MERIDEN — While dozens of riders took to Falcon Field’s BMX race track Saturday afternoon to compete against one another in the last race of the season at the city’s course, officials and participants are hoping for greater participation in a sport that is family-friendly and teaches the youth about sportsmanship and responsibility.
The city’s BMX track is one of four in the state. The other three tracks are located in Torrington, Bethel, and Trumbull. Falcon Field BMX Track Director Brad Boissonneault, who is a Meriden resident, was preparing for the last race of the season, which featured over 30 riders of all ages and skill levels.
The city’s track is maintained by Falcon BMX, a non-profit organization that consists of volunteers.
“Everything we make, goes back into maintaining the track,” said Kerry Kuhn, the organization’s vice president.
Riders competed against others in the same age group and skill range — novice, intermediate or expert — for three heats Saturday. The final event consisted of the “main race,” which the top finishers from each heat would compete in.
The riders would line up behind a gate at the top of the course before their heat started. As soon as the gate dropped, the riders pedaled down the first drop to gain momentum and speed to get over the first hill. The course features high-banked turns and large hills. The more experienced riders, such as 16 year old, Chris Therriault, and Boissoneault’s 14-year-old son, Justin Boissonneault, would descend down a large hill and use the speed to jump into the air towards the announcer’s tower before making their way to the last bend in the course.
Since it was the last race of the season, Boissonneault said the number of participants isn’t as high as usual. On average, Boissonneault said, he’ll get at least 45 participants to register for a race.
“It’s been up and down,” Boissonneult said of the sport’s popularity. “When we first started, it was huge. The numbers dropped after a couple of years, but it’s slowly going back up.”
Local participation is low, Boissonneault said, despite the fact that the track is open to the public throughout the week — something they believe is because people don’t know races are held at the race track on the weekends during the summer.
“Right now, participation is lower,” Boissonneault said, “but it’s definitely growing from what it was four years ago.”
While the participants are competitive and want to win races, Boissonneault emphasized that the sport is family oriented and teaches valuable life skills.
“There’s bigger kids racing against smaller kids, but they’re also teaching them,” Boissonneault said. “No one wants to see someone going down, so you’ll see people going over to help. You’ll see an 8 year old going to help a 16 year old and vice-versa.”
Throughout the different races, a number of riders fell at various points of the course. As soon as a rider fell, track officials and even spectators rushed over to help. When they stood up and got back on their bike, the spectators would cheer and applaud.
In between heats, the competitors talked and encouraged one another.
The camaraderie between the riders is even extended to the officials of the tracks around the state, Boissonneault said.
“We don’t compete against each other,” he said. “We’re striving to grow stronger together.”