RANTOUL — The new motocross track at the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul has hit the ground rolling.
When developer Chad Dalton announced that B-52 Hangar MX would host an open ride two weeks ago, 126 riders showed up. That’s a lot, even for a mammoth former hangar.
Dalton isn’t surprised. He expected interest to be high. And he anticipates it will continue to climb.
“It will keep getting better,” Dalton said. “It’s what I expected.”
A video on the track’s Facebook page of Dalton’s son riding has drawn 18,000 views.
For now, the track is a training and open-riding facility. Riders, and in many cases their parents, come from hundreds of miles away to get expert training tips.
Various sizes of bikes and riders of all ages are welcome at the track.
On Monday, SSR Motorsports head trainer Steven Squire, a former professional rider, was giving pointers to the younger crowd. One of them was 7-year-old Deegan Kime, who was there with parents Cory Kime and Andrea Habic, who made the three-plus-hour drive from Three Rivers, Mich.
It was a casual atmosphere with parents and others standing around watching their young charges negotiate the dips, turns and jumps, followed by periodic breaks when Squire would provide riding tips.
Habic said she and her family travel to a motocross event every weekend. They just returned from one in Florida.
Deegan said he has been into motocross racing for about a year and a half, having seen it on TV and knowing his father used to ride BMX bicycles.
“We get to go fast, and we have fun,” he said of what he likes about racing on his Cobra Senior mini bike.
He said he learned a great deal from Squire.
One tip was “where I put my foot on the side next to the gas (tank). It helps you so you’re not so close to the ground,” Deegan said.
Steve Merton drove more than nine hours from West Union, Minn., with his son, who just started racing in July, for the training. Having arrived in Rantoul 10 days ago, they will be there the rest of the week.
“He’s a phenomenal coach,” Merton said. “We could go anywhere, and we go to him.”
Merton said the Rantoul track is a good one.
“Nice. Really nice,” he said. “We’ve been to the Sioux Falls indoor track and the Cedar Lake, Wis., indoor track. This has by far wider lanes and is safer.”
Merton said he gets tired of being at the track all the time, “but (his son) doesn’t.”
Some 600 tandem loads of dirt — left over from the construction of the Rantoul Family Sports Complex on the other side of town — were hauled in to create the track.
“The dirt is extremely hard-packed,” Dalton said, “so we’re trying different methods to work on it. This Illinois clay is something else. It’s a different animal.”
Dalton said most dirt tracks take thousands of gallons of water to get ready for the next day. Not so with the Rantoul facility.
“I can water this track with a garden hose,” he said. “We’ve never dealt with something like this on a motocross track.”
Located on the former Chanute Air Force Base, the track isn’t finished. The VIP lounge and the spectator area, where bleachers will be brought in, has to be completed. And two more tracks will be built in the 218,000-square-foot hangar.
Until next winter, when competition will commence with an amateur supercross series, the facility will be used primarily for training and open rides.
The track is the latest boon to the Rantoul economy, joining the sports complex that opened last spring. Dalton said the majority of riders and parents are staying in hotels, not RVs.
“With the (low) temperature, you can’t have water in your RV this time of year,” he said. “You can stay here, but you can’t shower. There are a few that do it because they’re only here for a day or two. Most of them are hoteling it.”
Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said Dalton is leasing the hangar with an option to buy.
It has been “a fantastic new addition to the community,” Eisenhauer said. “It fits right in with our Destination Location concept that we’ve been trying to build, adding another level of tourism to the community and bringing a unique sport opportunity to the area.
“What they have put together there is so unique that they’ll have people travel anywhere from 10 to 12 hours just to participate in events at the facility.”