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When Mom yells, they pedal harder

By WES PLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2001


Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!"

The woman's voice carried across the red clay pit of the raceway, but it might as well have come across the chasm of years.

Mom? I thought. No, not mine. But the mother of one of the helmeted dynamos cranking his way with the pack down the starting ramp, over the step-ups and doubles, around the turns en route to the finish line in one of the many motos of the ABA Gator Nationals in Dade City on Saturday.

Not my mother, but someone with the same coaching style.

The encouraging cries took me back about 15 years, to the track in Pine Hills outside Orlando, where my mother would stand in the bleachers as my brother Don flew past on his Mongoose.

"Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!" she would shout.

When she first started doing it, Don not only pedaled, but he also tried to make himself as small as possible, hunching down over the handlebars and practically sticking his head in the spokes in embarrassment.

None of the other mothers shouted "Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!" at their kids, and those kids seemed to finish the race okay, Don reasoned. Besides, what else was he going to do on the pedal-powered bicycle?

It was like shouting to a fisherman: "Cast! Cast! Cast!"

Or standing in the middle of the Kentucky Derby, yelling, "Gallop! Gallop! Gallop!"

Granted, "Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!" was preferable to what Mom really meant, which was: "Don, whatever you do, please don't fall down and hurt yourself! Oh, God, watch out for that bump!"

And, after a while, the phrase seemed to catch on with other BMX moms, so they too began shouting at their sons and daughters and husbands on the track: "Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!"

So I couldn't help but hark back to those days as I heard the likewise cries of new millennium moms: "Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!"

And plenty of legs, young and old, male and female, worked liked pistons on those pedals this weekend. Cyclists from around the country made their way to the Dade City BMX Raceway, competing for thousands of dollars in prize money, gunning for scholarships and just having a good time.

The track, nestled off in a depression of land near the county fairgrounds, on Saturday bore witness to a series of qualifying races, or "motos."

Racers ranged from little 5-year-olds called Pocket Rockets, in helmets so big that they nearly topple over, to the prime-timers in their teens and 20s, to the old-timers in their 50s, 60s, even 70s.

Jeff Hamilton, 19, racing in the expert class for his age group, is a year away from turning pro. The San Diego, Calif., resident has been racing for about five years. He made it past qualifying on the track he described as "fast."

"It's really fast," he said. "It's not too technical."

What that means, for a BMX racer, is a track that relies more on speed than agility or handling skills. On the Dade City track, if you blow out of the gate and make the first turn leading the pack, the race is yours to lose -- either by falling down or snapping a chain or blowing a tire. Other tracks have more jumps, which do more to test that critical bike-handling ability. Speed can't really guarantee victory if you handle a double clumsily.

Tony Sheets, a 33-year-old Daytona Beach resident, is a 24-year veteran of the sport. He used to make a living at it, but now he is a lumber yard supervisor by trade, racing bikes on the weekends to stay in shape.

"If I didn't do something like this, I'd weigh about 300 pounds," Sheets said.

He didn't fare well in his first qualifying round, getting a bad start out of the gate. But he had high hopes for the next time around.

"It's a fast track, real simple," he said. "It's an all-out sprint. A lot of pedaling going on out there."

- Wes Platt is the Times central/east Pasco bureau chief. He can be reached at (813) 226-3454. Send faxes to (813) 226-3455. Send letters c/o Pasco Times, 24038 State Road 54, Lutz, FL 33549. Join our Web-based discussion forum at http://www.sptimes.com/pascoforum.

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