Twice a year, the town of Budds Creek transforms. On those occasions, the two-lane road that runs through it -- small, hilly and usually desolate Route 234 -- is packed, bumper to bumper, with visitors from across the country. Each of those two main events draws more than 25,000 spectators, as well as television cameras, to western St. Mary's County.

The second is the IHRA Presidents Cup Nationals at Maryland International Raceway in October. The first concludes today at Budds Creek Motocross Park: the 10th annual National Motocross Championships, the fifth stop on the 12-round Outdoor National Series. The event itself boasts a $30,000 purse.

"Budds Creek is one of the top courses in the country," said defending 250cc event champion Doug Henry of Oxford, Conn. "It's a real fast track, real hilly, and it's great for spectators because it's in a valley so they can see the race from every angle. I'd rate it right up there as one of the top five in the country. It's great for racing."

But it hasn't always been so great for Henry. Despite winning the event last year, Henry has had more than his share of disaster at Budds Creek. The 29-year-old Yamaha driver, who returns this year as one of the favorites, twice mistimed and overshot the same hill. The first crash, in 1995, broke his back, nearly leaving him paralyzed. The second accident, in 1997, left him with two broken arms.

"That first year -- we have it on video -- he hits the jump and goes flying 60 feet in the air and lands, bouncing off his bike to the ground and breaks his back," said Brad Jones, media relations spokesman for Brotman-Winter-Fried Communications, the public relations firm representing the championships. "It was an unbelievable sight. Then he comes back, only to get hurt again on the same hill."

Last season, cheered by thousands of fans and dozens of homemade banners, Henry conquered the challenging course both physically and mentally. He took second place in the first 250cc moto and charged early to take the checkered flag in moto two for the overall event title. It was his first win on the Southern Maryland track.

"When I think of Budds Creek, I still think of my bad luck there," said Henry, who stands in eighth place on the current points list. "Just like last year, when I get there, I'll try to put it out of my head, but since the accident in 1995, that's hard to do. Going into the race last year, I wanted to win; and this year, I go back wanting to defend that title. But still, a part of me just wants to be safe. To be able to walk away from the track after the race."

Other top 250cc drivers on the American Motorcyclist Association National Motocross Series include Sebastian Tortelli and teammate Ezra Lusk of Honda Racing -- who rank first and second in the series standings, with 80 and 73 points, respectively, and Jeff Emig of Team Kawasaki.

In the 125cc class, Kawasaki rider Ricky Carmichael is dominating the field. Carmichael, a 19-year-old driver from Havana, Fla., is the defending event and two-time national motocross champion. He has won the series' first four events this season, but has been tested at times by Honda's Tallon Vohland and Brock Sallards.

1999 National Motocross Championship

WHAT: The event, in its 10th year, is an American Motorcyclist Association National Motocross Series Race.

WHEN: Today

9 a.m. Pro Practice

10:30 a.m. Pro Qualifying

1 p.m. Pro Nationals (4 Motos)

5:30 p.m. Autograph session

WHERE: Budds Creek Motocross Park

DIRECTIONS: From the D.C. area, take the Beltway I-95 to exit 7A (Branch Avenue). Head south for 30 miles to the traffic light. Turn left onto Route 234 East. Follow for seven miles. Motocross park is on the right.

GATE TICKETS: Admission is $20 per adult, $10 for each child ages 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free.

TRACK: Riders will reach speeds of 60 mph and jump to heights of four stories. . . . Giant underground tunnels allow fans to walk through to the track. . . . The terrain is composed of packed dirt and includes hills and natural valleys.

INFO LINE: 301-475-2000.

CAPTION: Kicking Up a Little Dirt at Budds Creek

A pack of dirt bikers roars around a turn at the start of a practice run at Budds Creek motocross track on Friday. More than 25,000 fans were expected this weekend for the 10th annual National Motocross Championships, part of a national championship series. Story, Page 12.

CAPTION: Track flaggers watch as a rider practices in the 125cc amateur division. This weekend's races are expected to draw 25,000 fans.

CAPTION: A driver takes on one of the many challenging hills on the Budds Creek course in preparation for races this weekend.