Vail Valley BMX racers bring home big hardware from Grand Nationals
Locals win one national championship, several top finishers in 3,500-racer field
Ten-year-old Gunnar Schaub has never stood as tall as when the 4-foot 6-inch lad held his 7-foot national championship trophy.
Gunnar is one of a handful of local BMX racers — Max Hudgins, Calen White, Gunnar and Sonya Schaub, Tegan Noteware – who traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma. for the Grand Nationals, a massive BMX event attracting thousands of racers and their families from the U.S. and Canada.
All five local racers finished well in the field of more than 3,500. Noteware finished fifth in his national title race.
Three days of racing – Friday through Sunday — starting early in the morning and ending late at night, way past their bedtime.
Great gate jump
In his national title race, Gunnar was in the fifth starting position and got a great jump, darting into the lead.
“I had a good gate. I was in gate five and right before I hit the berm I moved to the left so I could block a racer from passing me from below,” Gunnar said.
A few seconds later it was over and he was a national champion.
“I stayed ahead the rest of the way,” Gunnar said.
Even after he won he didn’t quite believe it.
“It was kind of shocking. I didn’t think I actually won it,” he said.
Seeing, though, is believing.
“Then I took a picture with a seven-foot trophy,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often in your life.”
It’s a 13-hour drive to Tulsa, and 13 hours back – worth every minute and every mile for every Vail Valley racer and their families.
“It isn’t easy for these kids and adults to stay focused and race all day, but in the end it was so worth it,” Christie Noteware said.
The drive also provides time for some perspective.
“I probably learned that you cannot always win. You have to be a good sport if you don’t,” Gunnar said.
How This Works
The Race of Champions is the Friday after Thanksgiving, the first race of the three-day weekend event. The ROC was 575 motos. A moto, or heat, is one lap. It took 15 hours. To qualify for the Race of Champions, riders had to be in the top 10 of their state or province. Friday’s Race of Champions is also the riders’ last chance to qualify for Saturday and Sunday’s Grand Nationals – 747 motos over the two days. For a little perspective, their summer series at Eagle’s BMX track, is a total of 10 or 12 motos.
Each Grand National class has to be culled from hundreds of hopefuls to the final eight, racing for a national title. The qualifying heats started at 7:15 a.m. At 10:30 p.m. the gate dropped for the finals.
After Friday’s Race of Champions, everyone was back early Saturday morning for the two-day Grand National event. After finishing well past their normal curfew Saturday night, everyone was back in the Tulsa Expo Center at 7 a.m. Sunday for day two of their Grand National run.
“You couldn’t do much between races. We just had to watch the motos and then get ready,” Gunnar said.
Sunday was serious
Sunday’s atmosphere was a little more serious. In the earlier rounds, Tulsa’s Expo Center can be a madhouse: Families and fans cheering, music blaring, racers racing in the midst of that beautiful bedlam.
In the finals, though, amateurs like Gunnar and the others get the same treatment as the professional riders.
Each rider is announced as they enter the starting gate, then it goes silent as they approach the start. In the mains, even for the amateurs, the music and announcer stops and the crowd goes silent.
“The quiet was kind of cool and kind of weird. Usually, everyone is cheering. This was silent. It was a little surprising that that many people could be that quiet,” Gunnar said.
For downvalley humans, it’s pretty cool when elk decide to hunker down around Eagle for the winter. For the elk, it’s more of a lesser-of-two-evils situation.