• Sun September 20 2009
  • Posted Sep 20, 2009
Des Moines, IA By JARED STRONG September 18, 2009 The Ewing Park crew hosts practices on Tuesday nights and races on Sundays. An almost secret brotherhood of bicycle racers has been slowly gaining speed on Des Moines' south side. The Ewing Park BMX crew has grown to about 50 members since the sport was rekindled in central Iowa eight years ago. They range from kindergartners to adults, and because of the relatively small number of active riders - there are about 20 who practice Tuesday nights at the park track - the group is close-knit. "There are certainly some egos out there, but when it comes down to it, if somebody wrecks, everyone helps," said Marty Stutz, one of a handful of adult riders who help supervise the group. "It's a very family-oriented activity." Stutz's 5-year-old son Marcus - who swears he can beat dad over the jumps and around the turns of the track - took first place in the novice class of his age division at a state BMX competition in Cedar Rapids on Sunday. The Stutzes live on the south side and started riding this summer. BMX, or bicycle motocross, pits riders on small, off-road bikes against a dirt track with obstacles of bumps, jumps and 180-degree curves. The sport first became popular in the 1970s and last year achieved widespread international recognition as an Olympic sport in the summer Beijing Games. It takes Ewing Park riders anywhere from 45 to 60 seconds to go the length of the park's track. The fastest of the group, 15-year-old A.J. Conrath, won the expert class of his age division in Sunday's state competition and is an inspiration to the younger guys and gals for his ability to spin 360 degrees or lay his bike on its side as he jumps more than 10 feet in the air. The Ewing Park track was overhauled in June by the American Bicycle Association, which sanctions races in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Track director Scott Conrath said the association paid more than $2,000 for the work. The track now has an automated, pneumatic ramp that starts each race. At the heart of all of this is Kittie Weston-Knauer, a former principal at Scavo Campus, Des Moines' alternative high school. The 61-year-old has been racing for nearly 20 years. She had to travel to other Midwest cities to compete when the metro area's old track on the west side closed shortly after she began riding with her son. "The sport kind of died out in Iowa," Weston-Knauer said. "We brought it back to Des Moines in 2001 because we really wanted to grow the sport. ... It is interesting that as we see this resurgence, we see fathers who are getting involved with their sons. This is truly a family sport." She said there is talk of other ABA tracks that could be built in Algona, Council Bluffs and Mason City. Race days in Des Moines typically draw 25 to 30 contestants. Several dozen more come to watch, Weston-Knauer said.

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