Sure, we all know about BMX on a basic level: teenagers and twenty-somethings in helmets and knee pads flying off ramps in small bicycles. But it’s not always jumps and flips for the sake of jumps and flips; BMX Racing takes those skills and applies them to an epic outdoor racetrack. Piscataway, NJ resident Joe Malinowski, whose two sons participate in the sport, introduced me to Hunterdon County BMX, where everyone gets a shot at glory.
The Malinowski family history with BMX racing began when Joe's oldest son, Joey, was still a small child. "When he was little, he was always on his bike, so I looked online to find something he could do with it." Joe came across HCBMX and thought it would be the perfect way for his son to really take that passion to the next level, in a safe and regulated environment. At first just preferring to play with the frogs when he tagged along to races at the other track in Howell, NJ, Joe's younger son, Mikey, got interested enough to join the team. After all, it's hard not to be tempted to jump into the fray after you watch a few motos. (I may even try it out too if adulting could get out of the way.)
Although races in this sport can be anywhere all over the world, the Malinowskis often attend races in Howell and Little Egg Harbor, NJ if not their home base at HCBMX. Located at 314 Route 12 North in Flemington, NJ, HCBMX's track is on the same site as the rest of Hunterdon County's main facilities. The trick to finding it once you're there is to just keep heading downhill. That's not by accident either: it's a lot easier to go faster when your racetrack heads downhill.
When I made it down there, I was fascinated by the community of riders and families that has developed over the past 41 years of the club's existence. It was a Thursday evening event in the summer, the place was packed with dozens of people, and the announcer was cheering them on from the booth. Such a vibrant organization can only be made possible by everyone doing their part. Some parents were cooking burgers and hot dogs while others, like Joe, were keeping track of scores. One boy, for his Eagle Scout project, built the club a brand new announcer booth. Someone else donated the traffic light for the start gate, which, by the way, was built by yet another HCBMX member.
Everyone chipping in means that this complex track stays in great shape for the long BMX racing season, which in New Jersey is pretty much whenever it's not snowing. (Fair weather track seasons are almost all year: January 1st-December 15th.) Since straight lines are boring, BMX racetracks have everything else: berms, table tops, and multiple kinds of hills like the double, step-down, and step-up. The track at HCBMX in particular is over 1,000 feet long, has asphalt for the hairpin turns, and a special dirt mixture for the rest.
Events are organized into multiple series of races, usually set up by age group and gender. Each series, consisting of three to eight riders, is called a moto. Moto boards help keep races organized utilizing riders’ names, bike plate number, and serial number. Without getting too much into the weeds (It sounds a lot more complicated than it is), how placement and winning is determined depends on whether you use the Total Points System or the Transfer System for the races. Total Points is used less often and typically only for motos with three riders. The riders race three times, with points corresponding to your place. In other words, first place gets one point, second gets two, and third gets three. The person with the lowest score after three races wins.
The Transfer System is more common for larger racing events. Here there are three qualifying races for each moto to get to the main event. According to USA BMX’s New Rider Manual, “The simplest way to describe the Transfer System is that ‘one rider will not transfer.’” The elimination structure can be set up in various ways, but typically one or two riders who do the best in the first qualifier get to move on to the main event. One or two more move on after the second qualifier, and so on. After all three qualifiers are held, everybody but one rider gets to move on to the main event. The main event, of course, is for the trophies.
Thinking about giving it a try? Check out usabmx.com for more information. Clubs like HCBMX typically have loaner bikes, so all you’ll need are a helmet, knee pads, and either elbow pads or long sleeves. But after one day, you’ll probably be itching to get your own custom bike and show off on those hills!