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The life of a motocross racer starts at an early age, with an adventurous child receiving their first bike, usually something called a PW-50, at the ripe old age of 5 or 6 years old.

The guardians of the child, parents or not, have officially passed on a love carried by them for years in an effort to relive past dreams of flying high. If not a past love, then a love of those who surround the young racer either on television or friends from the neighborhood.

By Brian Bergner Jr.

Larson Newspapers

 

The life of a motocross racer starts at an early age, with an adventurous child receiving their first bike, usually something called a PW-50, at the ripe old age of 5 or 6 years old.

The guardians of the child, parents or not, have officially passed on a love carried by them for years in an effort to relive past dreams of flying high. If not a past love, then a love of those who surround the young racer either on television or friends from the neighborhood.

Working their way through the constant struggles of keeping the monster bike upright, the racer-at-heart twists the handle bar and revs the motor, drops the clutch and takes off into the horizon, heading toward an adventure of a lifetime.

Getting older now, the amateur rider gains confidence by riding after school, on weekdays and holidays, and at any other time the racer manages to pay for gas and get out on the open terrain.

Finding a local track, the racer hits every corner carefully, making sure they apply brake and gas at the exact moment so they don’t go flying off the bike and crash in the dirt below. Ice packs suddenly begin to appear all over their bodies, staying long enough to pay rent.

Outgrowing their previous bike is a right of passage, and receiving a new, bigger, more powerful bike can give anyone the smile of a child on Christmas morning.

Next comes learning how to fix the bike, tinkering with old bikes lying in the backyard and replacing parts that might not have needed to be replaced on the bike their mom and dad just bought as a birthday present.

A heart of a lion begins to grow as the racer straps on the gear, squeezes on the helmet and wipes the mud from their goggles. Twisting and turning on each turn, the racer begins to look more and more comfortable every time out as confidence grows like a seed planted in a garden.

With the trophy case beginning to fill, the rider finds new challenges in their quest for supremacy, like learning how to fly high on big jumps or death-defying feats one might see on television during the X Games.

At the age of 16, the elegant rider can now turn professional, and with thousands of miles traveled, sleepless nights in the family van and a steady diet of pretzels and soda, the rider can finally begin to make a few bucks doing what they love.

Not all riders turn professional, but for those who are good enough to ride “majestic,” as Will Ferrell called it in the movie “Step Brothers,” it is the right path to take.

Getting into their late 20s and early 30s, the rider-at-heart doesn’t slow down, even though their body may be telling them to do so.

Injuries begin to creep up on skin, which may look like meat that was run through a meat grinder.

It was all worth it, most would say, and when the competition dirt is washed away from their bodies and the smell of gasoline leaves their nose, a yearning for the good ol’ days becomes the subject of many conversations and memories.

Local Riders

Here in the Verde Valley, we have many riders who have found motocross racing a home for their hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Jacqueline Strong from Sedona, 16-year-old Cole Martinez from Rimrock and 30-year-old Jason Smith from Cornville have dedicated their lives to motocross.

Beginning with Smith, his dedication to motocross racing has earned him a professional ranking, something which he was awarded back in 1997. For 11 years, Smith has raced the good race, found a harmonious rhythm between the bike and himself and didn’t quit when others might have told him to stop.

“When it’s in your blood, you can’t get away from it. This is our life,” Smith said while sitting on his truck bed in an interview Saturday, Dec. 27.

Smith has endured the good times and the bad during his 11-year career as a professional racer, but mostly the good. A few injuries have kept him from doing what he loves, but hey, what rider hasn’t been laid up at one time or another?

“I broke my heel bone in 1997. I’ve had a broken hand. I broke my collarbone, and I’ve had knee problems,” Smith said with a dusty smile.

Smith has the look of “it was all worth it” on his face, and who could blame him, having done more exciting things in a few years than many people do in a lifetime.

Then, of course, there are the youngsters. The young bloods like Martinez and Strong who may be only 16 but have plenty of experience to turn professional in the near future. When watching Martinez race around the course as if someone is chasing him, the bike and Martinez become one, twisting and turning, jumping over small bumps and going up to 40 miles per hour on a straightaway that is only 100 feet long filled with soft dirt. Martinez has a few scars of his own, including a broken wrist, hand, reconstructed shoulder, and of course, a few concussions.

“It comes with the territory. There aren’t many riders who are healthy when they compete,” Martinez said.

As for Strong, she has plenty to talk about too when it comes to injury. Most recently, she endured two broken wrists just this year, a torn anterior ligament in 2007 and a near devastating broken back, which turned out to be a severe strain, in 2006 while competing in Phoenix. She was evacuated by helicopter.

“I was more upset that I couldn’t go to the X Games than being pissed about my injury,” Strong said.

Ah ... the thought process of a rider-at-heart.

Looking past all the injuries, these three have no regrets of anything they’ve done and truly believe injuries can happen at anytime, which is why safety is No. 1 in their books.

The love for motocross racing runs through their veins, and hopes of one day being on top is their internal drive.

Martinez and Smith received their first bikes at the age of 5,  but Strong had her first at 18 months old. It, of course, had training wheels. Some of the awards these three riders have won are astonishing to anyone willing to take the time to listen.

Smith won the World Mini Amateur title in Las Vegas and participated in the Amateur Nationals as well.

Strong won the 2005 Women’s Intermediate Championship and was a World Mini Champion in 2005 and 2006. Strong was also an Amateur National Champion in 2005 while winning the Women’s Schoolgirls Cup in 2005 and 2006.

As for Martinez, he may be the most famous of all in the Verde Valley, consistently being ranked in the top five

in the country for his age level.

A Rigorous Schedule

While taking trips all over the country, fixing one of their six practice or competition bikes, spending hours in a family van and finding time to hit the books for school, these three also find time to hit the gymnasium.

Strict diets, time in the weight room and cardio workouts are a part of the regimen which gives them the opportunity to make it to the track and be in shape.

“When you’re on the track for 20 minutes racing, it can be tiring, so we must be in shape,” Martinez said. A casual fan may not notice the hard work that’s put into this sport because the final product is usually all that is seen.

Sponsorship

One element not many 16-year-olds have to deal with is finding a sponsor to help out with the financial needs of a motocross racer.

Thousands of dollars are spent to partake in the sport they love. The bikes alone cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000, which doesn’t even include parts, labor, mechanic fees, gas or getting to the event.

Strong and Martinez are both sponsored by several companies which help foot the bill for their hobby.

Motocross Love

In the end, the countless hours of practice, work and training all come together to form a way of life for the young rider, which is all worth it to any motocross racer.

“This is what we love to do. I love motocross and I hope to do it for a long time,” Strong said.

 


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