The arrival of spring signals the start of the BMX race season in New Jersey, which means that the Egg Harbor Township BMX Racetrack is officially open for 2014.
The sprawling outdoor facility off Ocean Heights Avenue has been the site of increased activity since February when the all-volunteer EHT BMX Organization began preparing the grounds for the kickoff event, the Jack Frost Classic on March 22.
About 300 people will travel from all over the northeastern coast to take part in the bicycle motocross races throughout the day, said local resident Mark Puentes, 49, the EHT BMX track vice president.
"This is one of the greatest sports activity and it is right in our own backyard," Puentes said. "BMX is the only sport that can have a novice racer who is just starting out and pro racers and Olympians racing on the same track the same day."
BMX racing became a medal sport at the 2008 Summer Olympics and gained an even bigger fan base during the 2012 summer games. On any given weekend from March through October, hundreds of riders will compete in USA BMX-sanctioned races throughout the country.
Puntes said BMX is a sport that captures the interest of a wide range of participants, from 3-year-olds to senior adults.
"Once the kids try it, they are hooked. And it gets the whole family involved," he said, adding that the sport helps support first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign.
The EHT track is one of only three public tracks in New Jersey and usually hosts several major circuit races during the season. The other two tracks are both a few hours' ride north on the Garden State Parkway, in Howell and Flemington.
The local track was built in 1980 and is owned by the township, but it is maintained by volunteers.
Dave Dorofee, 36, is one of those volunteers and is considered by the organization to be "the heart and soul" of the track. His father, George, helped to build the track from its inception and Dave has been involved in BMX almost his entire life. Now his children compete on a national level.
As the track operator, he is mainly responsible for the groomed, serpentine, dirt race course. While every course has a starting gate and a finish line, no two tracks are identical. There is a huge amount of work involved behind the scenes into designing and maintaining the track, Dorofee said.
One of the improvements this year is a new track layout. Dorofee said the third and fourth straightways have been remodeled. They were basically the same design for the past eight to 10 years and were starting to get dated, he said. The track now features some redesigned jumps and other obstacles.
"We needed to step up our game and make it more technical. This not only keeps the track challenging for our local kids, but makes it more competitive with other tracks around the country," he explained.
Another new feature they added this year is the use of something called "soil tac," which is a soil stabilizer used a lot by the military to keep dust down on roadways, Dorofee said. Once spread over the soil, the mixture basically prevents the track from getting torn up as much and also adds some protection from the weather.
EHT BMX organizers said the opening of the racing season brings a lot of optimism.
Puentes, along with track president Stan Russ, said they expect "a fantastic" year and have already attracted new volunteers within the community. But even with increased interest the non-profit, self-supporting organization is always in need of donations. Besides helping to pay for track upkeep, money is needed to purchase track bikes, helmets and pads to lend to new riders who would love to try the sport but don't own their own equipment.
And it's not just monetary support that is needed. The organization could use help mentoring the younger riders and can always use volunteers to help enrich the BMX course. Sponsorship and advertising for the 2014 season is available at all levels.
Registration for the Jack Frost Classic takes place from 8 to 11 a.m., with a start time of about noon.
For more information, see ehtbmxracing.org or email ehtbmxinfo
Contact Lucia C. Drake: