By Greg Hunt
On the back section of the McGrath homestead located just north of Crown in southwest Isanti County sits a BMX practice track. From that workout spot to prime bicycling race tracks across the U.S.A., Elliot McGrath has made his name known.
McGrath, 19, currently holds the top amateur points total in ABA national standings. Racing in the 19-27 year-old amateur men’s Expert division, he has compiled 1,653 points at races around the country– owning a 43-point lead over his nearest competitor, Brandon Elmore. McGrath has already qualified to race in that division at the huge Grand Nationals coming Thanksgiving weekend in Oklahoma.
Back in January when the season began, the first couple of races of the season were kind of tough since McGrath drove straight through to Nevada without much prep time for racing. A couple weeks later, he placed 2nd in Texas.
“Then things just started coming together after that. Next was racing in Phoenix, and I ended up winning both days there which is kind of like my local track down there,” began McGrath. “Then I hit the USA Cycling Finals at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Cal. I raced amateur two days and then Elite men one day. I ended up getting a 1st and 3rd, so at that time I was probably No. 5 in amateur points (in the nation).”
More wins in the early part of the season were gained in Nebraska, Tennessee and at the biggest race of the year in Rockford, Ill. In July he was winning a race back in Las Vegas but hit some soft trail in the last turn and flipped over, dropping him into 4th place for the weekend.
The first weekend in August had McGrath racing in the ABA Land O’ Lakes Nationals held at Pineview Park in St. Cloud. He chose to skip the amateur races and focussed on the Elite races. He placed 5th on the second day to make the finals. He won the second of three qualifying motos on Sunday to earn a spot in the main race.
“The Olympic gold medalist– Maris Štrombergs from Latvia– was up there racing, so that was kind of cool. He just got off a bad injury from last November so he’s just coming back,” said McGrath.
On deck for McGrath is a training session back at the Olympic Training Center in September, with an international race there at the end of the month. Another big race takes place in Las Vegas in October, then it’s the ABA Grand Nationals hosted in Tulsa, Okl. in November.
That weekend, he still has to win the main race to officially lock in that top spot for the season. McGrath is estimating 80 competitors will be in his 19-27 class at nationals. This will be McGrath’s seventh trip to Grand Nationals.
“Everything’s huge there– all the vendors, all the sponsors. There’s like 500 motos with six people in every moto,” he said. “The whole town is pretty much BMX every where you look.”
Just loves riding and racing
McGrath said his motivation for enjoying and excelling at the sport of BMX racing is pretty simple.
“I love riding my bike– I always have. I guess if I didn’t race, I’d still ride it,” he continued. “And the people that are in BMX are another draw. They’re all pretty cool. You always know somebody no matter where you’re racing. Sometimes I’ll go by myself to races, or I’ll get together with my sponsor, Stile Industries, and stay with them.”
McGrath plans to move up to Elite pro class for the 2012 season.
“Some of stuff I’m doing is working like my track speed, but some of it I’m changing up– trying to get my burst rates a little bit better. A lot of it is the mental game and then making every practice perfect,” he explained of the jump needed to compete at Elite a full season. “The mental game is pretty big. You can’t really be thinking when you race– just try to turn the brain off and go off instincts. At practice, I always try to make my weaknesses stronger.”
McGrath’s typical practice week is three days at the track and two days at the gym mixed with sprints or a long bike ride. He is a certified fitness trainer, so he designs his own training sessions.
He first fostered an interest in BMX when his mother, Peggy, brought him down to an indoor track in Lino Lakes 10 years ago. Then the Rum River BMX Course in Isanti was established, and he began training and racing there. Soon, competing in State meets followed.
“BMX interest in east-central Minnesota has definitely grown a lot. Kevin Reidemann at the Rum River track, he’s doing an awesome job over there. When I first started riding, that track was just real sandy and stuff, but now it’s one of the best. This year it’s really stepped up and fun to ride out there.”
McGrath continued, “There’s a lot of the younger kids who are coming up out of Rum River. The 10-year-olds have a lot of entrants making mains at big races. The more time kids spend on their bikes the better they’re going to get.”
And McGrath serves as a great example of how hard work can pay off– earning a shot at a national title.