When Shane Fernandez was growing up in California in the 1980s, he would go to the Pipeline in Upland and watch BMX riders do their thing. He would drop in as well.
That’s where he met Eddie Fiola, one of the era’s best free-stylers.
Moments like that fueled Fernandez’s lifelong passion for the sport, and that passion is no small reason why Tulsa will become the center of the BMX universe on Tuesday when the new USA BMX Hall of Fame, headquarters and stadium opens at the old Evans-Fintube site north of downtown.
“When I was a kid, he was like my hero,” Fernandez, president and chairman of USA BMX, said of Fiola.
Now Fiola’s yellow, purple and blue long-sleeve jersey hangs on a wall in the BMX Hall of Fame, along with dozens of others. Fernandez calls it serendipity.
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“To come in here and see his jersey,” Fernandez said. “I remember standing watching him ride in the park while he was wearing that jersey.”
The 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony will mark the end of a long, circuitous and sometimes rocky journey that began in 2016, when city officials proposed including $15 million in the Vision Tulsa sales tax package to lure USA BMX to Tulsa.
The measure passed overwhelmingly. Then came the delays, beginning with a contract disagreement between Expo Square and USA BMX that left the city looking for a new location to build the complex.
A lack funding also slowed progress on the project. When the price tag went from $15 million to $23 million, city leaders agreed to use $6.5 million in city funds and a $1.5 million donation from the Hardesty Family Foundation to fill the gap.
But that’s all in the past now, and Fernandez can’t wait for the public to see the new complex at 490 N. Lansing Ave. East.
“I am always telling people: We are projecting 200,000 people coming through here, including students, athletes, because with the foundation and racing, we will be active six days a week,” Fernandez said.
The Hall of Fame’s first floor includes two classrooms for youth STEAM programs, a museum/events center and a pro shop. It’s worth a look-see.
Bikes hang from the ceiling, and nine mini display pods highlighting the sports’ development and disciplines are sprinkled throughout. Across the room from the wall of jerseys is a detailed timeline of BMX’s history that stretches from one end of the wall to the other.
Look up to the second floor and you’ll see where the professional and Olympic athletes will train.
Fernandez believes moments like that could spark a few young people to dream big like he did.
“Imagine, if you’ve got kids in here and I say, ‘Hey, look up through that window, she is a two-time gold medalist from Colombia,’” Fernandez said.
Hardesty National BMX Stadium will have bleacher seating for 2,000 people, but Fernandez says fans of the sport are not known for sitting around. They circulate, and the stadium’s spacious plaza area on the west side of the track is large enough to accommodate them and the vendors selling food, equipment and other items.
Best of all, the plaza is next to the 8-meter-high starting ramp the pro- and Olympic-level riders use. When they reach the bottom of the ramp, Fernandez said, they are going 40 mph to 45 mph.
“At the ribbon cutting, the Olympic team will be riding on it, so you can stand right next to it,” Fernandez said. “... We are projecting they will probably do the length of four football fields in less than 40 seconds on the elite side.”
For the 95% of BMX riders who are not elite or Olympians, the stadium has a separate track that starts on a 3-meter-high ramp and is easy enough for 3-year-olds and challenging enough for everyone else.
“You will have three levels of programming just on the track,” Fernandez said. “You’ll have your after-school coaching and clinics, more private experiences, we’ll have local and regional practices and races, and then we will have national teams, whether it is foreign or U.S., training here.”
For all of his passion for the sport — it is real and it is intense — Fernandez has a larger vision for the facility he has dreamt of forever. He wants it to help spread the word that Tulsa is a cool place to be. In fact, he believes that message is already being heard.
“As much as I love BMX, it is the vibe of Tulsa that I think is making this the most desirable track,” he said.
Parents interested in signing their children up for BMX programs should email Bailey Benton at email@example.com.
The first national elite-level event scheduled to take place at the USA BMX complex is the Legacy Nationals from May 13-15.
Video: USA BMX announces move to downtown Tulsa site.