First State BMX in Milford: two-wheeled fun for everyone

Kyle Hill, 17, left, and Zach Lawson, 18, train for the next competition at First State BMX. The track hosts races twice a week. (Special to the State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — First State BMX is the only BMX racing track on the Delmarva Peninsula, and people flock to Milford from far and wide to bike around the bumps, berms and rollers of tightly packed dirt.

“We have riders from Wilmington and Newark all the way down to Dagsboro and Millsboro,” said Kimberly Hill of Greenwood, the track’s treasurer and longest-serving board member. “We cover the entire state, plus a lot of our Maryland riders.”

In addition to those who drive from Maryland locales like Berlin, Easton and Salisbury, Ms. Hill said there are some who commute all the way from Pennsylvania.

“They will make the drive from Pennsylvania at least two out of three nights a week to come down and practice and race,” she said. “It’s about the same distance between the second closest track to them and us, but they like our atmosphere better. They like the way that it’s run. They like the community that’s been built there.”

First State BMX, which opened in Milford after moving from Lewes in 2000, is part of USA BMX — a network of tracks and riders across the United States, Canada and Mexico — that helps set up races and determine standards for the sport.

According to USA BMX’s website, the sport first came about in the early 1970s when kids began biking over and around dirt piles in empty lots in imitation of their favorite motorcycle racing idols. That’s when “bicycle motocross,” or BMX, was born.

All these years later, First State — which has hosted 107 riders this year, including 34 new members — is one of more than 300 USA BMX tracks.

“(USA BMX) helps with our scoring, our insurance and membership. Anyone that comes to the track has to have a USA BMX membership. It’s good for a year,” said Dover’s Caitlin Jason, the track operator.

Benjamin Jones, owner of the Lifecycle bike shop in Milford, said that today’s BMX has become a distinct style of riding.

“Part of what makes a BMX bike unique is that it’s not really built for pedaling in a lot of ways,” he said. “It has pedals, but a lot of the BMX technique is kind of standing above the seat or coasting and moving your weight around on it. … It almost has more to do with maneuvering the bike than it does with pedaling it.”

Ms. Jason said that individual races, which consist of eight riders, are called “motos.” Ms. Hill said they generally take between 30 seconds and a minute-and-a-half.

At every event a rider signs up for, they get to ride in at least two motos, Ms. Jason said. Then, those who do well get to move on to the third and final race. She said First State BMX can accommodate racers of all skill levels and ages.

“The majority are the younger crowd,” Ms. Jason said, but “it’s a big mix of people.”

Her husband, Joel, is 37 and still races. So do both of their daughters, Raelynn, 5, and Madalena, 7. Ms. Jason said First State BMX even has a miniature track for riders as young as 1, who scoot around on pedal-less balance bikes. The oldest rider the track has ever had was 76.

The activity is especially valuable for children who don’t fit into traditional sports well. One of those kids is Milton resident Jarrod Adams’ 5-year-old son, Rhys.

“We’ve always had the kids in T-ball, baseball, things like that, but Rhys had no interest,” Mr. Adams said. “He wanted something more fast-paced.”

He said a family friend let him know about the track. Mr. Adams grew up racing motocross in Ohio, so he was familiar with the concept.

“We went out to First State BMX, and they had a trial night when they loan you a bike, and he just fell in love with it,” Mr. Adams said. “To be honest, the initial investment really wasn’t that bad. The investment that we had in BMX to get him started was really comparable to T-ball, but BMX has a much longer season than T-ball does.”

Now, Rhys has started traveling for races. This weekend, his dad is driving him to Connecticut to compete in a qualifier for USA BMX’s Gold Cup Series, which puts riders up against others from their region. There is one Gold Cup Championship in each of USA BMX’s six regions.

Back in Milford, First State BMX had to postpone its season due to COVID-19, but its first race of the year was June 16.

“It was a little bit difficult to get reopened, but (since) we finally did, it’s been pretty easy,” Ms. Jason said. “Especially for the kids, because they have their helmets on, so they don’t really notice any of the changes we’ve had to make.”

She said the track has plenty of space for people to spread out and that hand-sanitizing stations have been installed around the property.

“We require masks if you’re not near your own family,” Ms. Jason said. “If you’re going up to concessions, you have to have a mask on. If you go over to help your kids to get up the starting hill, you have to have a mask on.”

Those restrictions aside, Ms. Hill said BMX racing appeals to all kinds of kids.

“You have your athletes who are just good at everything,” she said, “but you also have the kids that are the shyer ones. They may be on the spectrum as far as autism or have (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Those kids struggle a lot of the time with traditional athletic sports.”

BMX “gives them the opportunity to practice on their own time. If they need a break, they take a break,” Ms. Hill said.

“It’s an individual sport,” Ms. Jason said. “I know a lot of kids don’t always do as great on a team.”

For example, she said her daughter, Madalena, has ADHD.

Madalena Jason, 7, practices her skills on the First State BMX track. (Special to the State News/Ariane Mueller)

“We put her in soccer, and the practices were miserable for her because they did not move at a speed that was fast enough for her energy,” Ms. Jason said. “With BMX, she can go, go, go as fast as she wants, as many times as she wants around the track.”

She said it can also be a good outlet for kids who have autism.

“They don’t have to worry about talking to other people or interacting with a team,” Ms. Jason said. “Everybody loves them, and they talk to everybody, and it’s a great time, but I think they’re less singled out almost because it is so individualized.”

Ms. Hill first got involved with the track back in 2014 when her oldest son, Kyle, who’s now 17, started racing. She said her favorite part of BMX is the close friendships Kyle has made, like the one he has with 18-year-old Zach Lawson.

“They have been racing pretty much the same class, and they have for the last six years. They don’t care who wins,” Ms. Hill said. “One night, it might be my son. Another night, it might be the other young man. They battle it out, then they come across that finish line, and it’s fist bumps and high-fives.”

Weather conditions permitting, racing begins at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Saturday nights every week at 1045 N. Walnut St. The stands are always open to spectators, and there is no admission fee.