Tim Lillethorup was an original member of the Bill’s Bicycle Barn BMX Race Team from Omaha, Nebraska. He was a pioneer in the sport during the early days of Bicycle Motocross racing. He helped build Omaha’s first BMX track called Spinnin’ Spokes and raced at the first BMX track in Nebraska – Yankee Hill BMX under the National Bicycle Association (NBA) sanction. He also raced in the American Bicycle Association (ABA) PRO Class during the 1978 – 1987 seasons.
Tim’s career in BMX began in the early 1970s on the streets of west Omaha where he and close friends Chris Heyden, Steve Goodnight and Brad Fanshaw all lived. They built wooden ramps in their driveways and in open fields and rode on trails in empty lots and in the woods. They were jumping, riding, and racing on makeshift tracks before there was organized racing. In 1974 and 1975 they held makeshift races with wooden trophies.
By 1976, Yankee Hill BMX track in Lincoln, Nebraska and Spinnin’ Spokes in Omaha were established. Tim was instrumental in getting the first Omaha team, Bill’s Bicycle Barn going. He also was on the crew that built and maintained the Spinnin’ Spokes track north of Omaha.
During the 1970s Tim was on several bike shop teams including Bill’s Bicycle Barn, Olympia Cycle and Rockbrook Schwinn. Then in 1979 he was offered a position on the Freewheelin’ Shop team based out of Lincoln. That team would go down in history as one of the most successful teams in Nebraska with riders like Tim, Todd Calfee, Joe Baumert, Rex Reason and Steve Gavin.
In 1978 Tim along with Chris Heyden were the first Nebraska riders to turn Pro. By January of 1980 Tim had won his first major Pro event at the Kansas Coliseum near Wichita, Kansas. Throughout 1979 and 1980 Tim would go on a streak of Pro wins in local and regional ABA races, and would qualify for the main event at national races like the 1979 ABA “Last Race of the Decade” in Tucson, Arizona and the 1980 ABA Midwest Nationals in Elkhart, Indiana. It was a time when the riders from Southern California were dominating the Professional class in national level competition, and Nebraska riders like Tim were beginning to get noticed.
The 1979 – 1980 Pro class in Nebraska was extraordinary in BMX at that time. There were often two to three gates (between 16 and 20 riders) full of Pros at each event, competing three to four times per week at four different tracks – one in Lincoln, one in Crete and two in Omaha. That kind of Pro competition would produce riders like Tim, Greg Grubbs, Joe Baumert, Chris Heyden and Kevin Renker – riders that could all win in national level Pro competition.
During the 1979 season a class had been established for 26” wheeled bikes called “Cruisers”. On a whim, Tim built a Champion cruiser and began racing them as well. In 1980 he won the Cruiser class at the ABA Cornhusker Nationals. By the time of the ABA Grand Nationals, he was in contention for National Number One Cruiser. He ended the season as the National #4 Cruiser rider. His success on the big bikes earned him a spot on the Powerlite Factory team.
The ABA decided to create a Pro class for Cruisers and in January of 1981 Tim raced at the first ever Pro Cruiser race in National competition. He rode his National #4 Powerlite to a second-place finish behind National #3 Scot Breithaupt and ahead of National #1 Jeff Kosmala and National #2 Kevin Harlow. It would become a long, hard fought season of battle between those riders as more top pros like Brent Patterson and Tinker Juarez would soon join the Pro Cruiser racing.
During 1981, Craig Kundig of RRS had designed the first 24-inch wheel race cruiser. Craig was looking to expand his team and Tim made the transition to the RRS Factory team and a prototype RRS 24 late in the season.
By this time Chris Heyden joined in on Pro Cruiser racing and by year’s end, Tim and Chris had both earned national wins and enough points to be in contention for another Cruiser title. After the dust settled at the ABA Grand Nationals Tim and Chris had taken 5th and 6th in the main event. Tim had earned another National #4 Cruiser plate.
As Tim became a fixture on the ABA national circuit, he would gain the friendship of ABA owners Merle Mennega and Gene Roden. In 1981 they were looking to expand their publishing department. They hired Tim as an Editor and Photographer. In January of 1982 Tim moved to Chandler, Arizona to work full time at the ABA.
National racing was put on hold due to the demands of producing ABA Action Newspaper and later Bicycles & Dirt Magazine. But the local Arizona racing scene was there on weekends. In Arizona, Tim had the chance to become a Chandler BMX “local”. He spent many weekends racing with Arizona legends like Scott Ahart, Fred Hightower, Bill Morris, Scott Sackett, Hubert Woods, and Woody Woodruff. It was a friendship with Woody that would result in a new BMX frame company called Reach BMX.
Woody had designed a BMX frame with a revolutionary rear triangle design. Woody and Tim formed Reach BMX Systems to promote and sell the frames. They called the frame design the “Direct Link”. The frames had a cult following of serious riders. Nebraskan Joe Baumert raced Pro on the Reach BMX Team during the 1983 season.
Tim was approached by the Woodward BMX Training Center in 1983 to help find trainers for their new BMX Camp in Pennsylvania. With Tim’s guidance the first group of trainers – Mike Poulson, Greg Grubbs and Joe Baumert was formed. Tim also worked as a trainer at Woodward later that year.
Tim retired from professional BMX racing after the 1987 season. He made a brief appearance to race by invitation at the ABA’s first Masters Class race at the Winter Nationals in 1993.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s many of the sport’s early riders began making comebacks. The age 30 and over classes were filling up with former top amateurs and pros. Tim followed the race results and noticed that Woody Woodruff and Clarence Perry were winning a lot of races in the 36-40-year-old Cruiser class. By 2001, Tim was back on a BMX bike to join in the competition.
By 2003, and again in 2004, he had won enough races to compete for National Age Group Number One at the ABA Grand Nationals. He had also formed Direct Link BMX to build frames and pay homage to the Direct Link name from the early 1980s. The next generation Direct Link team from Nebraska with riders like Tim, Chris Rowlette, Matt Brodecky, Dean Busch, Jim Linneman, Ricky Wallace and Dayne Chase was soon winning more team trophies than they could keep track of. In 2006 an expanded Direct Link team was winning Factory Team trophies at ABA Nationals. Wisconsin riders Bryan Dickerson, Randy Behnke, Tim Eiring and Curt Zizzo had joined the team as well as Pro George “The Mangler” Andrews.
Tim introduced and implemented the first successful BMX videotaping program in 2006. His production company videotaped all Quarter Mains, Semi Mains and Main events at ABA National races, selling the DVDs to riders and their parents. The new company was called BMXTV. He also created a web site for the project called bmxtvdirect.com. Videos from the 2006 and 2007 seasons were made available for viewing online and DVDs could be purchased from the web site store.
Tim’s BMXTV crew developed the concept of BMX webcasting and produced the first live webcast of BMX racing at the ABA Blackjack Nationals in September of 2006. In 2007, BMXTV was also the first company to live webcast NBL National BMX races.
The Nebraska BMX Hall of Fame was developed by Tim Lillethorup and Jerry Jensen to pay homage to the first BMX racers from Nebraska. It was also formed to assist in the further development of BMX in Nebraska and to continue honoring the people who shape BMX in our state.
Tim was inducted into the Nebraska BMX Hall of Fame on August 21st, 2010.