THE FIRST NON-LOCAL EVENT held at the new Speedway Village sports complex in Lincoln, Nebraska, was the 2016 USA Roller Sports National Championships — which brought together five disciplines for the largest roller sports event in the country. More than 4,000 athletes, coaches and officials participated over a span of 35 days. They competed on almost 50,000 square feet of indoor skating surface with a large mezzanine overlooking the action.
Not only was it the first time that figure skating, rink hockey, roller derby, speed skating and slalom championships were held under the same roof, but the event also signaled the beginning of a new era for sports tourism in Nebraska’s capital city.
“Now that Speedway Village is open, I’m pitching everything from dog agility events to horseshoe championships, as well as the obvious soccer, volleyball and basketball tournaments,” says Derek Bombeck, sports sales and development manager for the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s really broadened our reach.”
Already a national destination for the 2015 State Games of America, the World Tenpin Bowling Youth Championships this past summer and the annual Good Life Halfsy in November, which has been called the “most entertaining half-marathon in the nation,” Lincoln is about to become even more popular.
A Facility that can Host Just About Anything
Speedway Village, a privately owned and operated multi-purpose indoor/outdoor facility, offers nine full-size outdoor sports fields, a 100,000-square-foot fieldhouse with synthetic turf that can be covered with a subfloor and then a wood surface, plus a dual sound system and noise-insulating curtains. There’s also a 10,000-square-foot medical, rehabilitation and sports performance institute, and plans call for the eventual addition of 75,000-square-feet for eight basketball courts that can be converted to 12 volleyball courts.
The indoor portion opened in fall 2015, with the outdoor fields making their official debut over the summer. Speedway Village also houses Defy Gravity, an indoor trampoline park.
Speedway Village is located less than three miles away from downtown Lincoln, and there’s plenty of free parking.
The month-long USARS National Championships — which also featured the inaugural Roller Derby Junior Olympic Games (organized in collaboration with the Amateur Athletic Union) and the Junior Roller Derby Association National Championship — will be back again next year, Bombeck says.
Many people don’t realize that Lincoln actually is a roller Mecca. The city is home to USA Roller Sports and the National Museum of Roller Skating, which contains the world’s largest collection of historical roller skates dating to 1819, as well as patents, medals, trophies, photos, art, film, costumes, archival materials and skating memorabilia.
Speedway Village may be Lincoln’s newest sports destination, but it’s far from the city’s only venue. In fact, there is well-stacked deck of facilities, just waiting to host any number of events.
The Lancaster Event Center, a 400,000-square-foot facility with five interconnected buildings on 160 acres, is the site of rodeos, equestrian events, trade expositions, concerts and more. Lincoln recently was named a finalist to host the 2020 National High School Rodeo Finals — an event that has never been held in that city.
Pinnacle Bank Arena, a $179 million state-of-the-art multi-purpose center that opened in late 2013, hosted several events at the 2015 State Games of America (which Lincoln is in the running to host again). The facility also welcomed the North, Central America and Caribbean (NORCECA) Volleyball Confederation Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament in January. The U.S. women’s national volleyball team qualified for the Rio Games in front of a packed house that Bombeck says created a “dynamic atmosphere” for both players and fans.
Lincoln officials would love to bring more U.S. Olympic trials to the city, too. In addition to the facilities already mentioned, the renovated Bob Devaney Sports Center (which originally opened in 1976) has proven to be a big draw for a variety of sports events.
Located on the University of Nebraska campus, that facility houses many university events and is considered one of the premier volleyball facilities in the country. It also offers swimming and track and field amenities — including one of only four hydraulically-banked tracks in the United States. The 200-meter track has the largest radius (67 feet) of any indoor track in the world. Several University of Nebraska, Big 12 and NCAA events have been held there.
The natatorium’s 10-lane, 25-meter pool has hosted Nebraska School Activities Association state meets and Big 12 championships, and it features two 1-meter spring diving boards, two 3-meter boards and one 5-meter board, as well as plenty of spectator seating.
Bowling Bringing in the Dollars
With such massive facilities available in Lincoln, it may seem odd to follow up those details with information about a bowling alley. But Sun Valley Lanes is much more than just “a bowling alley.”
Owner John Losito received the 2013 Lincoln Chamber of Commerce’s Celebrate Business Tourism Award for bringing bowlers from all over the world to Lincoln. The city’s bowling credits include the 2010 National Special Olympic Games, the 2012 and 2013 Intercollegiate Team and Singles Championships, the 2015 State Games of America bowling event, the annual Nebraska High School Bowling State Championships, the Big Red Collegiate Invite and the Star City High School Open.
Among the most recent events was the World Tenpin Bowling Youth Championships, which attracted more than 400 competitors between the ages of 16 and 21 from 45 countries. Previous host cities for this championship event include Bangkok, Hong Kong and Helsinki. With a history dating back to 1977, the 32-lane Sun Valley facility is among the smallest on the international bowling circuit, Bombeck says.
Lincoln also will host the Intercollegiate Team and Singles Championships (part of the United States Bowling Congress) at Sun Valley Lanes again in 2018. Plus, the city is a regular stop on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association circuit.
“It all goes back to relationships,” Bombeck says, giving credit to Losito for using his industrywide connections to keep Lincoln in the bowling spotlight.
Racing In (And Off) the Streets
Lincoln prides itself on a central location that is less than a day’s drive from such major Midwestern cities as Denver, Omaha, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago.
Maybe that’s one reason why Lincoln also has established itself as a destination for sports car enthusiasts. The 2016 Tire Rack Lincoln Spring Nationals Championship Tour — part of the Sports Car Club of America Solo® Championship Tour Road — was held in May at the Lincoln Airpark, an industrial park spanning more than 1,000 acres with plenty of room for racing.
The tour culminated back in Lincoln in September with the Tire Rack Solo Nationals presented by Garmin VIRB, with more than 1,200 competitors.
In racing of another kind, Lincoln also is the original city in the Market to Market running relay series, a day-long relay race sponsored by Lincoln-based Pink Gorilla Events that takes runners (in Lincoln’s case) on a 78-mile scenic route from Omaha to Lincoln. Relay teams consist of six to eight runners each, who individually run two to six miles per stage. With more than 4,500 runners signing up for the annual October event, Lincoln’s Market to Market run is the largest day-long relay in the country.
“These events help add to our resume,” Bombeck says. “Lincoln has the facilities to host more traditional events. But now, the sky’s the limit for the variety of events that our community can host by thinking beyond the traditional.”