This Friday, Jul. 22, 2022, the Kingston BMX Association will be hosting its 40th annual Founders Day Race in honour of Peter O’Neil, one of the most influential figures in BMX racing in Kingston. Friday’s event will see O’Neil return to the track he built over 40 years ago, as part of a special celebration of the man and his contributions to the sport.
O’Neil worked to promote BMX racing throughout Kingston for decades, creating a freestyle team that toured local malls and festivals providing live demonstrations of the sport. After introducing many young people to BMX, O’Neil founded the Kingston BMX Association in 1982, establishing an official club for the sport while working to build a permanent track at Woodbine Park.
“Peter changed the lives of many kids by giving them the opportunity to grow in a sport they really loved,” said Braden O’Neil, Peter’s son and a former BMX racer himself. “40 years later, a group of hundreds of ex-riders are still talking about how it changed their lives. And the track is still going stronger than ever, and is still giving parents and kids amazing experiences. Peter O’Neil’s vision was ahead of its time; his contributions are extensive.”
Aside from his work promoting the sport in Kingston, O’Neil was influential in the establishment of competitive BMX racing throughout Ontario and Quebec. After forming the Kingston BMX Association, he saw the need for a formal provincial organization and worked with the Ontario Cycling Association to create OBMX, an official provincial governing body for the sport.
O’Neil also worked with colleagues in Quebec to assist in the creation of Quebec BMX, with the two provincial associations partnering on events such as the Ruffles Challenge, the first inter-provincial racing series, which was also backed by major corporate sponsors.
O’Neil is responsible for many other firsts in the sport of BMX in Canada, including the inaugural Ontario Freestyle Championships held at Ontario Place in Toronto in 1983. In 1985, he worked with Quebec BMX to establish the Eastern Canadian Freestyle Championships, providing an opportunity for freestyle athletes in Ontario and Quebec to compete alongside each other on a shared stage.
“His desire to show BMX to Canada during his involvement in the sport is incomparable. He rented trucks and hauled kids and trailers full of ramps all over Ontario and Quebec, and explained BMX to thousands of people on mic and speaker while showcasing kids’ talents. He made bi-weekly trips to OCA’s head office in Toronto to gather and distribute all of Ontario’s race results. He helped many other track directors develop their BMX clubs, all while creating and running the Kingston Club… and much, much more,” Braden noted.
“Peter did the most difficult task: starting something from nothing. And he elevated the sport — he held awards ceremonies which gave recognition for the efforts made by kids and parents… He gave pride to the kids for their accomplishments; the role he assumed was not just builder and organizer, but a community leader and coach.”
BMX racing has grown immensely worldwide in the past several decades, highlighted by the sport’s official introduction as an Olympic competition at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China. Without the efforts of passionate individuals like Peter O’Neil, who championed the sport from its infancy, it’s likely that BMX racing’s current status as a well-recognized and popular sport would not have been possible.
Locally, BMX racing in Kingston is as popular as ever, with the track at Woodbine Park featuring a regular program of racing throughout the summer months, providing a high-quality and competitive venue for local athletes. This Friday, the track will play host to a special event in honour of O’Neil’s legacy and everything he contributed to the sport. Friday’s Founders Day Race will start at 5:45 p.m. with special remarks in honour of O’Neil, after which a parade lap will be led around the course, featuring some of the original club members from the early ’80s. The official race program gets underway around 6:00 p.m.
The Kingston BMX Track is located at 1180 Woodbine Road.
For more information, visit the Kingston BMX website.