BMX Spring Nationals gets rolling in Duke City with elite local racers happy to be home

May 23—Oh, Dr. Jessie is about to have her mind blown.

The first-time BMX competition spectator is planning to be one of the thousands of fans on hand Friday through Sunday at Duke City BMX in southwest Albuquerque to watch the 2024 USA BMX Spring Nationals.

"The principal of my school is coming, and some of my friends will be there," said Danica Appenzeller, one of the best 13-year-old BMX riders in the world who calls Albuquerque home.

"So that'll be pretty exciting. ... Mostly, people are surprised with how fast it is and think it's like motocross and we have engines, but really, it's just our legs. I think it's just really exciting to watch these races."

Not only is this weekend the rare "home" meet for racers such as Appenzeller and Santa Fe 10-year-old Cruz Gallegos, who has been racing since he was 3 — "I don't really remember, but that's what they tell me and I know it's been as long as I can remember" — this weekend's Spring Nationals is also the next stop on what is a hectic, year-round travel schedule for elite level riders.

For Appenzeller and Gallegos, it's a chance to their home state in front of people who might not normally get to see them.

"We just spoke with her. We're very excited to have Dr. Jessie come out and she said she can't wait to see Danica. And some of her friends (at school, too) can come see her because this isn't a school sport," said Danica's mom, Shara Appenzeller. "Some of them have no clue about all this and when Danica says, 'I'm racing in Scotland, I'm racing in France.' They're like, 'You're doing what?'"

What the principal more formally known as Dr. Jessie Barrie, head of school at Bosque School, and some of Danica's classmates are about to see is three days of high-level competition for elite riders of all ages in a sport that has a large following throughout the world.

This weekend's event, put on by USA BMX, will feature races with jumps, curves and turns on a fast dirt track. It's been an Olympic sport since 2008 and is not to be confused with BMX freestyle, which debuted in the 2020 Olympics.

Appenzeller and Gallegos (not on the same riding team) are "expert" level riders in the sport (there are three levels, starting at novice and then progressing to intermediate and expert) and both competed just last week in at the UCI BMX Racing World Championship in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Appenzeller, whose parents are avid and competitive mountain bikers, hopes to one day be in the Olympics for BMX.

Gallegos, the ambitious 10-year-old, says he might broaden his sports portfolio.

"I love it and how fast we go," said Gallegos, who comes from a racing family. "But I'll probably only do it until I'm 12 or 13 years old. Then maybe just basketball or NASCAR."

The crew at Duke City BMX, which is open just about year round and available for newcomers and seasoned riders alike, this weekend's event is a showcase.

"Duke City BMX has hosted the Spring Nationals for many years, and we are honored to be hosting it again in 2024," said track operator Justin Hawkinson.

The Duke City BMX facility, known by many as that large facility out beyond the right field fences of Isotopes Park, is one of the few 100% dirt tracks remaining in the country and one of only three dirt tracks that are covered.

Volunteers and local riders have been prepping the facility and both concession stands all week for what the City of Albuquerque projects will bring in an estimated 2,600 fans.