To the finish line

BMX racers of all ages flood the fairgrounds for national battle

Chico racer Gianni Law took home two wins this past weekend at the USA BMX Golden State Nationals.

Chico racer Gianni Law took home two wins this past weekend at the USA BMX Golden State Nationals.

Photo by Vic Cantu

This past weekend was particularly exciting for 13-year-old Chicoan Gianni Law. He was among a swarm of 800 BMX racers from all over the country, all clad in bright uniforms with their equally colorful bikes, who brought a huge amount of adrenaline to the sunny Silver Dollar Fairgrounds for the USA BMX Golden State Nationals.

Participants, who competed by age, raced for speed along an 1,100-foot track of straightaways, jumps and sharp curves in three skill levels: novice, intermediate and expert. Each day, Saturday and Sunday, consisted of “main events” for each age group, during which the top racers competed for the most points.

Gianni’s main event on Saturday—which he first had to qualify for—was a spectacular, major upset, said Craig “gOrk” Barrette, USA BMX chief communications officer. Gianni began the contest in last place after another racer at the starting gate stumbled into him, nearly causing him to crash. But Gianni blasted up the track, soon catching up to the pack. On the first curve he cut off six racers, bringing him into second place.

“From there I did very good on the second straightaway, then on the second turn I went super low and cut the first-place guy off the track and won,” Gianni said.

In third place was Chicoan Trevor Shields, and in second was Austin Peebles of Citrus Heights, who often races and trains in Chico with his brother and coach, Jake Peebles. All three winners hugged and congratulated each other at the finish line.

The event, which turned the fairgrounds into a sea of people, bikes, RVs and vendor booths, thrilled fans who watched racers from preschool to age 70. The youngest racer of the weekend was just a year and a half old. Damian Cervantes, of Fontana, was competing in his first race, according to his father, Isic Cervantes. He rides a “strider,” or “balance” bike, which, like a scooter, moves by pushing off the ground with the rider’s feet instead of using pedals.

“He goes fast, has good balance, and always wears a helmet,” said Cervantes, who guided Damian up hills during the race. “If he falls, he gets right back up.”

Damian’s mom, Elizabeth, said she was reluctant at first to let Damian learn to ride, but says “he took off right away and broke us in.”

Traveling to the 31 BMX Nationals events each year is expensive, so a commonly shared goal among racers is to become “factory,” which means getting a business sponsor, explained Gianni’s father, Marty Law. Gianni races locally twice a week, he said, and plans to make his next BMX Nationals appearance in Reno, Sept. 4-6. Gianni says his ultimate goal is to get a BMX scholarship for college. If his showing in Chico was any indication, he’s on his way. Gianni raced and qualified for the second main event race on Sunday, and ended up winning both days’ events in the expert class for his age group.

In addition to the hundreds of amateur riders, there were 10 pros at the event this weekend, Barrette said. Gianni named one of them, 21-year-old Brandon Cato of Oakland, as a major mentor.

“There’s infinite knowledge, so I love both giving and taking advice,” said a humble Cato.

But BMX racing is not just about competing and winning. A strong sense of family and community permeates the sport. Racers and families greeted each other as close friends. Gianni’s mother, Paula Law, explained how her husband and friends started a community service and BMX racing group called Syndicate Racing. It not only helps to recruit and organize racers, but contributes their services to charities and fundraisers.

“Whatever we can do to keep kids off the street is worth it,” Paula said.

—Vic Cantu