Rolly Hilland remembers his first BMX national race in 1989.
He was 10 years old at the time and it rained so hard that weekend on the Prince George track organizers were forced to set up a makeshift course indoors at the Exhibition Park Agriplex.
Thirty years later, Hilland was back at his hometown track at Carrie Jane Gray Park last weekend at the Northern Lights Nationals. He won both days in the 36-40-year-old intermediate class and joined a crowd of relatives cheering on his daughters Tiffany and Rachel as they pedaled the track. This time the weather was much more conducive to bike racing.
Hilland now lives in Langley, where both his daughters were born and raised, and hadn't raced on the track since he was a teenager.
"It was 30 years ago this weekend when I raced here," said Rolly, who moved to Langley in 1999. "In 1989 when we had that national (race) here it got rained out and back then you had to have a backup plan, so all of the volunteers and moms and dads went to the fairgrounds and built an indoor track overnight. Everybody at that national raced on a track no one had raced before, it was crazy."
Rolly's wife Lindsay Lachance, also races BMX, but didn't make the trip to Prince George. Lachance is president of the Langley Flippers Swim Club and both of their daughters are swim racers. They just started racing BMX knowing their dad was going to be racing in Prince George.
"I started racing again last year and I did this on my own, coming back, and they just wanted to be part if it," Rolly said. "All of my family still lives here so it was exciting to come back here with the kids. They had a good weekend. The track was fun for them."
Tiffany Hilland, 11, moved up from novice to intermediate and was fifth Saturday and fourth Sunday racing in the 12-year-old class.
"This is my dad's home track and I like it better than my home track because you don't know what's going to happen, it's new," she said. "It's my third or fourth favourite track."
Rachel Hilland, 10, posted fifth- and seventh-place finishes in the 10-year-old intermediate class.
"My dad raced here was little and that makes me happy because all my family is here," Rachel said.
The first BMX national event in Prince George in five years drew 280 riders from B.C. and Alberta and five U.S. states - Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona and New York. The host Supertrak BMX Club has revamped its track in a $200,000 renovation raised through grants and private donations. The 1 1/2-year project was completed last year and the Northern Lights event was their first chance for local riders to show it off to a national crowd.
"We've become a player again in the national world," said Supertrak BMX Club president Corrie Anderson.
Shylo Orchard of Vernon, currently ranked No. 1 in Canadian 40-45 girls cruiser class, travels all over Canada and the U.S. to race and said Prince George and volunteers who operate the Supertrak club deserve high praise for the work they've done to promote the sport and build a national-calibre facility.
"This event has been amazingly put on," said Orchard, who finished second to Deb Williams of Didsbury, Alta., in her 41-45 women cruiser races. "It's been five years they've gotten a national and this was so well-run. I can't say enough about the volunteers and the organization and their energy and effort. It's a BMX family, so all of these kids, when we come together, the family just pulls together.
"We're going to come back, just because of the support and the community. I know this club is always looking for new riders and they're so welcome with beginners."
Carson Toth is in that category. The 24-year-old works as a train conductor for CN Rail and was talked into trying BMX by a fellow worker, Bryce Lamont. Toth hadn't ridden a bike of any kind in six years when he started showing up for Supertrak club races in April. At the national pre-race event Friday he won 21-25-year-old cruiser class and then was fed to the wolves in the national races Saturday and Sunday.
"It was an eye-opener for sure, lots of nerves," said Toth, who built his athletic endurance playing in the Prince George Senior Lacrosse Association for the Bandits. "I'd never raced before this year and my very first run I crashed. It's so much different that riding a normal bike. Everyone is so fast and the competitive level is high. You think it's a no-brainer to just hop on a bike and go, well I crash every second day out here. You think, how do these kids just do this and for them it's no problem. I try not to get airborne because if I do I usually crash."
Toth finished fifth Saturday and fourth on Sunday in his national races, competing against two seasoned riders from Idaho and Cole Patterson of Prince George, who placed second and third.
"It takes time, some guys have raced 14 years and how to race against that, I've maybe raced 14 times, all this year," said Toth.
The increased profile of the national event gave Toth his first opportunity to race riders within his age class. That doesn't happen at smaller club races where he's lumped together with all the cruisers, including the city's grand-veteran, 63-year-old Gord Fairbairn, who has become Toth's track mentor.
"This is huge, on a normal (club) night we have 10 or 15 motos but today we had 53," said Toth.
"You get faster. Every race, all weekend I felt faster. You're always pushing harder racing against faster people. If you're always first you're never going to push yourself more. At the beginning of the year Gord was way ahead of me and now we're competing against each other."
Fairbairn, who finished third in each of his 51-55-year-old national races, laments the fact he's not getting any faster.
"That's what happens, I bring these guys under my wing and train them up and never see them again," said Fairbairn. "The 30-year-old dads start off pretty shaky and slow and next thing you know they blow by me."
Brady Anderson of Prince George, despite nursing cracked vertebrae, took on the pros and finished third in Saturday's race and was eighth on Sunday. Taylor Otterson of Cochrane, Alta.,won Saturday's pro race and Joe Rasmussen of Langley won the class on Sunday.
Rolly Hilland remembers his first BMX national race in 1989.