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Riders push limit at Westmoreland BMX in Allegheny Township

Michael Love
| Friday, June 8, 2018, 10:57 p.m.
Nick Dawson (far right) turns through the embankment during a Pro-AM open race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Nick Dawson (far right) turns through the embankment during a Pro-AM open race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Nick Dawson (center) waits at the starting line with other riders before their bike race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Nick Dawson (center) waits at the starting line with other riders before their bike race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Nick Dawson stands for a portrait before his bike race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Nick Dawson stands for a portrait before his bike race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Nick Dawson (far right) takes off from the starting line during a Pro-AM open race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
Nick Dawson (far right) takes off from the starting line during a Pro-AM open race on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
A rider gets some air over a jump on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.
Jack Fordyce | Tribune-Review
A rider gets some air over a jump on Thursday, June7, 2018 at the Westmoreland BMX track at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township.

Anthony Palombo has a one-track mind.

That is, he often is focused on making his home track at Westmoreland BMX at Northmoreland Park in Allegheny Township the best it can be for the racers of all ages who ride at the facility each week from April to November.

The organization is celebrating 30 years in 2018, and Palombo, the track operator, along with a regiment of volunteers, hope it can remain a viable and fun family destination for another 30 years and beyond.

“A lot has changed from when it first started,” Palombo said. “The track used to be flat with no berms. The bikes have changed with kids putting so much more money into them. The riders' skills have gotten so much better. The competition is greater. Every year, there are more and more opportunities to race.”

Westmoreland BMX is more than 100 members strong from those as young as 4 years old to those age 60 and older. The track also attracts riders from all over the region to races each Tuesday.

“They want to test themselves against some good competition,” Palombo said. “That's what we want to see every week is good competition.”

Rain this week postponed the races to Thursday, and more than 40 racers made their way around the track.

“I always rode bikes, and coming here and racing, the adrenaline rush was what really got me,” said Ean Slater, 17, an expert-level rider and a rising senior at Highlands.

Slater first raced at Westmoreland BMX when he was 10 and now is a fixture at national races. He owns a third-place finish from a national race at South Park BMX in Bethel Park.

“I just kept coming back. It's that way for a lot of people who start here,” Slater said. “For me, it's about racing quicker kids and always trying to be better.”

Westmoreland BMX is one of 250 tracks in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Bikes move around the groomed, serpentine dirt track with various jumps, banks and rollers to the finish line. The banks — Westmoreland's course has three — help the racer maintain speed through the course.

Every racer starts behind a gate on an asphalt hill. As few as three and as many as eight at a time compete with others their age or proficiency level and earn points for race victories.

Points earned at Westmoreland BMX add up for a district series that includes races at the track in Bethel Park and ones in Erie, Titusville and Johnstown.

Every district track also hosts a state qualifier, and Westmoreland will welcome hundreds of riders for its qualifying event July 28. Each racer hoping to make it to states has to compete in at least four qualifiers.

The next one in the district is June 16 at South Park.

The state final is Aug. 25 back at South Park.

Palombo said 30 to 40 riders of all ages and talent levels from Westmoreland BMX take part in the state series.

“States is a really fun event,” Palombo said. “Everyone is competing hard, but they are also rooting for everyone to do well. You root for your friends and teammates. There's rivalries between the tracks. It's always a good time.”

Male and female BMX riders also have the chance to go pro. Nick Dawson, a 2015 Plum graduate, turned pro earlier this year after 15 years of amateur racing.

Dawson, 21, has raced at hundreds of tracks locally, throughout the state and nationally with 2018 professional competitions in Louisville (indoor) and Nashville to his credit. While he is headquartered at South Park, he said he always likes coming back to his home track at Westmoreland.

“I already was riding my bike all round, and a friend one day showed me around the track and what the racing was all about,” Dawson said.

“I came back a couple of weeks later, and I was hooked. I couldn't get off the track. I had a lot of people I looked up to when I started, so if I can be that person for a young rider, that's great.”

In addition to racing at Westmoreland, riders of all ages are able receive instruction in all aspects of the sport from some of the top coaches in the area, including certified coach and BMX pro Carley Young, a Forest Hills resident who has been racing BMX for 28 years.

Topics of instruction range from the fundamental skills, gate starts and taking turns correctly to learning how to race well in a pack and getting comfortable with air awareness through jumps.

“When a kid comes to the track, I can usually tell from the first 15 minutes of meeting him or her what I can improve and if they will let me help them,” said Young, who also instructs at the wood track Wheel Mill, an indoor bike park in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

“It's really cool to see them take instruction and use it on the track. Something like understanding fear while racing helps them to test and push their limits.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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