USA BMX at Five Years

June 24, 2016 by · Comments Off 

USA BMX at Five years
Saturday marks five years since the very-first race run under the “USA BMX” banner– the 2011 NBL Midwest Nationals at Hire Park in Warsaw, IN. Just seven days prior, on June 18, the merger of ABA and NBL was finalized, and news spread quickly during the ABA Midwest Nationals in Rockford, IL that the deal was done. So marked the official end to more than three decades of brutal “sanction wars” in BMX Racing.

When the sun rose on June 19, our sport operated under a single sanction for the first time in 35 years—since George Esser founded the NBL in February 1976, joining Ernie Alexander’s National Bicycle Association (NBA) to compete in the business of sanctioning BMX races, nationally. The ABA would be founded in October 1977 by Merl Mennenga, with Chandler BMX (still in operation today) as ABA track 001.

The “History of BMX Timeline” (link below) says the following about the “day of unification:”

June 25, 2011 – The first day of the 2011 NBL Midwest Nationals in Warsaw, IN is the first BMX race to display the “USA BMX” banner publicly. ABA and NBL banners are displayed next to each other on the infield—something that would have been unthinkable just 45 days earlier.

Those of you in the sport at the time will remember the days leading to, and after the merger as a time of uncertainty– at local tracks, nationals and in the industry as a whole.

We had just come off a six-month, slow-motion train wreck that was the NBL’s demise, after NBL President Gary Aragon’s “All You Can Race” program fell flat, and took the 37-year old organization down as a result. Those familiar with the inner-workings of the NBL would later tell News that the NBL’s internal illness was terminal for a while before that, but the death throes were finally evident to the public, starting on May 10, 2011 (also mentioned in the History of BMX Timeline).

May 10, 2011 – Rumors begin to circulate within the BMX community that the NBL will cease operations on or about May 31, due to lack of operating funds.

That resulted in a final-hours assist, with the ABA as a “white knight” of sorts, agreeing to cover NBL’s commitments, and starting the process of unification on May 17, when the “Letter of Agreement” of a merger was announced (BMX News story link below).

ABA NBL Merger Meeting

John David (left) and BA Anderson (right) of the ABA sit down with NBL President Gary Aragon on May 17, 2011 to discuss the details of the merger that would ultimately form USA BMX.

Had the NBL been allowed to fail outright, BMX families, track operators, sponsors and municipalities would have lost everything they invested in the NBL system to that point, and BMX, as a whole, would have been dealt a serious blow in the court of (outside BMX) public opinion.

Even with the ABA’s rescue and promise to cover NBL’s commitments, the process of unification in the early days was difficult, to say the least.

NBL people had been raised on the idea that ABA was the “Evil Empire.” And ABA devotees were concerned that the influx of so-called “NiBLers” would dilute their place in the BMX universe as lifelong ABA supporters. The concept of “unification” of the sanctions was difficult to wrap one’s head around, and it took some time–a couple years, in some cases, for both sides to warm to the idea.

Some, however, looked into the future and saw a post-merger world where a single sanction could focus the resources once spent on competing with each other on advancing the cause of BMX Racing in North America. Both sanctions were hesitant to promote the sport, in general, because they didn’t want the other guy to enjoy the benefits of their efforts.

It became clear to many NBL people, in the months following the merger, that ABA wasn’t the Evil Empire they had loathed for years and was, in fact, a group of BMXers, just like them, dedicated to seeing the sport— regardless of prior affiliation— succeed as one unit.

A few NBL staffers–Connie Shepler, Cody Wilson and Justin Travis– made the move to the newly-pitched USA BMX tent, and all three remain involved to this day.

Fast-forward five years. Following this month’s National BMX Hall of Fame ceremony, Alice Bixler—one of the most-staunch NBL supporters at the time of the merger, and a 30-year-plus-and-counting contributor to the sport at Sarasota BMX in Florida, posted the following on her Facebook page (photo via Facebook):

Alice Bixler at Sarasota BMX

Had a really amazing time in Chula Vista. Watched all of the racing leading up to our riders that will represent the United States at the Olympics. It was awesome to be with the legends of our sport from years passed.

It was also exciting for me when Bernard A. Anderson, USA President / owner asked me if I was going to watch the Olympic hopefuls with the last chance to be on the USA team. I told him I would like to but I just could not walk that far. Well he was kind enough to help me get around by rides in his golf car. Such a nice, down to earth person.

I am so glad to have gotten to know him. Thanks so much BA for being my friend…

It was at the 2015 HOF dinner that former NBL president Bob Tedesco—the top NBL General in the sanction wars— took the stage to accept his induction into the National BMX Hall of Fame. His 12-minute speech gives great insight into some of the 30-year process, including more than one “steak dinner” with the ABA’s Generals along the way. Bob also tells a funny-now story about the IBMXF Pontiac Silverdome race (which NBL ran, but did not promote, and I covered for Super BMX Magazine) in 1981, when the promoter of the race took-off with the pro purse just before the main event, and how NBL made-good on the purse over the next year.

Bob’s speech is the heart and soul of 35 years of a life dedicated to BMX Racing, and you need to hear it. It gave us a lot of LOLs, and also brought us back to the moments illustrated in his stories.

Listening to Bob’s speech reminds us of the longstanding commitment that he and his team at NBL displayed in furtherance of our sport–especially when it comes to the march toward to Olympics. It is critically-important that these contributions are not lost to the fog of time.

While there are still some vocal pockets of NBL loyalists who, on a seemingly-daily basis comment “Bring the NBL back,” it’s tough to argue that BMXers today enjoy a stronger sport, at its core, than ever before.

It’s hard to believe it has been five YEARS already; I remember where I was at all stages of the run-up to the merger, and in shooting the top photo in this article, with both sanction brands flanking the new USA BMX banner for the first time. It may sound corny, but there was a sense of “being part of history” when I looked into the viewfinder and pushed the button to capture that image.

Yes, we still have our generational challenges of recruitment, retention and recognition as the ultimate family sport, but all-told, the state of our BMX union is strong.

—Mike Carruth

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Jeff Miner and Dan Rumple– Track Operator of Hire Park BMX– for reminding us, via a Facebook post, about this very-important date.


Original Announcement of the ABA-NBL Merger – May 17, 2011

Audio: NBL-ABA Merger Webinar for Track Operators – May 17, 2011

History of BMX Timeline (as of 12/31/2011)

BMX News Promax Top Story, Presented by Promax Components

Podcast: Johan Lindstrom of GSX Events

June 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Johan Lindstrom

Johan Lindstrom has been a man in the background, making the proverbial trains run on time, in the BMX Supercross scene for many years. A few months back, he made the jump from working stiff at UCI to CEO of the newly-created Global SX Events, or GSX.

GSX announced, concurrent with its formation, that they would be acquiring the rights to promote the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup events, beginning with the 2011 season. This was a very important announcement, because the World Cup series is the gateway to the Olympic Games and, if that were not enough, carried a fair amount of prestige on its own.

With the UCI SX deal inked, the group came out of the gate strong, and soon announced GSX was to be the promoter for the NBL’s “NationsTour” — a five-city tour of events (later cut to three cities), which promised unprecedented payouts of $40,000 per event, with $8,000 to the winner of Elite Men.

Unfortunately, the NationsTour started to show cracks early in its trajectory. The first event in Primm, Nevada scheduled for March 12 was abruptly canceled two weeks before the event date (citing problems at the location and/or a disagreement with the landowner).

Then, last month, the NBL announced it was in financial distress, ultimately leading up to the announcement that an agreement had been reached to merge the NBL with the ABA to form USA BMX. With 51% of the shares in GSX owned by the NBL, and the Papendal World Cup event rapidly approaching, you can imagine that there were some serious questions as to whether the NBL’s collapse would also take down GSX, and with UCI SX series down with it.

NBL CEO Gary Aragon was the face of all of the above news. And then, two weeks ago, the Papendal World Cup event grabbed BMX headlines with an innovative-but-extreme track–a near-replica of the track being built in London for the next stop on the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup tour and, of course, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

We had been hoping to get Johan to join us on the Announcers Tower Podcast when he moved to Ohio from his UCI gig in Switzerland, in February. The stars never quite lined up, and the interview never happened.

Last week, Johan reached out to us saying that he could take some time for an interview to bring BMX News readers up to date on a variety of issues. From the current GSX situation vis a vis the NBL, BMX Supercross track design, the London Olympics, BMX Racing’s likely future in the Olympic Games, how BMX Racing might be affected by BMX Freestyle’s entry into the games, and much more. We enjoyed doing the interview, and wish to thank Johan for taking the time to join us. We also made him promise to come back on again after the London SX in August, so keep an eye out for that.

Technical Note: Not sure if it was our Skype or Johan’s phone, but there is some pretty severe digital distortion (at times making Johan sound like Max Headroom). Just know that we are aware of it, and tried to fix it twice while recording yesterday.

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iPhone users: Use this direct-listen link

Replay: ABA/NBL Merger Webinar Audio

May 17, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Mike Carruth

With the permission of the NBL and ABA, BMX News was allowed to record, and rebroadcast, the evening Webinar, so that the entire BMX Racing community could hear what was going on with the ABA/NBL merger.

Let me say that this is an amazing moment in the history of BMX racing, and if you care about the sport and its future, it is worth a full listen (maybe in a few “bites,” which is why we split it into four segments).

More than 100 questions were answered live, as they came in from NBL Track Directors and others concerned with the process. In our opinion, Gary, BA and John David did an outstanding job of fielding all questions that came in, though some details are still to be worked out, and the “proposal” for the merger, while approved by the NBL board, will be finalized in the coming days/weeks.

Many times throughout the webinar, both Gary and BA made it clear that the letter of intent to do the merger is a “living, breathing,” and “working” document, and that details discussed here may change before the final document is signed, hopefully by June 1.

I recommend you look at the original post from earlier today to read the updates and clarifications that were made, as well as highlights of key points in the segments below.

Many readers have asked “Why is Gary Aragon running this meeting if the ABA is the one assuming the responsibility of running the combined organization?” This is because the webinar is directed to NBL Track Directors, so it is fitting the NBL CEO run the meeting, with BA and John there for “after-the-closing” questions. We, as the BMX Racing community, are a “fly on the wall” in this webinar.

Full-Play Audio of the Evening Webinar:

*note: apologies if the first three minutes of segment one sound like an obscene “breather” phonecall for you headphone wearers. I didn’t realize my headset mic was hot and it was about a millimeter from my mouth

Part 1 of 4:

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Part 2 of 4

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^^Clarification: At :10 in segment 2, BA says that as of January 1, all riders will be able to race both ABA and NBL tracks with one membership. The riders will be able to “cross-race” (ABA riders can race NBL tracks and vice-versa), as of the start of the USA BMX program (slated for June 1). However, current NBL riders will only be able to redeem their “credits” (as mentioned above) at NBL tracks. This was confirmed after the fact by BA.

Part 3 of 4

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Part 4 of 4

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Join the Discussions:


On the Forum

Aragon Answers NBL Death Rumors

May 12, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Aragon Answers NBL Death Rumors

BMX News has been monitoring rumors coming from various sources around the country that the NBL announced to its employees that it was laying everyone off and, effectively, closing its doors in two weeks.

We held our breath waiting to see what happened next. What happened, is usually what happens when there is a rumor in BMX Racing, someone posted a thread about on the Vintage forum, and the whole sport jumped in the pool. At peak 275 people were monitoring the thread, and adding their opinion, chide or other creative way to say “I told you so.”

But, we had not heard anything official from the NBL, so News took the Vintage rumor thread as just that–a rumor, worthy of running down, but not “news” just yet.

Gary Aragon responded to our earlier inquiry this morning, and made himself available for a podcast interview to address the rumors, and say “The NBL is not going out of business…we are here to stay and will be for a long time.”

The running time of the interview is about 31 mins–longer than our normal segment time, but we are running the interview largely un-edited (normally, we would pull out a lot of the pauses, and “ums” and “uhs” to condense for time, but we felt it was important to present it as it was said). There were a few points where the phone connection dropped out, so we did edit those out…but they in no way affect the content of what is being said.

Listen Now

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Then, come on over to Vintage and let your voice be heard.

Podcast: Gary Aragon Talks About GSX/UCI Deal

December 16, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Gary Aragon's New Firm will run the UCI BMX SX Series

Over the past month the rumor mill has been digesting this one like an anaconda that downed a doberman. Finally, the UCI made it official this week, with a release stating that a new firm, led by NBL CEO Gary Aragon (Global SX Events, Inc.) would “hold part of the organizing and marketing rights for the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup series.”

The move has raised lots of interest, a few questions, and a few eyebrows in the community, and News thought it would be good to wait a day or two to post the news until the rumor had a time to shake out from the fact. We also thought it would be most-fitting to invite Gary to join us on the Announcers Tower Podcast to talk about the new company, in his own words and answer some of the more burning questions, both on our minds and yours.

We came away from the chat with a better understanding of how the NBL figures into all of this, how GSX figures into the shot-calling on the SX calendar, and the forward-looking role of some of the long-time players on the UCI side of the SX scene.

Listen Now

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Naturally, we’re talking about the interview and the details discussed therein on the forum. Come join in the fun and let your opinion be heard.