Families ride together at Grena BMX Raceway

Liz Mavromatis and her family passed the Gretna BMX Raceway dozens of times before they stopped. And it was a bike-riding experience of a similar sort that led them to the facility on Gretna Boulevard.

“The kids were riding bikes down a hill near the house and were having a great time doing it,” she said. “I said ‘OK, that’s it. We’re going to the BMX track.’ ”

“And we pretty much haven’t left,” Mavromatis added with a chuckle.

The Mavromatis family is part of a growing number of people who frequent the raceway.

The children (Sophia, 12; Thomas, 10; and Samuel, 8) all are experienced racers. Husband Michael Mavromatis also rides. So did Liz, until she decided to be her family’s chief cheerleader.

For the Mavromatises, BMX racing is a big deal. They have a trailer filled with six or seven high-performance bikes and they bring it to competitions as far away as Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; Dallas; and Nashville, Tenn.

But they also spend quite a bit of time at the Gretna track for practice and local competitions.

Liz Mavromatis said the nice thing about the local raceway is that anyone can ride and can do so either for competition or for leisure. For example, Samuel started riding when he was 4. It’s also not uncommon to see people in their 50s, 60s or older riding at the raceway.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” she said. “They promote that ‘No one sits the bench.’ You can compete at (a high level like we do) or you can just come out for fun.

“My husband was a hunter and a fisherman and he would do that without us. Now we all go riding together.”

The Gretna BMX Raceway opened in 2008. The city owns the property but a volunteer nonprofit ‘Parent Rider Association’ operates the facility.

The action takes place on a red clay track that is just more than 1,000 feet long and features a series of small hills that riders cover in a race to the finish line. The raceway is one of only four in the state and sees a good amount of activity — something that was bolstered as BMX racing became an Olympic sport.

But for Gretna BMX President Eddie Hayes, the main goal is to provide a place for people to enjoy wholesome play.

“We’re trying as a group to get these kids to participate in something that’s healthy,” he said. “Most of the parents show up. New people are coming in. … It’s a different kind of experience. Team sports are great, but this isn’t about my son or anyone else’s son. It’s about the group. It’s like a family.”

Gretna BMX will host several major riding events this weekend. On Saturday, a Redline Cup Qualifier will be held with a chance to go to Nationals on the line. On Sunday, a state championship qualifier will take place. Local participants will join riders from throughout the Gulf South in both competitions. A warm-up race will be held Friday.

Registration will begin at 5:30 p.m. for Friday’s race, with action set to begin at 7 p.m.

Registration for Saturday and Sunday’s main events will begin at 10 a.m. with racing to begin at approximately noon.

The public is welcome.

For more information on the raceway or events, go online to http://www.gretnabmx.com or look up the Gretna BMX Raceway page on Facebook.