Written by: Chris Zealand

As it is with riders, so it is with track operators. The best are not content with the status quo, however good that might be. They are driven to progress.

When it comes to track operators, NOVA BMX’s Curtis Dowdy is among the best. Curtis knew he had a gem when he took over the track. But he polished and set that gem to give it an even more dazzling and rarefied luster. Under his care, NOVA has become a true crown jewel of BMX.

Curtis comes from a tight-knit group of family and friends whose members include some of Virginia’s BMX pioneers. They were building trails and jumps for all manner of two- and four-wheeled radness before NOVA was even a glimmer in Curtis’s eye.

This group coalesced around Curtis at NOVA, and from their ranks came the founding members of the Dirty Birds, which expanded outward from this boisterous nest to become a flock of the most dedicated, experienced, and knowledgeable volunteers in BMX. They are the shovelingest, rakingest, broomingest, groomingest, rollingest, rock-yeeting, wheelbarrow- and squeegee-wielding crew in the game. Their grungy exploits have been the key to the good, clean fun that only a pristine BMX track can provide.

While the sweat and toil have been widely distributed, it has been Curtis’s leadership that has held this motley gaggle together through the relentless pressures of square life that weigh on peoples’ willingness or ability to contribute their time and efforts. Like the Bat Signal, the word would issue forth through Facebook Messenger: a work day was at hand. Curtis would cajole the flock with food, drinks, and track time. He would wield his moral authority. “I don’t need to hear about all the fun things you all have planned,” he might say. “I only need to know who’s coming to the track.”

Most of all, Curtis would inspire the Dirty Birds with his own enthusiasm, vision, and inexhaustible dedication. Curtis would not let down the riders. And so the Dirty Birds would not let down Curtis.

A track operator’s job description includes a formidable array of knowledge, skills, and abilities. They are field generals, engineers, physicists, meteorologists, equipment operators, chemists of soil and its coatings, landscape architects, visual artists, diplomats, lobbyists, fund-raisers, laborers, water-carriers, and pack animals, among other things. Their alchemy is to turn piles of dirt into unforgettable memories, the fulfillment of dreams, and the making of strong, resilient families and kids. As much as Curtis excels in the fundamental requirements of the job, he is above all the center of gravity of a vibrant and cohesive community.

Curtis’s BMX resume shows his drive for ever-greater involvement and accomplishment. He and his family joined the track in 2017. By the following year, he took over management of the Get-A-Grip BMX Racing Team. Curtis became assistant T.O. at NOVA in 2020. The following year he took over as track operator. NOVA has seen two highly successful nationals during Curtis’s tenure and has increased its track standings in Virginia (#1), the East Coast (#4), and nationwide (19th out of 299). Ridership, moto counts, and volunteerism have all boomed under his leadership. The track itself has seen several major infrastructure projects, including a new concessions building in 2022, permanent covering for the staging area in 2023, and a complete rebuild and layout overhaul in 2024. The Sqorz Timing System was also added in 2021.

Even before he officially became involved in track operations, Curtis was contributing ideas that helped grow ridership and participation at the track. Key among these was Tots Tuesday, which gave younger riders a less intimidating introduction to the track by setting aside a practice day for those aged 10 and under. He also helped grow ridership among the parents at the track, including by throwing down the gauntlet at the gate himself.

Indeed, the entire Dowdy family races, Eli (12 Expert) and Amelia (9 Expert) at the national level. When Curtis mixes it up on the track, he never lets the impulse for speed overcome the imperative of steeze: he will forfeit a place on the podium to send it like the other dads wish they could. Jumps, Curtis understands, are for jumping.

That’s because Curtis has never lost touch with the child-like joy of riding your bike and hanging out with your buds. At the end of the day, that perspective has been the defining quality of his reign as T.O.

Curtis’s commitment to the BMX community extends well beyond the gates of NOVA BMX. His annual Halloween Bonfire has become an institution and cements friendships among the track’s riders and families. He has organized trips to distant riding spots. When a member of the NOVA BMX family is injured, ailing, or in need, you can bet the Dowdys will be among the first to offer encouragement and support. An electrician by trade, Curtis has also helped several of NOVA’s young adults get started in their own careers in the field. 

Side-by-side with Curtis in all these efforts has been his wife, Nichole. She has also increased NOVA’s public profile with her photography, videography, social media savvy, and graphic design. Every T.O.’s spouse knows the family’s time will never fully be their own, with the endless duties that position entails. Nichole has handled that reality with grace and good humor.

Now, after giving his all to NOVA BMX for the last 5 years, it’s time for the Dirty Birds’ spiritual leader to fly to calmer climes for a well-deserved respite. With him go the thanks and esteem of the BMX community from the DMV and beyond.

Fortunately, NOVA’s eggs are not all in one basket. Birds of a feather flock together, and there shall arise a new aviator from the dusty, soiled ranks of the Dirty Birds to lead the echelon into NOVA BMX’s next era. No doubt he or she shall be egged on by the example and legacy of Curtis Dowdy: the man, the bird, the legend.