Francis Meckel was about to zoom into Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena on his bright-blue minibike. Straddling his bike with his arms folded and his goggles flipped down, the 11-year-old was the picture of cool.
Not so for the woman standing beside him - his mother.
"As a parent, my knees are knocking, and my stomach is turning," said Beth Meckel of Harford County. Her 14-year-old son also raced yesterday, doubling her anxiety.
With ambulances standing by and parents alternately averting their eyes and pumping their fists into the air, Toyota Arenacross' "amateur day" was under way.
The popular indoor motocross series was in Baltimore all weekend, drawing crowds of 6,000 Friday night and 9,000 Saturday night, according to promoters. Fans came out in droves to see the pros, including brothers Travis and Shane Sewell, champions from Indiana.
Yesterday, the pros stepped aside so the amateurs could take the track - some 1,500 cubic yards of clay packed and shaped inside 1st Mariner.
Like the parents, Robert Hansen admitted to having a case of the nerves yesterday. As public relations director for the Arenacross series, Hansen said he views amateur day, which carries a higher risk of injury than the professional events, as a bit of a "necessary evil."
"If you don't have amateur day, you can't develop young riders," he said.
Some of the nearly 400 riders who took to the track yesterday were very young. A dozen or so were between 4 and 6 years old.
Eight-year-old Jacob Beaudoin of Pittsfield, Mass., explained the allure.
"When you're on the track, you're so excited," Jacob said. "It's the best."
In a qualifying round, Peter Beaudoin helped his son rev the engine and snap on the goggles at the starting gate.
Then he stepped aside to watch Jacob go round and round the track. About a minute later, he pumped his fist in the air when Jacob passed by the black-and-white checkered flag at the finish line. Beaudoin ran through the hallways of 1st Mariner to congratulate his boy as he glided off the course.
The enthusiasm of the youngest riders was echoed by some of the older ones.
At 42, Richard Thompson of Center Valley, Pa., said he took up racing about two years ago.
His sons, now 24 and 22, started in the sport when they were about 5. Now that they are grown, Thompson said he can afford to have a little fun himself.
"It's a great sport," he said. "It keeps you in shape."
Just a handful of girls and women competed yesterday, including 21-year-old Becky Tees of Middleborough, Mass. She said she's addicted to the adrenaline rush.
"A lot of girls don't know about [motocross]," she said. "They don't think they can do it."
Her boyfriend's son was one of the few who were injured yesterday; he was rushed off in an ambulance with a broken leg.
Tees and others said they prefer traditional motocross and its long outdoor tracks to Arenacross, which they said can feel cramped and dangerous.
In the main event races, as many as 16 riders crowded the track at once. Event staff members stood watch over the race, occasionally plucking toppled riders from the path of speeding bikes.
Threat of injury doesn't seem to dissuade the devoted riders. But worries about injuries can take its toll on the parents.
Beth Meckel said her husband was so stressed by watching their boys compete in last year's amateur day that he couldn't move his neck for a week.