Orange County used to be a BMX riders hotbed over the past 40 years, with many professional racers and companies getting their start in Southern California. Sadly, the BMX scene went dormant on Aug. 28, 2016, when the last BMX track in Orange County closed.
The Orange Y BMX, founded in 1976, shut down due to the falling out of a new contract with the YMCA of Orange. The Orange Y track was the oldest track in Southern California at the time of its closure.
Local residents advised the YMCA to build a BMX track as an outlet for themselves and their children. Soon, the track serviced hundreds of riders a week, even hosting the California BMX state finals for 30 years in a row.
The track was the most popular BMX track in the United States, registering the most riders every year up until the time of its closing. Its popularity earned it nicknames like “The Mecca of BMX” and “The World Famous Y.”
“When I was racing growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Orange Y would have 60 to 80 races on a weeknight, which was unheard of,” said John Gonzalez, a former top national BMX rider from Orange County. “It was called the World Famous Y for a reason because all the local pros would come down. It was like a who’s who of talent in the area.”
The Orange Y track was shut down due to an expired land lease and high maintenance costs. The owners of the property where the Orange Y stood sold the land in 2019. The track is now abandoned today and is a symbolic representation of the past and current Orange County BMX scene.
For the past six years, Orange County has not had an outlet for riders of all ages to compete and practice their craft on a regular basis. If riders want to go out to a track, they would either have to go north to the Bellflower BMX track in Los Angeles County or south to the San Diego BMX track.
“The sport of BMX went down quite a bit after the track’s closure in Orange County,” said Ruben Sanchez, manager of the Orange Y track for its final 16 years and former owner of the bike shop Bike Alley. “Most of those riders moved to mountain biking. BMX pretty much disappeared and we lost some BMX racing business, which was 30% of the shop’s sales.”
An alternative to these BMX tracks are smaller, faster tracks known as pump tracks that are being built by city park developments across the country, but the closest one from Orange County is in San Diego. What remains in Orange County are dirt jumps in Costa Mesa and Lake Forest, but it doesn’t offer the competitive thrill that racing offers.
Seeking to reverse this trend is SoCal BMX, a recently founded non-profit corporation headquartered in Irvine. SoCal BMX is trying to bring a new BMX track to Orange County, in the Irvine Great Park. The company believes that Irvine is the perfect place for a new BMX track because of its central location and the unique opportunity presented by the development of the Great Park.
Irvine played a key role in the early years of the sport in Orange County hosting races in the early 1970s and 1980s, helping to establish the sport in OC. Now that BMX is a highly refined Olympic sport that’s steadily rising in popularity, SoCal BMX president, Sean Kading, is confident now is the time to return BMX racing to Orange County.
“When we met with the Great Park, they seemed receptive to designating the land required for the establishment of a BMX track and a pump track,” Kading said. “There was also some interest shown for a complete bike park that would include a BMX track, a pump track, freestyle area, a mountain bike and jumping area, a learning area for kids and adaptive uses.”
Kading is currently a real estate lawyer and land developer. His first project was a grassroots BMX track in his hometown, Montana, built in the ’80s and in operation today.
“I saw the need and thought my unique experiences could help,” Kading said. “A BMX track is a great asset for any community. For the past 34 years in my hometown, kids and adults from three to 80 years old get to race BMX bikes because of something I started as a teenager. The positive impact on the community and on those kids’ lives is immeasurable.”
Kading moved to Orange County specifically for the rich racing culture the Orange Y track provided. Now that the track is no longer in use and his racing days are behind him, Kading remains involved in the sport and is looking to bring a state-of-the-art BMX race track and an all-wheel pump track to Orange County.
“We’ve made significant progress in establishing SoCal BMX as a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt non-profit, which makes us eligible for a variety of grant programs and it helps us negotiate with the Great Park,” Kading said. “Because the response from the city has been positive so far, I would hope that in little as two to three years we could have a BMX track operating at the Great Park.”
Given Orange County’s rich BMX history and with many industry-leading companies still headquartered in Orange County, it seems inevitable that BMX will return. Orange County needs a BMX track back for the thousands of riders that have been left stranded without a track for the past six years, and it looks like one may finally be coming.
You can find more information about SoCal BMX at SoCalBMX.org