OLDSMAR, Fla. — To Jason Conklin, it feels like freedom: riding down a steep dirt hill, catching air, and landing the jump on a BMX bike.
“It’s exhilarating. That’s for sure,” Conklin said. “It’s a bit intimidating. You kind of coast down your first few times, and then you get a little more aggressive with it.”
He’s the track operator of Oldsmar’s BMX Supercross facility in the city’s Sports Complex on Tampa Road. Friday, both he and Chip Potts will be in attendance as the ribbon's cut on the complex’s brand-new BMX track.
“This is certainly one of the top tracks in the world,” said Potts, the city’s Director of Leisure Services, while looking down from one of the track’s two massive hills. “The cool thing about BMX, this is a family-oriented sport. USA BMX notes that they have riders from ages two all the way through 90.”
For Oldsmar, getting to Friday’s grand opening was a bumpy, hilly ride.
In 2019, the previous track was suddenly closed due to safety concerns.
“As early as September 2015, the City noted that the retaining walls were beginning to exhibit distress, which prompted several evaluations by consulting firms and the designer of the wall system over the past several years,” Potts wrote in a May 2019 memo.
In Jan. 2021, in a unanimous vote, Oldsmar City Council approved $2.9 million in funding to pay for the rebuild. Despite some initial sticker shock, council members and then-Mayor Eric Seidel believed the expenditure was money well spent, given the sport’s local popularity and the track’s appeal across Tampa Bay and beyond.
“BMX is certainly our key gem,” said Potts.
Current Oldsmar Mayor Dan Saracki said it’s a “gem” that’s now solid.
“It’s going to last a lifetime,” he said, as he glowingly looked up at the track’s five-meter and eight-meter hills. “Believe it or not, that smaller hill — that will get your adrenaline rolling. This big hill — I don’t think I could go down that.”
The “gem” is also expected to pay for itself over time. According to Saracki, each national or international event hosted at the facility should generate about $3 million in economic impact. Three such events are already scheduled.
“It fills up our hotels. It fills up our restaurants. It’s an amazing opportunity for the local businesses here in our city to gain profit,” he said.
For Conklin, the new track is also an opportunity to introduce more people to the sport he loves.
“I mean, there’s nothing else like it, to be honest,” he said.
A beginner’s league will be offered by the city in August.
The grand opening of the track begins Friday at 6 p.m. The ribbon will be cut at 7 p.m. with BMX practice and races afterward. All are invited to attend.
“We’ve got hotdogs. We’re going to have cold drinks. We’re going to have bike races on this track,” said Saracki. “Come on out.”