Nebraska BMX Hall of Fame

You are hereNebraska BMX Memories By Doug Olson

Nebraska BMX Memories By Doug Olson

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Inspiration:

Motocross ruled my life through the mid seventies.  I was 12 and my single-parent mom bought a town house in Southgate; a new housing development in south Lincoln. I lived there with my mom and two and a half older sisters (the oldest was hitchhiking across the country and would stop by once and a while.).  There was a huge open field across from the townhouse.  I did not want to stay in the house with all that estrogen so I befriended Todd Frauen who lived a street over and we hit the trails.  I was on a Sears FreeSpirit 10 speed with the bars turned up and Todd rode a 20” Huffy or Schwinn.  We would ride out to the field and watch the MX dudes fly their machines off jumps many times taller than we were.  We soon discovered these motorcycles had strange names like Maico, CZ, Husqvarna, can-am, Hodaka, Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda. 

I was enamored by the different sounds  each of these bikes made and when we heard a new sound; we hopped on our bikes and zipped over to the field to investigate.  I will never forget the first time a Maico 501 flew up the path; the ground shook as the single-cylinder 2-stroke beast accelerated past while belching out its unique low deep roar. 

We soon discovered the Maico dealer just down the railroad tracks and I fell in love with everything Maico. My first true MX hero was Adolf Weil the “Iron Man”.

The Field was awesome and the riders were amazing.  Todd and I quickly realized we could have fun riding these trails and did so when the MX guys would stop for a break.  I remember the thrill of just riding down the huge jumps and skidding-out in the dirt!  The jumps were way too big for us to jump (they were hills with lips that the motorcycles would hit in 3rd or 4th gear) so we built jumps at the bottom, or to the side, of the hills and started to fly.  The Field became a construction site and continually changed but the motorcycles still came and we continued to build jumps. One summer we carved a lip that no MXer in their right mind would hit.  It would shoot us straight up about five feet and we would land about 2 feet from the lip.  The run up was flat, so my FreeSpirt 10-speed was perfect for getting max speed! I must have hit that thing a hundred times and each landing bent my forks; I stopped when they broke.    

Racing Begins:

My Mom remarried and I soon found my self in York NE.  This was 1974 and somehow I finally got a 20”.  I remember the motorcycle handlebars that we adapted to goosenecks and the wider the bars the cooler you were.  We also had the double clamp stems that looked like a motorcycle top crown and to top it off we had plastic “gas” tanks that would clamp on to the top tube; very cool!  It was in York that an inkling of organized BMX started for me.  Of course my best friend Chip Carlson and I had plenty of different spots around town with jumps and drop-offs to ride but nothing that combined all elements.  We had friends that raced MX and they all raced each other on a closed course.  We jumped around individually and watched each other but never really raced.  Then we found an empty lot by my house that the owner said we could do anything we wanted with. The idea was to make a track that we could ride, race or set new track times on; well that was my idea and no one else was too excited about it.  Chip and I built a few small jumps and some 1 foot high berms but it never really went further.

What did happen was bike racing at the Wilber Motocross track and I could not wait. It is all a bit fuzzy but the emotions of that day were intense.  I think I rode to Wilber with my MX friend Dennis Hurlbut.   I remember watching him race in the 125 class and then during the break between the 1st and 2nd motos the announcement came for all kids with bicycles to line up at the start. Somehow all my Lincoln friends were there and all I wanted to do was go as fast as I could.  There was no starting gate, we just lined up.  The flag dropped and we were off.  I remember a steep uphill with ruts and then a downhill a couple of turns and then the finish. I remember getting first that day (others remember differently.)  Competing and going faster than my friends thrilled me; I was hooked.  There were a few more races at the Wilber MX track and I don’t remember winning or losing; but I do have pictures of a few trophies.

Wilber was a beginning and soon the spotlight became the race at the TT scrambles track in Lincoln.  The year was 1975: Mom and I were living back in Lincoln and I was riding a Littlejohn frame with wheels that I built myself. I had missed the first BMX race held at the TT track. There was a second race scheduled and everyone I knew was there including Tim Whitney - a very talented bike rider with tons of style.  We started off the side of one of the corners, went over the TT jump around a corner and onto the finish straight.  It was really sandy at the start and I remember looking up and down the line of kids that were there and feeling like there were hundreds of us.  The flag dropped and we where off.  I had a bad start and had to pass a few people just to see the front and the leader, Tim.  Over the jump and into the last corner I was on his wheel. We one footed the corner and we came out even. I mashed the pedals and passed Tim to win.  I cherished that trophy and of course wanted more.

The Tracks of Lincoln:

The MX and TT track owners were not vested in the bicycle races and only did it to entertain their base audience of motorcyclists.  The races were few and far between and my friends and I wanted more.  We had heard of BMX in Southern California and had read each Bicycle Motocross Newspaper that we could get our hands on; Todd and I were excited when our letter to the editor was actually printed!  We were determined to get a track started in Lincoln.  On a rainy, late winter/spring day Todd and I walked into Mr. Bike and asked for the owner.  Ken Stevens came out and we asked him to help us start a BMX track in Lincoln so that we could have weekly races.  To our surprise he said he would be happy to help. 

Within a few weeks Ken had asked his friends about land that we could use and soon we were walking around an abandoned quarry off of Yankee Hill Road.  It was perfect! Steep walls, good dirt and plenty of space.  Within minutes we must have had a hundred ideas but the consensus was that the starting gate had to be at the top of the quarry!  Sure there where trees to remove and we had to figure out a way to get down off of the edge of the quarry but the start had to be up high so that the track would be fast and fun.  The first track featured a huge drop off with a lip at the top to launch everyone down the slope.   The drop was 25 to 30 feet with a steep slope landing that threw you into a 120 degree turn.  Of course the corner was flat and we had all of a 2 foot high berm to guide you through it. The rest of the track wound around the edge of the quarry using the sides as corners or jumps.  The final straight was long and there was a jump just before the finish- line banner.  Racing every week was awesome and I soon found that my finish straight speed was my weapon.   Week after week I would follow Tim Whitney through the jumps and corners (in awe of his smooth style) and as soon as we would hit the finish straight I would kick it in and pass him for first.

The second Yankee Hill track was faster, longer and just as fun. The start was in the same place high above the quarry. We extended the first straight so that it turned slightly as we went down the sloped side of the quarry but this time without a drop-off.  This was a very fast first straight and turn, and as you transitioned to the flat base of the quarry your body would compress down to your bike.  You had to hold on tight or you could loose control and find yourself in the dirt in a hurry.  After the compression the track continued across the quarry floor to the other side where you would hit the second turn followed by some whoops.  Next was a left turn jump drop-off combo.  The drop was a good 15 feet and many very cool cross-ups were displayed off this obstacle.  The drop took you back down to the base of the quarry where we rode across to a sharp banked turn carved into the side of the quarry wall. A couple more turns and the final straight and that was it.

Something happened with the lease or the ownership and after our second year at Yankee Hill and we could no longer use the property.  We were all very upset but we were offered space to build a track behind the YMCA in north-east Lincoln.  The landscape was not as dramatic as the quarry of Yankee Hill but it had potential and we were determined to keep BMX alive in Lincoln.  The key feature for me at the new track was a slanted starting gate Todd and I built in shop class.  It took most of the winter of ‘77 –‘78 to complete but it was installed and ready for the ’78 season. The YMCA track was fun and we had much better attendance than ever before.  BMX was gaining popularity and when the Factory SE team came to town to race the entire property filled with people.  This was when we locals finally had an opportunity to race the top riders in the country on our turf.  Personally, the highlight was the main event where I met the legendary Perry Kramer.  I had picked up a Factory sponsorship with Torker by this time and did not want to loose on home turf to an SE Factory rider.  The main event was tight. Perry and I came out of the gate even.  I had the inside gate and after going over the first jump/drop-off we were still even. The first corner was a sharp left with a decent berm which allowed the inside rider to square off and take off quickly down the second straight.  I looked for the line and as I squared the turn Perry was there; we bumped but both stayed up.  It was back and forth through the next corners and the partisan crowd was roaring. As we came around the final sweeping right hander I saw an opening and barely sprinted past Perry for the win which was dramatized by my front wheel hitting the finish line wooden plank and me flying over the handlebars.

The Early National Scene:

In 1977 a group of us Lincoln BMXers started to venture beyond Nebraska and experience the National BMX scene.  Incredible parents like Bernie Cech, Joe Knickerbocker and my mom where willing to put up with a few, sometimes a bunch, of out-of-control kids for extended summertime weekends. We hit exotic places like Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and St. Louis. I think our first contact with the BMX world outside Nebraska was in Wichita where we knew that the SE Factory tour was making a stop.  We had only read about Stu Thomson, Perry Kramer, Gregg Hill, Jeff Utterback, Scott Briethaupt and all the California fast guys.  We must have looked stunned because Bernie kept telling us “Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you.”  True, but these guys let their boxers stick out from under their shorts which gave us all a laugh and relieved some of the tension we felt having to race our “heroes.”  I certainly was humbled that weekend and knew I had a lot to learn if I was ever going to compete at the highest level of our sport.  Things we learned on those trips like speed jumping, elbows-out cornering and knee-out high speed cornering helped everyone.    

Off to So Cal:

After the 1978 season I was determined to make a statement for Nebraska BMX. After graduating high school in December of ‘78 I headed for Southern California.  In January of 1979 I arrived in Santa Ana California, moved in with my Dad and began a job with my sponsor, Torker.  Talk about BMX heaven; this was it and I loved every minute.  I was soon racing every other day and three times on the weekend against all the So Cal legends.   Torker was the number one team that year and we went on a 6 week national tour that summer.  My teammates were Eddy King, Mickey King, Doug Davis, Jason Jenson, Mike Aguilera and Clint Miller and we had a blast. 

By the end of the ‘79 tour I was not feeling well and found myself crashing a lot.  The fall of that year my doctor was treating me for a pinched nerve in my left shoulder but the pain in my left arm would not subside.  Finally after several visits and my doctor thinking I was a hypochondriac, he decided to take an x-ray of my shoulder and neck.  He came back with the x-rays looking as white as his lab coat and proceeded to show me and my Dad a very large tumor that had grown on my spine on the left side of my neck. By February of ’80 I was at UCLA being tested and by March I was on the operating table. After 17 straight hours of surgery, 10 days in the ICU and 6 weeks of physical therapy I was back on my bike with a neck brace.  By June of 1980 I had broken up with my first “true love”, Jenny, and took off on my motorcycle to find out who I was…  I found myself in Nebraska living with my Grandma and rebuilding a VW engine with Dave Cech.  Strangely I don’t remember going to a BMX race while I was there for those few weeks but I did feel much better and headed back to So Cal with a new perspective and the goal to get to college and get my degree in engineering. 

Upon my return to So Cal I found I still had a job with Torker and I could start junior college in the fall.  At Torker we were designing the latest BMX bike; the cruiser.  We started with the 26” and soon went to the 24”.  Clint Miller and I ended up testing each new design and soon we had a very fast and stiff bike.  I was hooked on the bigger more stable wheels and raced (with a neck brace) for most of the fall and winter of ’80.  The 1981 winter national in Phoenix was my last race.  It was my best national showing of my career; I won all my motos and the semi.  I got to the main bobbled the start and ended up third (with a neck brace); which was one of my best finishes ever.  You would think this would have motivated me to continue my racing career; it did not.  It did make me realized that I needed more than racing and that I needed to focus on engineering and getting my degree.                                 

Now, 30 years later I am married to Anja, girl of my dreams (she lived next door to the Torker-owner Johnsons.) I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a successful engineering career and I am racing BMX again and loving it.  I have 2 sons, Gavin races and Lance cheers from the stands just like my mom once did.

It is amazing to find myself back in Nebraska racing and re-uniting with so many friends.  Here’s to dreaming, competing and working hard for a meaningful life.  Cheers to all the friends and grownups of the NE BMX scene of the late 70s that helped shape all us crazy kids’ lives so many years ago.