When young William Storm of Rantoul found out that his father, Dave, had raced BMX bicycles in his teens and finished second in the state in 1985, he decided he'd like to follow in his father's footsteps. Or in this case, his bike tracks.
Nine-year-old William has done his father one better. He not only won the state, he won the Midwest championships.
William appears to be a natural. Before his first race in August 2010, he didn't do any training on a BMX track. Instead he rode his bike in the grass behind his house and on the street. Still, he finished third at the South Park BMX race track in Farmer City.
William called the first race "pretty cool. I knew I was going to want to start (racing more)."
The coolest part was "I went super high into the turn. A guy went right under me. It was pretty awesome."
William doesn't really race for the glory, although that's nice. (His father had to tell him how many first-place trophies he'd won — 28, which makes for a crowded trophy case. William thought he had about half that many.) No, he does it because it's just fun.
Having won that many races means he will soon be moved up from the Intermediate to the Expert class of BMX racing.
Dave Storm said BMX racing, which was quite popular back in the '80s, lost a lot of its popularity in the years since then. But it appears to be making a comeback. The Storms want to get the word out that BMX racing is open to everyone and is a fun competition.
Rod Llewellyn of Champaign, who like Dave Storm is a member of the board of the Farmer City BMX track (Dave Storm operates the track), said the introduction of BMX racing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics has helped to increase its popularity. Also, some colleges are now offering scholarships for the sports.
Llewellyn continues to race BMX bikes. Racers as old as 70 continue to compete in BMX events. His two young daughters also race.
"It's a great way to meet friends," Llewellyn said. "It's still a family sport. We'll bring our campers to the outdoor events."
Llewellyn said at some tracks, dad, mom and the kids all race BMX.
"(His daughters) go out and have fun, and the adults hang out and cook dinner," Llewellyn said.
William Storm said BMX racing involves more than pedaling a bike fast. It's also twists and turns and going over obstacles.
With so many bikers riding so close together, it's not unusual for accidents to happen.
"I've had lots of those," William said. "Mainly in giant races. One time I fell and they ran over my leg."
Dave Storm said most accidents only cause bumps and bruises. The worst injury he has seen at a race is a broken hand.
Safety is stressed at the races with protective gear — helmets, long-sleeve pants, long-sleeve shirts and closed-toe shoes.
The Farmer City track, which is one of the longer ones in the state, is 1,000 feet long.
Most competition consists of three motos (preliminary races) or heats. Winners of each moto then compete in the main race.
"You have to be fast and have pretty good nerves," Dave Storm said.
Added William, "That track can be pretty scary. It's (got a) really big jump."
The goal of BMX racers is to get over the hills but not to become airborne.
"We stress using your legs to get up it and use your arms and legs to do down to build up speed," said Dave.
At 39, Dave Storm still hits the BMX track but not competitively.
"I go out not to get hurt," he said. "I do it for fun. There are guys who go out there competitively. They haven't let go of their youth."
When William's sister, 13-year-old Calista Storm, saw how much fun her brother was having, she decided to give it a try. Now she's sold on BMX racing as well, not only for the racing but for being able to make new friends.
Calista races with a 24-inch wheel bike while William races with a 20-inch wheel bike. She said she is out to race more for fun than competition, but she has won "quite a few races."
At Farmer City, there aren't that many youngsters his age who compete, so William generally races against older competitors. He figures that helps him prepare for the higher-level competition. Still, at Farmer City, he said, he usually finishes second and regularly beats racers three to five years older than him.
"It actually builds your speed up" racing against older BMX racers, he said.
He raced against 15 other bikers in his class to win the state competition in 2011, but, obviously, the competition was much stiffer to win the Midwest title. There, he bested 300 other racers.
He had to win six qualifying races at the Midwest race in Grand Rapids, Mich., to earn the right to compete for the championship race.
William has the No. 1 plate in Illinois and the Midwest.