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BMX riders hoping sport’s thrills, spills appeal to large crowd

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With cyclists whirling around the track behind him Sunday, Columbus BMX President Kris Lasure was racing at an even faster speed.

Lasure was trying to wear all the hats necessary to run a state-qualifying event, and that included promoting a sport that could use a higher profile in Columbus.

Of the 150 competitors on hand, only a small percentage were Bartholomew County residents, and Lasure wanted to talk about the sport and hopefully, increase those local numbers.

But just as he took a deep breath to discuss BMX racing’s finer points ... rats ... everything on the track came to a halt because of a crash.

Lasure rushed out to check on the cyclist, who just so happened to be his 8-year-old son, Garrett Lasure.

Garrett, fortunately, was just bruised a bit, and the action started once again, Florida Georgia Line’s “This is How We Roll” blasting in the background.

The younger Lasure was all smiles as he finished a practice run.

“It’s a fun sport,” he said. “I like it because I get to jump.”

Jumping is just part of the sport as cyclists negotiate a track that is like a small roller coaster with a dirt path instead of rails. Certainly, most kids know how to ride a bike, and just about every kid in the neighborhood builds something to jump over, but learning to land correctly at Columbus BMX takes a lot of practice.

Then there’s the other key to BMX racing. Asked what separates him from other BMX racers, Garrett Lasure answered, “Fitness.”

With a lap taking about 45 to 50 seconds (riders reach speed in the mid-20 mph range) and a standard race being three laps, it’s obvious that a BMX race, pretty much an all-out sprint from beginning to end, is grueling.

“Garrett likes the individual aspect of this sport,” Kris Lasure said. “For him to do well, he has to train. This kid loves to train.”

Others love to train at varying levels, and that is why BMX racing has different classes for age and ability. Garrett Lasure is ranked No. 24 in the nation in the “Expert 8-year-old” class. His dad, who is 41, competes on more of a “local, regional” level in the 41-45 age division. Columbus BMX has riders from the age of 2 through 70-something.

No matter what division, “You’ve got to be in shape,” Kris Lasure said. “Fortunately, I was racing mountain bikes and road bikes when we started this three years ago. I had the fitness to carry over.”

Kris Lasure saw that his son was interested in BMX racing, and he knew it was something they could do together. “Garrett always liked bicycles, and this was a true family sport,” he said. “Your kids can do it; you can do it. I can ride with Garrett and practice with him.”

As much fun as Kris Lasure was having as a competitor, he also saw the need to volunteer his time at the track.

“I took over in 2012, and we rebuilt the track and added lights so we can run at night when it is so hot in the summer,” he said. “My main duty is working with the outside sponsors and the County Park Board.

“There is an annual membership required here, and I would say we have 30 to 40 local riders. If we had 50, that would be huge. Right now we depend on riders from Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati.”

The feeling is that once people give BMX racing a try, they will be hooked.

Garrett Lasure’s favorite part of the Columbus BMX track is a long straightaway with 10 jumps. Why is it so fun?

If he doesn’t attack the jumps correctly, the outcome is inevitable. “I will probably crash and hit a rock,” he said. “There are a lot of rocks on the track.”

There is a certain daredevil quality to the sport.

With several cyclists battling for position, it can get congested. The idea isn’t to create a demolition derby, but it can be the result.

A certain amount of daring is needed to attack a jump in close quarters, but the smart racers know they can’t win if they are bouncing along the ground.

Chris Clapp is the vice president at Columbus BMX track, and he admits that those who compete had better be prepared for some bumps and bruises. He noted that his son, Jacob Clapp, broke his hand in three places racing against dad.

Even so, Jacob, now 11, spends most of his free time on a bike.

“It’s a free sport,” Jacob Clapp said. “You don’t have to be told what to do.”

Indeed, the competitors set their own limitations, so the sport does have somewhat of an artistic quality as well. Then again, physics comes into question if a cyclist gets out of line when he or she attacks a jump. What happens then?

“You probably would crash,” Jacob Clapp said.

Jacob Clapp has had his share of crashes, but the better feeling is going all-out to win a race.

“You feel like jelly,” he said about going three hard laps on the track.

Jacob Clapp got interested in BMX racing after digging through the attic and finding a bunch of his dad’s BMX trophies. Chris Clapp started his son out with an inexpensive bike, then began to upgrade as his son got more serious about the sport. Jacob Clapp now rides a model that was used in the Olympic Games. “The key is to make the bike as light as you can,” Chris Clapp said. “His bike weighs about 14 pounds.

“And he is constantly outgrowing his bike.”

Jacob Clapp said that anyone who would like to try out BMX racing can attend a Tuesday practice session (6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). “We’ve got the bikes and helmets,” Chris Clapp said. “All that is needed is long sleeves and long pants.”

If a rider excels, he or she might turn into another Joey Smith.

Smith, a 16-year-old Columbus East junior, is the fastest local rider at Columbus BMX.

“All my free time goes to this,” Smith said. “I like it because it is more of a solo sport. You need to have personal drive. You are out there on your own.

“The amount of devotion you have determines how good you are.”

He hopes to someday join the Marian University cycling team, and he appears to be headed in that direction. He is the No. 3-ranked BMX rider in his district.

At his level, though, it takes daring along with stamina and technical skills.

“It’s a big risk,” Smith said of competing at the top levels. “I’m not scared to get up in there. It’s hard, though, because if you make one mistake, you get passed by two or three people.”

Smith also is not afraid of the physical toll BMX racing can take on a body, and he takes weekly trips to the chiropractor.

Much of the wear and tear can be reduced by buying the proper equipment, but there are always those pesky rocks.

Faith Clapp, 8, was sticking a finger through a hole in the elbow of her racing shirt Sunday.

Did that hurt?

“Yeah,” she said. “I landed on a bunch of rocks.”

A few moments later, she was back on the track.

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