University City

Father and sons compete and bond with BMX

When Andrew Higgins was growing up in upstate New York, he said, "If you didn't have BMX, you weren't doing anything."

That was around 30 years ago, but Higgins still has BMX in his blood.

And for the past year and a half, he has been sharing his affinity for the extreme style of bicycle racing with his sons, 13-year-old Skyler and 8-year-old Kael.

Today, all three have an opportunity to be crowned state champions. They will be participating in the American Bicycle Association's N.C. State Championship Series Finals at Hornet's Nest Park.

The Higginses used to ride street bikes in their neighborhood, but then they learned of Hornet's Nest BMX, the club that operates the 1,150-foot race course at Hornet's Nest Park. They started competing in summer 2010, using their street bikes, which are built primarily for performing tricks instead of racing on dirt.

Several months later, the Higginses turned in their street bikes for BMX-style bikes and recognized the immediate effect on how competitive they could be. The family began to regularly attend Tuesday and Thursday practices and raced at Hornet's Nest on Saturdays.

"It's great to get the kids into something that's challenging," said Andrew Higgins. "It helps build determination and dedication, with the training involved, instead of them being at home."

As every rider does, the Higginses started out in the Novice Division. This summer, though, Kael and Skyler both achieved Intermediate status by notching their eighth wins in their respective age groups.

Riders also earn points towards their rank on a district, state and national level by how many races they participate in and how well they finish. At most competitions, riders race in preliminary rounds with a chance to qualify for the day's main event.

The Higginses have run a full slate of races in 2011, including statewide and national competitions. At the two-day Tar Heel Nationals at Burlington in July, Andrew grabbed a first-place trophy on the first day in his 36- to 40-year-old Novice Division. He followed that with a third place finish on Day Two.

On a smaller scale, ABA sponsors a state championship series, which includes races at Burlington, Raleigh and Hornet's Nest. Riders must participate in at least two of the races to qualify for today's state championship finals.

The three performed fairly well at the Burlington and Charlotte races. Andrew finished first at both venues, and Skyler won the main race at Charlotte.

Those results have put them in a good place entering today's event at Hornet's Next. Not only could they be crowned state champions, but they could also earn enough points to place them at the top of the rankings in their age groups.

Andrew enters today's race ranked second, two points behind the leader. Skyler is tied for third in his division, also two points behind. Kael is ranked seventh. Riders get to mount a plate with their ranking on the front of their bikes.

Today's racing concludes two days of competition at Hornet's Nest. Saturday was scheduled as a pre-race day, giving riders a chance to get a feel for the course.

Registration will be 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Racing will start at 1:30 p.m. and probably will last around three hours.

Track operator Mark Coates expects around 200 racers.

"The state championship race is very important," said Skyler. "You get recognized and number plates. If you're state No. 1, you can get a backpack (an ASA prize) and also a really big trophy that's really cool."