Columbia Basin BMX track riding high

By Jeff Morrow for TCAJOB

In 2007, Shawn and Maurine Meininger moved their family from the Portland area to the Tri-Cities.

They were driving out in the Horn Rapids section of Richland when they noticed a strange facility at 202 Snyder Street with bicycle riders in helmets racing around on dirt.

They didn’t know what was going on. They had never seen a BMX course and they certainly didn’t know that it was called the Columbia Basin BMX track.

But they decided to get their son Mason involved in the sport, at the age of 5, and were soon hooked themselves, traveling all around the Northwest as Mason competed. Mason, now 13, is still racing.

The Meiningers got so involved that in 2011 the couple was asked to manage the facility.

“The people who had previously run the track were looking for a family involved in the sport to take it over,” said Shawn Meininger.

The Meiningers obliged and have been running the facility ever since. Their daughter Amanda, 15, helps with concessions.

The family is in their sixth season at the track. But they’re not alone.

“It takes so many volunteers to do this,” said Maurine Meininger. “It’s a family feel here. The kids all love it. Everyone gets to participate.”

The Meiningers, in fact, are also volunteers. They have their own full-time jobs. And while the City of Richland owns the land, the Meiningers are the tenants and run the facility.

“When we’re ever done, we’ll just pass the track on,” said Maurine. “We need to find a family involved in the sport.”

It’s been a successful journey.

Columbia Basin BMX is one of 11 BMX tracks around the state of Washington. There are just four tracks in eastern Washington: Richland, Walla Walla, Moses Lake and Spokane.

But it is the Richland track that has become a gem, with improved turns, fencing and lighting as some examples over the past few years.

“We definitely came in with a vision,” said Shawn Meininger. “And a lot of people came in with us on that vision.”

In fact, Columbia Basin BMX’S track has so improved that it hosted one of the 30 national races, called the Lumberjack Nationals, in both 2014 and 2015.

That second race brought riders from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada and Hawaii to the Tri-Cities.

This year, Lumberjack Nationals will be in Sumner on July 1-3. But the Meiningers, working with Visit Tri-Cities, are bidding for the 2017 Lumberjack Nationals.

The Richland track will host a Northwest Gold Cup qualifier on May 29, with the top riders advancing to the finals Sept. 16-18 in Eugene, Ore.

The track isn’t the only thing that is improved.

So are the local numbers.

“The last five years, we’ve had about 60 to 70 active riders,” said Shawn. “But this year, we have 140 to 150 active riders, of which 40 to 60 percent of them might compete on any given race day.”

He says that membership number gives Columbia Basin BMX a rank of 17 out of 308 USABMX-sanctioned tracks around the country.

A USABMX sanction helps provide insurance to the track.

So just what is BMX?

BMX is an abbreviation for bicycle motocross. The sport began in the 1970s. Racers ride similar bikes, with as many as eight competitors starting from a gate at the same time on a high hill overlooking the course. They race over a course that has a number of jumps and rounded asphalt turns and banks. The majority of the course surface is dirt. Each race is called a moto — each competitor gets a couple of motos.

On a recent Saturday, about 70 riders – some as young as 3 and others into their 20s lined up in the staging area, separated by their age divisions. As one group started, the next group got set up in the starting gate. As soon as the first group approached the finish line, the group in the starting gate took off.

It was non-stop action.

Each of the 308 tracks nationwide is different. Operators can add jumps, berm turns, rollers and rhythm sections into the course wherever they want. It makes each course unique and it is important for serious riders to arrive early to events to get practice runs in and get the feel of the course.

While BMX is an individual sport, many join teams.

“The last few years at the local level, kids have wanted to be members of a team,” said Maurine Meininger. “The kids cheer for each other.”

Tri-Cities BMX riders are no different, with team names like Redneck Racing of Kennewick and Atomic Air BMX from Richland.

On this Saturday, a group of 15 kids – boys and girls of various ages – did team calisthenics in a circle. They were all wearing the same uniforms.

A good BMX racer needs good motor skills, determination, a lot of energy, and a good attitude.

“This builds character,” said Maurine Meininger.

Every first-timer competes in a Novice division with their age group. Girls compete with girls, boys with boys.

Once a competitor wins 10 Novice races, they move to the Intermediate class.

They must win 20 Intermediate races before they can compete in the Expert class.

Many riders can lose patience if they’re stuck in the same class too long and quit.

There are professionals in the sport, some receive six-figure salaries and are compete in the Summer Olympics – including this year in Brazil.

But even if a rider doesn’t become a top competitor, there is plenty to take away with BMX.

“The amount of energy it takes, you just become an adrenaline junkie,” said Shawn Meininger. “You just get hooked on it with the atmosphere. You get on the gate and the adrenaline just takes over.”

Judging by the number of riders at the track, there’s a lot of adrenaline flowing.

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