.

“We had a pretty good day,” Snapp said.

Racing will continue throughout the spring and summer before wrapping up in November.

Riders can stay fresh during the offseason with practice sessions at Body Renew Fitness and Family Fitness Center in Winchester.

During the season, meanwhile, the track hosts practice sessions at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday is race day, with registration and a practice session from 5 to 7 p.m. before qualifying races get under way.

BMX track operators try not to compete with other nearby tracks; rather, they schedule their events around other races. For example, when there’s a race in Winchester, the track in Hagerstown is usually dark for the night, and vice versa.

“It’s like a community,” said Mellott. “Everybody gets along. Everybody helps everybody.”

Winchester BMX hosts two big events each season, both of which are scheduled for August this year: A Delmarva Track vs. Track Series stop on Aug. 12 and a state qualifier event two weeks later.

According to Tim Snapp, the Delmarva Track vs. Track Series is a seven-race series contested at six tracks in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. It is designed to give riders experience on big tracks while also helping to cut costs for riders and their parents.

Some race weekends, Snapp said, can set a family back several hundred dollars once meal and hotel expenses are included.

But for Delmarva events, families can return home the same day and spend as little as $50 on the trip.

Participating tracks are Winchester and Woodbridge in Virginia, First State in Milford, Del., and in Maryland, Hagerstown, Chesapeake and Southern Maryland. The series finale this year is scheduled for Nov. 18 in Winchester.

Top riders also compete in regional, national and world championship events. Regional series include the prestigious Gold Cup, whose sprawling Northeast Region extends from Indiana to Maine to North Carolina.

Mellott said several riders on the national team call Winchester home, and one regular Winchester rider recently finished eighth in his class at worlds.
The weekend after the season opener, Tim and T.J. Snapp traveled to Georgia to compete in a national event. According to Tim Snapp, it was just another weekend on the road for he and his son.

“Most people go to the beach,” he said. “We just load up the car and just go to a couple tracks for the weekend.”

Mellott said BMX was a popular sport in the 1980s but experienced a decline during the 1990s. It has experienced a renaissance since becoming an Olympic sport in 2008. Since that time, BMX has been added to several college cycling teams.

In fact, one local rider, Kristen Klein of Winchester, recently landed a scholarship to ride at Marion University.

Winchester BMX is sanctioned by USA BMX, a national organization which is essential to the success of its member tracks. One of its more important functions is insuring the tracks.

“If you’re not sanctioned by USA BMX,” Snapp said, “you don’t race. USA BMX insures the track so we don’t have to.”

Not having to foot the bill for insurance allows Snapp to keep Winchester events free for spectators while keeping expenses to a minimum for riders.

Young riders looking to give BMX a try can show up at one of the practice sessions. Winchester BMX has loaner bikes and equipment for them to use.

The first race is free. After that, if a rider decides he or she wants to stick with it, they can sign up for a membership.

“I think the big thing is getting new kids out there and getting them to try it,” Mellott said. “Once they do that, they’re hooked.”

Winchester BMX receives financial backing from Time 2 Shine Skate & BMX Pro Shop. The Inwood-based shop, owned by Matt McEvoy, sponsors several BMX teams, including the one on which Sam Mellott rides.

Dave Mellott’s company, Homespire Mortgage, is also a sponsor. And the Winchester track got a major boost from Alban Cat about two years ago when the Clear Brook-based heavy equipment company donated the use of its equipment for a track rebuild.

Winchester BMX is always looking for additional volunteers as well as new riders. Anyone interested in seeing what the organization has to offer can call 540-514-5541. Track information can be found at the USA BMX website, Winchester BMX is also on Facebook.

Comments are closed.