Photos by Chris Burau
Nicole, what’s that you got? Is that a black Turbo Diamond Back? A JMC Racing Bike? Man, I wish I had one like that.
— “BMX Bandits” by Wheatus
The riders are coming. Clad in oversized helmets, invading an unsuspecting city, leaving a trail of dust and dirt in their wake, they are coming.
Thankfully, there is no need to hide the women and children. The riders in question are not some real-life version of a Sons of Anarchy biker gang; they are BMX (bicycle motocross) riders. Yes, sir, big-time BMX racing has come back to Ventura, and its journey to get here starts with the little race track that could and a visionary who saw potential in an empty dirt lot in the corner of a city park.
Building the frame
Despite some debate of exactly when and where, it’s agreed that BMX racing was born in Southern California in the early 1970s. It received its biggest burst in popularity in the early 1980s with movies like Rad and BMX Bandits as well as a slew of video games and magazines dedicated to the sport. One of those impressionable youngsters whose imagination was seized by BMX was Erick Kozin, who started riding at the tender age of 4. Growing up in Port Hueneme, Kozin’s track was Farnum Raceway in Saticoy; and his dad, an off-road racer himself, supported and encouraged his son, taking him to BMX events and tournaments.
As BMX was pushed to the wayside by a burst of popularity in surfing and then skateboarding, not to mention the closing of the track in Saticoy, Kozin too drifted away from the sport as a teenager. BMX racing, it seemed, was destined to be a childhood hobby. Granted it was a hobby that Kozin looked at fondly but not one that he saw necessarily ever re-emerging later in his life.
While Kozin was perhaps through with BMX, BMX was far from through with Kozin.
As a young adult, Kozin was once again bitten by the bicycle bug and got heavily involved in mountain bikes and mountain bike racing. That eventually led to his taking ownership of Nema, a Huntington Beach-based custom apparel line for bike riders. Kozin relocated the company to Ventura where he and his wife, Lea, another lifelong area resident, were beginning to raise a family.
And so it was, while on an evening stroll through the Kimball Aquatic Center Park in his East End neighborhood with his pregnant wife, Kozin’s Field of Dreams moment occurred. While not exactly a ghostly voice ordering him to destroy cornfields, it was a vision nonetheless. For where others saw a dirt lot covered in weeds and rocks, a rather unsightly blemish on the unfinished park, Kozin saw a state-of-the-art BMX track begging to be built.
Moving the pedals
Wisely, though, Kozin didn’t set out in the middle of the night, with a blue print on a napkin and a shovel to see his dream realized. He went about it the right way, first reaching out to a friend of his wife who put the Kozins in touch with the city of Ventura’s Parks and Recreation Department, which was impressed with the idea and asked for a more formal presentation. Once that was done, the next step was to bring the idea to the Ventura City Council. The official presentation took place in January of 2012 and friends, family and BMX riders packed the meeting and cheered when the unanimous vote to move forward with the building of a full-fledged BMX track in the city park was announced.
While it seems like the plot of an ’80s after-school special, it wasn’t so easy after the actual motion was passed. Permits, negotiations, meetings, planners, builders, blood, sweat, tears and a whole lot of actual dirt consumed the Kozin family. He signed a specially designed lease with the city in July of 2012 to operate the track as a nonprofit and pay a quarterly revenue-based rent. In December of that year, when Ventura BMX opened with hundreds of riders attending the track’s opening weekend festivities, as Kozin recalls, “It was worth all the work.”
With clinics, visits from Olympic BMX riders (yes, BMX is an Olympic sport), tournaments, events, classes and a family-friendly vibe that’s seen beginners ride alongside pros, riders from age 2 to 65, Ventura BMX made it a point to make the track more than just the typical raceway. Soon the small but connected national BMX community began to take note of the new track making a buzz in only a few months of existence.
Spinning the wheels
While the story could end then and there, and still be filed in the feel-good, give-back-to-the-community category, Kozin and company were far from finished. Now, with a legit track to which many visitors and riders were giving high praise, from design to the welcoming vibe, Kozin was yet again struck with another somewhat mission-impossible: to bring a national BMX competition to Ventura.
Enter USA BMX. The national organization for BMX hosts close to 30 weekend events a year throughout the United States in major markets with the occasionally smaller market thrown in the mix. Kozin figured with the quality and popularity of the track and the coastal climate, well, why couldn’t a brand-new track land one of the stops on the national tour?
Erick Kozin opened Ventura BMX in 2012 and within a year, the course landed a spot on the USA BMX national tour, which takes place this weekend.
Apparently, USA BMX agreed and just like that, having only been in operation for five months, Ventura BMX made a bid to land a USA BMX event in 2014; and it did just that, dubbing the event the Seaside Nationals, playing on Ventura’s beach location. Even more impressive is the fact that the deal is for a guaranteed three visits.
“It was kind of surreal. Here we were only up and running for eight months and we were at the pinnacle of what a BMX track can do — land a USA BMX event,” explained Kozin. “We didn’t really have time to breathe; we went right from getting the track going to working on holding a major event.”
Going for a ride
Just exactly how big will the Seaside Nationals be? Well, according to Lea Kozin, “It could potentially be one of the biggest sporting events ever in Ventura.” More than 1,500 riders of all ages and experience levels are expected to participate and more than 5,000 spectators and attendees are expected per day at Ventura’s East End park, which usually handles swimmers and soccer players on the weekend, who just may want to take the weekend off. Adding to the draw for out-of-town riders and maybe more so for their families, who often travel in RVs and campers to competitions, is the fact that it’s only one of two stops in California and the only event that’s in a proper West Coast beachside town.
Despite riders as far away as Canada signed up to attend, many locals who aren’t even aware of the track’s existence will probably be shocked to learn that the event is expected to bring more than $1 million to the city over the weekend.
A happy youngster riding a “Strider”-type bike during
open track time between scheduled races at Ventura BMX.
“We hope this sets a precedent for more sporting events to come to Ventura. For one event to bring that much money into town in one weekend, especially for a sport that’s not on a lot of people’s radars, really says something about this town’s location. It’s perfect for hosting events.”
So with a track record (no pun intended) of making big things happen and happen fast, when asked about the future of Ventura BMX, Kozin lets out a smile and you can almost see the gears grinding for his next big venture.
“We want to keep improving the track’s reputation. Keep improving the facility. Not to be egotistical but our goal is to make Ventura the epicenter for BMX in Southern California. There’s no reason other national action sports events couldn’t make Ventura a destination. Hopefully the Seaside Nationals will start the trend of seeing more major sporting events come to town.”
First things first though. This weekend, the riders will be here. Question is, are you ready, Ventura?
The Seaside Nationals takes place this weekend, Friday through Sunday, May 2-4, at Ventura BMX Raceway, 901 S. Kimball Road, Ventura. For more information visit www.venturabmx.com or call 805-229-1BMX.