I've been trying to change that at my track. I've been running a Pro race every weekend that I can get someone to announce for me. Sure it's mostly so I can race, but it's getting 5 more people on the track that wouldn't normally be able to race at a local and would bolt after practice. Right now it's just been for fun and bragging rights, but if we can get some area Pros to make the trip we could always start adding in money.
There was a bunch of Texans out at our local track this last weekend. Bright colored bikes, Standard frames.... they stuck out. I over heard one of them say how cool it was to get to go to a local track and ride with Maris Strombergs who on top of being the fastest rider in the world is just a cool dude. I heard another one of them say, "where is everyone going?", when the sheets hit the board and just about every rider who had already hit puberty left.
Welcome to Southern California BMX, a region blessed with many of the fastest riders in the world but what some would call "cursed" with the "dont race locals" attitude.
It's not as simple as the pros dont have a class so the older ams leave too, the issue is several layers deep. The pros leaving has a big part to do with it but there is much more to it.
These riders pick and choose what series they are taking part in, once they decide that they are "national" riders, whether theyre in the top 10 in their age group or not, that's the series they want to participate in. You cant really blame them, my son goes to a national and he is going to have 25-40 fifteen year old experts to race against every single time, at the local on Friday night, there was just him and 1 fourteen year old expert, one of the track operators kids is his age and an expert but if he isnt going to race how can anyone else be expected to?
That brings up, nobody to race. Originally I heard this from the parents of the girl riders, there are no other girls their age to race and the intermediate boys would rather crash the girls than lose to them. Thats the case with the expert classes a lot too. My son generally never has a class, when he has raced he was combined with other classes, older riders and they dont want to lose so they will try to crash. Earlier this year he raced a cruiser race locally, he blew everyone away in the first round so in the main he let everyone go before he started pedalling, instead of getting passed a guy in his late 20's tried to run my kid off the track. Theres nothing to gain by racing locals if youre trying to train for larger races.
District plates are a joke. A number 1 plate should mean just that, you are the best racer. NOT that you raced the most. In an uncapped system like the dirstict points system anyone can go be #1 if all they do is race more than the other riders. Ask anyone with a #1 district plate if they think that means theyre the fastest rider in their district. district plates are "little league/ayso/booster parent" of BMX racing, theyre not a reflection of the rider running the plates skills but a reflection of the dedication that riders parents put in to chasing those points. It is a great system for those who dont want to chase the National series around, if youre a new parent/rider or if you are a local track operator.
If I was a track operator though, I dont know how I would counteract what I have dubbed "Orange Whytis" (the act of amateurs just using the local track for practice). I think what I would do is break the year up in to different seasons which would allow people to participate in something else other than riding their bikes.
Id split the year in to 4 quarters, the 2 to 3 weeks before each season I would have seriously dedicated new rider drives with fliers handed out at all the schools and youth organizations in town, ads in the local news papers and banners up around town bringing people to the track on certain days for sign ups. The thought process behind certain Open House sign up dates is to create an urgency instead of a "we can sign up whenever" which is obviously still going to be permitted outside this 2-3 week member drive.
At the Open House signups I would have people there to explain the ABA membership, everyone who showed up would be given a one day free pass for that date and they would be loaned bikes and gear while experienced experts and pros would be on hand, off their bikes at first, to show all the new people how to safely ride the track, the gate wont even come up or drop at this point, just new people riding bikes on the track. During the Open House there will be someone in registration to sign up those who decide to sign up and to tell them about the "Schmick Academy." At the end of the Open House the experts, girls and pros on hand will give an exhibition with the gate.
The "Schmick Academy" will be 2 nights a week, 3 hours a night for 2 weeks and it will go over everything they will need to know about BMX. The riders will be taught by the local experts and pros, in small groups, all the basics from how the gate works, how to safely get in to the gate, how to line up on the wood and get around the track. Their parents will also be taught by me or other experienced parents about how everything works from reading the moto boards, staging their riders, figuring out total point races to basic bike maintenance to what is legal and illegal on bikes and most importantly, how to love their kids up no matter what place they get when they come off the track. Explain to them how difficult racing is and even allow them to ride loaner bikes down just a straight away or two so they can gain a respect for what their kids are trying to do.
At the end of the Academy I will have a Graduation night where all the riders will be given a track jersey (different each season), sticker pack and some schwag from the local bike shops that will have been a part of the academy as all the riders in the academy will be directed towards those shops to get bikes if they havent bought bikes already. There will be mock races that night with all the new riders getting to test their wares and what they have learned out on the track. Now while the riders would have been welcome to race the local races during their time in the academy, they will be reccomended to wait til their graduation before jumping in. This will allow the new riders and their parents to bind, become a sort of tight knit group that will support each other and each others kids, a sort of quasi team or club.
The Academy also allows me as the local TO to indoctrinate these blank slates, explain to them that there are other tracks and higher level of series, encourage them to ride those other tracks as well and point out the difference in service between mine and the others while explaining how important it is to sign up with me and refer to my track as their "home track." They will be taught about the different levels of racing and different series and their plates. But they will know that my track is always going to be their home base whether they went on to race nationall, internationally or just stayed and raced at my track. The experts, girls and pros that had helped out with the Academy will be rewarded by me for their help as well as having a new rabid support/fan group of people who they helped spread their love of BMX to. Think the "Haul A$$" shirts but for each pro, girl or expert that helped out with proceeds from the shirt sales going to those riders and then looking out at a national and seeing sections of people wearing shirts with your name on them.
I know, it's a lot to read and what the hell do I know anyways, just a self appointed internet blowhard with an opinion on everything but I think it will work, just need to put it in place and see how many favors I can call in.