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Hebron’s Brandon McDowell wins BMX event

BrandMcDowell  Hebr(#379) takes lead 1st place Steel Wheels Pro Challenge Steel Wheels BMX Hobart December 15 2013. | Jim

Brandon McDowell of Hebron (#379) takes the lead and 1st place in the Steel Wheels Pro Challenge at Steel Wheels BMX in Hobart on December 15, 2013. | Jim Karczewski\For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 17, 2014 6:28AM



Retooled to focus solely on pro BMX riders, the inaugural Steel Wheels Pro Challenge drew a “quality versus quantity” field of 26 competitors to Hobart on Sunday.

Attracted by recognizable BMX names and prizes of cash and bike gear, racers from mainly the Midwest came out of the cold and into the Steel Wheels indoor facility. For the rising and aspiring stars of the extreme sport it was also one of the last and best USA BMX events of the year.

“I think (the SWPC) is going to be really fun, but it’s going to be really hard at the same time,” said Alec Nesbitt, an Arizona native who attends Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky, one of a handful of schools offering cycling scholarships. “There are a lot of fast guys here, a lot of local guys who have experience with this kind of track.”

Local riders made a strong showing. In earning the SWPC title, Hebron rider Brandon McDowell broke the streak of non-Indiana wins in the event since it went national in 2005 as the Future Pro Challenge.

McDowell, another Lindsey Wilson Blue Raider, edged out an impressive class of riders in the event’s main: Tyler Whitfield, Brandon Ceslok, Olijuwon Davis, Tony Claar, Jared Johnson, Brandon Brown and Nicholas Tanzymore.

McDowell’s and Nesbitt’s classmate, Corey Ross of Portage, rode into the semis with a No. 3 ranking in Bedinger’s reverse-points scoring system for three rounds of motos (first place gets four points, second gets three, and so on.) In the second of two 8-man semis, Ross’s momentum was stopped in a tangle of bikes and dust in the first turn.

“It’s disappointing for the first 30 seconds and you sort of get mad,” said Ross, of the crash. “And then you sort of realize the greater picture that you did good and you had fun.”

Another notable accident happened in the main and took out Whitfield, who was neck-in-neck with McDowell just after the first turn. The Rockford, Ill. BMXer appeared to have gotten his front wheel planted in some soft dirt just off-track while negotiating a back-side. He flipped over his handlebars and suffered some scrapes and bruises.

From the fourth gate position, McDowell — the day’s “sleeper” rider — was able to undercut the others in turn No. 1, steer clear of trouble and out-out-pedal Davis down the home stretch to claim the biggest hardware and a $400 prize.

“I didn’t event know I would make it today,” said McDowell, 19, who had just finished a college report. “I’m definitely happy about the race.

“(BMX) is an everyday thing — you make a commitment to your team and to academics,” he added.

McDowell had been a victim of turn No. 1 in the event’s main in each of the last two years.

Local track veteran Tony Claar made it into his second main, repeating his 2011 feat. In his first moto, only Whitfield finished ahead of him. Claar finished fifth.

Valparaiso native Brown grabbed the seventh of eight spots in the final, saying he had to detour to avoid running over Whitfield’s head.

In their first such pro event, fraternal twin brothers Nicholas and Tyler Tanzymore of Merrillville pumped their way into separate semis. Tyler got tied up in a turn and turned into a cheerleader for his 15-year-old sibling, who earned a spot in the main, placing sixth.

Race coordinator Gene Bedinger, who first rode a BMX bike in 1980 when he was 13, said he’d like cycling and extreme sports fans to see the quality competition showcased at the event by looking up Steel Wheels Pro Challenge on YouTube.

“The quality of racing (at Steel Wheels) was like a professional event at (the national level),” Bedinger said.

“Especially being on a tight, fast, indoor track, it just added more excitement for the audience that was here tonight.”

Steel Wheels BMX founders Ken and Jackie Altizer ­said they were proud to see an impressive field of competitors at the venue as the organization wrapped up its 13th season.



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