Posted: Sunday, December 20, 2015 1:00 am
Joey Sites of Apache Junction was 4 years old when he started riding motocross.
Now at age 12, the amateur racer said his goal is to make the national competition level soon.
“It’s one of those things you have to put all your effort into,” Joey, a Mesa Brinton Elementary School sixth-grader, said. “You can’t just half-try.”
Joey is one of the dozens of competitive motocross riders who regularly practice at Motoland MX Park south of Casa Grande.
Tucked away on a quiet corner near Hanna and Sisler roads, the park is a frequent meeting spot for motocross enthusiasts ranging from pro and amateur competitors to new and novice riders.
At Motoland, skill level doesn’t matter, said Mark Brooks, who built the park for his two sons several years ago when they were motocross competitors.
“Some people are out here for sheer recreation,” Brooks said. “They’re just having fun. But we have others who are competitive. They’re out here to practice.”
The facility’s four tracks encompass 50 acres.
A pee-wee track is designed for people who are new to motocross, including children as young as 3.
“We have adults who use the pee-wee track too,” Brooks said.
A vintage track has no jumps and is often used for older bikes — including those that race — while the national track as well as the super-cross track were created according to American Motorcyclist Association standards. They both have the dips, turns and jumps a competitive rider might expect.
Run as a 501(c)(3) organization, Motoland is managed by Brooks’ sister, Lori Erickson.
“The park was made for Mark’s kids, but when they grew up, we opened it up to the public,” Erickson said.
Brooks said he was just a dad trying to support his two sons’ new hobby when he built the first track.
“They were about 9 and 11 at the time,” he said. “They had a friend who raced and they wanted to race too.”
He got them bikes for Christmas that year.
“They got hooked,” he said. “I built them a track to practice on. As they progressed, I built more and more and people started asking to use the track.”
Motocross, which involves racing motorcycles off-road on terrain that often has hills, jumps and turns, is one of the most popular forms of amateur motorcycle racing in the country, according to the American Motorcyclist Association.
The sport quickly became more than a hobby for the Brooks family. Before long, the boys were working with a motocross trainer and traveling across the country to take part in competitions.
“It was quite an investment but it was fun,” Brooks said.
His sons are now adults. One works for a technology company and has a family. The younger is studying radiology.
“We had a great time. I like that motocross teaches kids work ethic and the lesson that hard work really does pay off. It’s like real life — work hard and you’ll achieve,” he said.
He likes that the tracks are still used.
“What’s neat is that motocross is a family sport,” Brooks said. “Usually the mom and dad are out here riding with the kids.”
Some motocross enthusiasts practice riding in the desert, but a track is safer, he said.
He built a playground in the park a few years ago so young children who didn’t ride would have something to do while other family members rode.
“Once we put in the playground, younger kids started coming out here too to watch and play,” Brooks said. “There are hazards and dangers with this sport but we’ve made it as safe as possible and we’ve tried to make this a place where the whole family can have fun.”
The facility often hosts events, such as the upcoming Arizona Vintage Motocross Championship Series, which will be held at Motoland on Dec. 27.
“It’s a neat event with lots of old bikes. It’s a good day to come out and watch,” Brooks said.
One of the appeals of the track, Brooks said, is that amateur competitors — both kids and adults — often mingle with pro riders and those who are new to the sport.
Pat McMullen, a former professional motocross racer who now runs McMullen School of Motocross in Surprise, is at Motoland often with several of his competitive racers.
Unlike most other sports, motocross is not a team activity and that’s what attracts people to it, he said.
“It’s all on you (the rider) to perform,” McMullen said. “You still need the support of your family but you have to live, eat and sleep motocross or you could get hurt. Motocross is a lifestyle, not a hobby.”
McMullen currently trains four competitive riders who range in age from 6 to 32.
“Motocross is definitely a competitive sport. It’s for that daredevil kid who’s crazier than anyone else,” McMullen said.
Wyatt Wright, 13, is one of McMullen’s students. He’s at Motoland at least twice a month.
“It’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.
A motocross competitor for the last three years, Wyatt has several competitions and two championship wins under his belt.
The sport can be physically demanding, he said, and requires daily workouts to build upper body strength.
“You have to have the strength to hold a heavy bike. It’s tough on your body,” he said.
He’s also had his share of injuries. About a year ago, Wyatt tore the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, on his leg when he was T-boned by another rider during a race. The injury required him to stay off his bike for six weeks and attend physical therapy five days a week. But it didn’t scare him away from the sport, he said, and while he recovered, he couldn’t wait to get back to his bike.
“I missed my bike so much during that time,” he said. “I was so bored without it.”
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