Return to The Rock! 2021 MidWest Nationals
The BMX world rejoiced with the triumphant return to The Rock; a longtime favorite track on the National circuit with legendary obstacles such as Bermzilla, the Rockness Monster and #TheDrop. Having to skip out on the always awesome Rockford tradition last year due to Covid shut-downs in the state of Illinos was a bummer - and marked the first year in decades that Rockford hadn't hosted a National event.
Thus - for the Return to The Rock, BMX families came out in masse - nearly tieing Rockford's all-time moto-count record (with 262 on Saturday coming up 2-short for the previous Rockford record of 264 in 1998). The rolling grassy knolls of Searles Park were filled with over 120 motorhomes and tent campers, who all got to enjoy the after-race commoraderie that BMX brings.
As we said at the beginning of this story - Rockford brings some very unique obstacles to the table. Obstacles that you rarely find on any other BMX track. Just like Dothan is famous for the full-circle loopty-loop, Rockford is best known for "The Drop." But that's not all.
Let's start your tour from the back of the hill, in staging.
STAGE 'ER UP
Talk about keepin' up with the Jones'. Rockford's covered staging might not be a "big top" like DeSoto, but for a local outdoor track, the gigantic roof over their staging-zone is pretty darn huge. Not to mention, very much needed, no matter what the weather is.
Sunny? You've got shade.
Rainy? You've got protection from getting drenched.
And this weekend, the big ol' staging shack came in handy for both!
I mean - c'mon! You can't have a Rockford national without rain, can ya? That'd be like Rockford without plush green grass. But overall, this might've been the best MidWest weekend weather-wise, as it wasn't too hot, nor too humid, and the only "rain" we got was more like an illinois drizzle and cooled things down as the racing heated up.
GET IN THE GATE
The Rock's first straight is all about PULL. No, not the magazine. "Pull" as in your first three or four cranks. The start here is flatter than most, so racers really have to lay down the horsepower and go from zero-to-thirty extremely QUICK. And with the design of the first straight, there's also some factoring in what gate you have. Gate one at The Rock? Not so good. You've really gotta get out from lane one, or you'll be shut down by the Drop. Gate five or six, though? Oddly, that's the preferred lane in Rockford. Even gate eight gives you a good straight shot to the first turn; but you've gotta have a lot of ponies under the hood to get 'er done from the outside.
The gate in Rockford is from local gate builder ProGate; whose shop is right here in Rockford. Rumor has it that with some big splits from the 50/50 all weekend, Rockford might be stepping it up next year with a ProGate barrell gate.
LAY DOWN SOME PONIES
Anyone will tell you - winning at Rockford is mostly done within the first fifty feet. Sure, moves and mistakes are made throughout the rest of the course, but much like Nashville - this dragstrip of a first straightaway is what really sets riders apart from the rest of the pack.
You just don't see obstacles like this on a modern-day track. It's a touch old-school, and as simple as it might look, it is one of the most difficult parts of Rockford BMX. Keeping up your speed, catching perfect backside, and building up more speed is what it's all about. Pre-hopping - at speed, before hitting the peak of The Drop is crucial. While you might be able to pull it off perfectly in practice, by yourself, it's a whole different story in the main next to seven other equally fast dudes or dudettes.
The next large obstacle is a mondo-sized Step-Table-Stepdown. Like everything here, there are a ton of techniques used to get over it fastest. Sky the whole thing if you can? Roll the entire monstrocity?
As far as I know, this beast doesn't have a fancy name. Or maybe it does? But since it's in front of the snackbar and 50/50 booth, let's just call it the "Big Whoppa." Speaking of the 50/50 booth and "big whoppin' stacks of cash" - Rockford BMX knows how to do it right. On Saturday, they gave out the split of $1,600 cashola to the 50/50 winner.
HIGH SPEED TRIPLE ROLLERS
Right after the jumbo-sized whopper quickly comes a set of three rollers, that speed you into the first turn. While most opt for the high-speed manual thru 'em, or the power-pump for those younger or less-skilled racers, there is still the occasional radster who prefers to sky 'n scrub the whole triple. Daylight's Corben Sharrah and a few other pros would frequently leap 'em in a single bound, like Superman.
It's sort of a big thing. Way back in the late 80's, Rockford's first turn was MONSTEROUS! You'd have a hard time finding a bigger first turn, a more banked beauty, than Bermzilla. (Of course, now you've got supertracks from Rock Hill to Houston that would gobble up Bermzilla in one bite.) But with it's paved carvability and white-dotted lines lining the top, Bermzilla is still amongst one of the greatest berms in BMX history.
Probably the best technique we saw all weekend - or at least our personal old-school favorite, was Brent "Pee Wee" Lee, in Sunday's rainy weather, goin' vintage foot-out into the turn for a classic inside swoop. You've gotta watch the main on the video replay - and it'll put a smile on all the faces of old school BMXers.
JUMP-FILLED SHORT STRAIGHT
Rockford's second straight might hold two records: 1) It could very well be the shortest straightaway on the national circuit, and 2) It might very well have the most obstacles per capita. In fact, it's so jump-infested that many a rider in the main would get squeezed off the track and detour into the infield. The best of the best - such as "Skittles" MacKenzie Gayheart and many of her Full Tilt team mates, would jump off the lip to land on the next step-down. Al lthat was missing was the sound of a twisted throttle as they did so, making it look sooooo motocross.
At the beginning of this straight was also the Answer Holeshot flags, where Pros were trying to get the "cha-ching" from Grindle, and an extra $250 from our friends at Answer. Felicia Stancil and Josh McClean scored the holeshots and 1st lace money both days.
It was nice to see three of the five TeamUSA members race Rockford - Sharrah, Stancil and P-Nut; getting in some pre-Olympic track time. South Africa's chosen one - Alex Limberg, was also in Rockford (wearing a Hyper kit) prepping for Tokyo.
TURN TWO WITHOUT A FANCY NAME
The second berm at Rockford is about the only obstacle without a fancy name. (Or is it?) Since the LIVE Video feed camera was placed there to capture all of the action from the custom Jake-built platform, maybe we can name it the "Video Turn" from now on?
Much like the first turn, there were occasional inside swoops made here ...especially come main time. During the motos, it's mostly a stick-in-the-draft line, which makes the racers ressemble a Nascar race.
Perhaps the best move of the second turn came on Sunday, in the 21-30 ladies main - between former National No.1 Girl Elida Beeman and Black Widow's multi-time NAG No.1 Champ, Kaitlyn Larsen. These two were goin' at it every time they matched up, and in their last main of the weekend, Larsen swooped inside and rode Beeman to the white line, until there was no track left to ride on.
These ladies don't mess around!
ROCKIN' & A ROLLIN' RHYTHM
Rockford's long rhythm makes up for the shorty second-straight - and it's not only long, but can also be a bit tricky. ...especially if you're attempting to catch and/or pass the rider in front of you. It can also eat you alive at any given moment.
The entire 17-20x class had this one dialed. And from the get-go, it looked as if this weekend would be a battle royale between Supercross' Cam Bramer and Tangent/Rift'er Nick Adams. Bramer would wind uyp with the wins both days, but neither one were easy. He had to get by Adams each day, who unfortunately wound up with a dislocated thumb for his efforts. With 46 riders at the peak, Bramer's wins at The Rock will jump him up nicely in Amateur point standings.
The third and final turn at The Rock is also pretty unique. Back in the golden grungy days of the 90's, before clipless pedals became a thing, this turn literally WAS flat as a pancake. It was what old BMX dudes refer to as a "Euro" turn. Since then, they've added some outside bankage to it, but it's still fairly short and still called "flat" by today's terms.
That means you've gotta get your lean on just right to make a move in this corner; and plenty of riders tried. Some failed, some succeeded. Regardless the outcome, when a pass in this corner was made the crowd would jump to their feet and scream louder. The crowded sideklines all around the track were loud all weekend, and getting into the action.
From what I recall - if my memory serves me right, they call the last straight rockers the Tombstones, because the dirt is rumored to have come from a local Rockford graveyard. Or at least, that's what the legend is. ...or maybe it was turn two?
However the story goes, I suppose if you need some extra dirt, a nearby graveyard is probably a good source.
The Rockness Monster has changed shapes over the years and has evolved into the montrosity it is today. Everybody still has to crank up it, with very few guys actually catchin' air over the top (unless your name is Pee Wee Lee - then you pull high-speed full X-ups over it, while in the lead).
GET YOUR SPRINT ON
So many people on the www. think that BMX is all about power-pumpin' around the course as if it were an 8-wide pump track. And while that might be true with a few of today's tracks, it sure ain't so at Rockford BMX. The final stretch from the top crest of the Rockness Monster to the finishline seems like a quarter-mile dragstrip. My measurements might be off a bit, but it's gotta be pretty darn close! I do know that it's probably the longest finishline-sprint in North America!
SPEED BUMP / DUCK CROSSING
As you speed across the finishline and head back to your pits, or back up to the gate for another round of practice, you'd better not run over any of the ducks who are waddling over to the infield from the nearby creek, to check out the action.
TO's Jake and Candy even added a small speedbump to slow ya down ...or to catch one last bit of air.