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Frank Gray

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
John Entley, director of Fort Wayne BMX, stands next to the track at Franke Park during races Tuesday evening. Entley dreams of attracting national BMX events to the city.

Dirt may be key to BMX spotlight

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
A local excavating firm delivers fill dirt to the Franke Park track. The hope is to build a space for events and shops.

John Entley describes himself as a little guy with a goatee, and he’s one of those people you see zipping around town on a little BMX bike that looks like it was designed for a 9-year-old.

For all I know, I’ve seen him around town and given him a peculiar look, but I would have never heard of him if not for a bunch of dirt being piled up in a remote area of Franke Park.

Entley has been into BMX since the 1980s, when there was a track at Rockhill Park and motorists along Jefferson Boulevard could catch a glimpse of daredevil riders flying through the air, unconcerned about the future of their noses, teeth or necks.

BMX is largely a young person’s sport, Entley says. By the time riders turn 15 or 16 they move on to what he calls the fumes – exhaust fumes and perfumes, cars and girls. That’s what Entley’s friends did. That’s what his son did.

“But I can’t let it go,” says Entley, who is 38 and still races the little stunt bikes in what is called cruiser class.

Today he is the director of Fort Wayne BMX, arranging practices and races at a BMX track hidden at the end of the winding trails in Franke Park.

BMX racing almost died in Fort Wayne, Entley says.

But these days Entley is dreaming of big things.

He arranged with a local excavating firm to bring in loads of dirt to fill in a low-lying area, what he calls a mosquito nest, next to the track. If they can fill that in and get it graded flat, it would be a perfect place to put up bicycle pits, for bike shops to set up tents, and for spectators to watch BMX races.

These days your typical BMX race at Franke Park attracts perhaps three dozen racers, who run a series of one-lap races called motos. Throw in family members and other spectators and 200 to 300 people might show up to watch.

BMX, though, can be big business, and Entley believes he can achieve that with all that fill dirt. He wants to get the name of the track out there and attract bigger races.

“I want to get us on the national circuit,” Entley says. That will help the whole program grow locally, attracting more riders, more parents of riders and more volunteers, which is important since the whole effort locally is volunteer.

If Entley can accomplish that, it’s easy to understand what he means by big business. A national event can attract 30,000 to 40,000 people, good news for the local BMX club and great news for area motels and restaurants.

“It’s a big deal,” he said, “and if we can get it, it’s good for everyone.”

USA BMX has about 230 tracks, and there are seven BMX tracks in Indiana. If the local BMX group can get its name out, it could attract lots of riders who just want to try out a different track. It’s nothing for people to drive a couple of hours to ride on a different course, and there are BMX riders who travel all over the country, Entley said.

Attracting major events isn’t necessarily a long shot. True, there is a track in Portage that’s been open for 17 years and it’s attracted only one national event in that time, Entley said. Toledo, however, has a track that’s been open only two years and it’s already attracted one national event.

If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.

The group’s website is www.ftwaynebmx.com.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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