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Little Big Wheel

Racer Bubba Harris Is a Well-Traveled, World-Championship Role Model With a Big-Time Sponsor, and He's Only 10

July 25, 1996|MIKE BRESNAHAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bubba Harris peers down at the 4-year old by his side.

Wearing wraparound sunglasses, Harris smiles confidently as he tutors the rookie.

Get more air off the jumps, Harris says. Don't be afraid to take chances.

The child looks up at his idol and nods. Anything Harris says must be permanently filed in cerebral storage.

The youngster will later boast to his friends that he met Bubba Harris.

Bubba Harris is 10 years old.

*

The sport is BMX bicycle racing and it is taken seriously.

Kids cry if they get passed during a race. When they get caught in traffic on crowded dirt tracks, they're through--these races last only about a minute. Some of their on-track spills cause chills.

Parents don't fool around either. They shell out huge money. A new bike frame costs $800. Valves, forks and lay-back posts are necessary additions.

At the World Cup in Pomona, which runs Thursday through Sunday, Harris will risk his young reputation, already reaching celebrity status among the BMX circuit.

It won't matter that Harris, a Palmdale native, has compiled a tidy racing resume: 33 firsts and five seconds in his last 40 races.

It also won't matter that Harris is the national points leader for his age or that he already has been a cover boy for BMXer magazine.

What will matter is the World Cup championship. This weekend, Harris is expected to become the world champion in his division for the third consecutive year.

There will be 5,000 kids from 13 nations. Pressure? Doesn't look like it.

"I can't wait to ride," Harris said.

*

The Harris family is fortunate.

Bubba is sponsored by Answer, a manufacturer of bike parts that also sports a clothing line.

Answer leaves the Harris clan with few financial questions. Thanks to a traveling grant that exceeds $20,000, Bubba and his father, Berlin, get to fly around the nation for races.

"He's probably traveled more this year than most young businessmen," Berlin said. "It's nice just to have the ability to go."

Bubba has shown an ability to learn both off and on the track.

He carries a 4.0 grade-point average and has a particular affinity for math and science. And homework, of course, must be finished every day before he hits the track.

Harris' after-school knowledge is also expansive. He trains under Richie "The Avalanche" Anderson, who was an eight-time world-champion bike racer.

Workouts are three days a week, four hours at a time. Harris is doing something right. He inherited an offshoot of Anderson's nickname, with the Avalanche's endorsement.

"I gave him the name, 'Little Avalanche,' " said Anderson, 29, "There's no turning back when that gate drops. He's an animal."

And a quick learner.

Harris began competing only three years ago and has quickly grabbed the main concept. "I like to get in front . . . and stay there," he said.

Harris also learned how to grapple with pain.

Two years ago, he was taken out on a turn during practice and suffered a broken right arm. Two weeks later, he rode in the GrandNationals, a major invitational. His full-arm cast was specially fitted so he could still grip the handlebar.

Sometimes Harris reminds everybody that he is still six birthdays away from driving a car.

During dinner, his father reminds him to roll up his sleeves before tackling a platter of steak. Then he's asked if he needs help cutting up his food.

His favorite snacks are right out of non-calorie-counting fantasies: chocolate milk, ice cream, pizza.

Spaghetti, however, is a mandated meal on the nights leading up to a race. "Need those carbos," Bubba said.

It's easy for Berlin Harris to look at his son and see himself.

A former motocross racer for 14 years, Berlin knows what it's like to knock around on a bike. That's why he has restructured his life to accommodate his son.

Berlin left his old contracting company, where he had been the vice president for 17 years, and started up his own business. He basically makes his own hours, which means more time to spend with Bubba.

"It's all worth it," Berlin said. "I'm probably having more fun than he is."

How far can Bubba go?

He has a definite plan.

"I want to be on the Olympic mountain-biking team in the year 2000," Bubba said.

After all, most Olympians started as BMXers. Back when they were 10 years old.

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