Photo by JC Amberlyn.
KINGMAN – You can feel the anticipation grow as a group of 10-year-old BMX riders pushes their bikes toward the starting gate at the top of the track at Mohave County Fairgrounds.
The gate drops and the riders blast down a steep hill, racing into a banked curve that will lead them into a series of jumps and turns and eventually to the finish line where the fun ends.
“It was back and forth,” rider Tyler Chambers says to one of his competitors after the heat race. “I’ve been practicing BMX every day. I have my own track in my backyard and I practice for hours.”
Not every kid is so fortunate, and that’s why Dustin Lewis established High Desert 66 BMX as a nonprofit organization in 2013 and built a track in the far northwest corner of the fairgrounds property.
Lewis, vice president of Lewis Equipment Services, started the BMX club with his wife, Rebekah, and a group of volunteers to give Kingman kids something to do. It’s an athletic activity for kids who don’t play football or basketball, he said.
“Maybe they were riding their bikes in the neighborhood and building jumps in an empty yard,” Lewis said. “I grew up here and that’s what we had – empty lots. There was quite a bit of open desert between homes in the ’70s and ’80s and dirt jumps existed in almost every one of them.”
Irene Anderson saw the BMX track when she was taking her two boys to the skate park at Firefighters Memorial Park, across the street from the fairgrounds.
“We’re new to the area and we’re involved in pro skating and scootering, and this is just another branch of that,” she said. “This is keeping them busy in a very healthy way.”
The BMX track is a nice asset for Kingman, drawing anywhere from 20 to 30 riders every Monday and Wednesday evening and hosting events such as the DK Gold Cup Southwest Finals in early October.
That race attracted about 600 riders and 3,000 spectators over a three-day weekend. It’s a small economic boon for Kingman, as riders and their families from Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and other places needed somewhere to stay and eat while they’re here.
A national track builder from USA BMX worked with Lewis to get the track sanctioned for racing.
“Our asphalt turns have been labeled the best in the country,” Lewis proudly noted. “We paved the turns to they’ll stay permanent. There’s been bragging by USA BMX that we have the best turns in the nation.”
The entry fee for local racing is $10, which covers trophies and operating expenses for the track. Most riders have their own bicycles and racing equipment, but loaner bikes are available.
Lewis was able to sublease about 10 acres at Mohave County Fairgrounds with support from Kingman city council, the mayor, city manager and a couple of county supervisors.
It took nine months to build the 950-foot track, with Lewis Equipment hauling in about 3,000 cubic yards of dirt. Lewis estimated the track’s value at about $200,000, including materials and labor.
“We felt there was a need for BMX racing in the community, and I had seen struggles to build and operate a successful track since the early 1970s when the first track was built in Kingman,” Lewis said. “They were only able to race a few times due to high insurance requirements.”
The track has produced some of the top riders in the nation, including brothers Josh and Chase White who raced in the 2016 BMX World Championships in Colombia in May. Lewis’s son, Kaden, and daughter, Kali, race on the U.S. and Canadian National Tour.
“I think it’s absolutely great,” said Jan Cox, whose 12-year-old granddaughter, Alleigh, is a regular racer at the track. “It gives the kids something to do, something to look forward to, and it gives them a great sense of challenge and success. They get medals when they win.”