Next week, 14-year-old area resident Jack Richard will be participating in the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals motocross race in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
To qualify for this prestigious event, Richard had to place in the top eight at an area qualifier and in the top six at a Regional qualifier. He accomplished this by qualifying in three area qualifiers — a fifth place finish at the Thunder Valley MX qualifier in Tennessee, and second place finishes in two races in Arkansas.
“Basically, the area qualifiers are real easy, and they don’t show you who is going to race at the Lorettas,” Richard said, “but the Regionals definitely show you that you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got. Those guys are out there to win, and you’ve got to really want it to make it.”
He earned a sixth place finish at a Regional at the Freestone MX in Texas. He was running in third place throughout most of the event, but fell on the last corner of the track, dropping back to sixth.
“The rest of the week, I didn’t really have my luck down,” Richard said, “but I knew where my speed was at, and I should have gotten third, but I finished in seventh in most every race. But I got sixth overall, so that got me in.”
There are seven of these Regional races nationwide, and the top six finishers from all of those will be in the Loretta Lynn race, for a total of 42 riders competing in each class. This is 42 riders going around this track at once.
“They’re all going to be fast,” Richard said. “They’re all going to know what they’re doing.”
By qualifying for this event, Richard is established as one of the top 5 percent of amateur riders in America and joins the ranks of the most elite motocross athletes in the world.
His parents helped him compete in these events, to figure out whether Richard really had what it takes to get to a high level.
He started racing six years ago, at the age of eight, and was initially attracted to the sport after seeing a race on television, which inspired him to ask his father for a pit bike.
“It just all went uphill from there,” Richard said.
Richard said his first experience jumping on the bike was a lot more scary than it looks when watching on television or from the stands at a track.
“You see the jumps on TV, and you’re don’t think those are very big,” Richard said, “but then you go ride it and it’s straight up and down.”
His parents could tell that he had a knack for this sport at an early age.
“Within a couple of years, he was doing big jumps,” his mother, Jennifer Richard, said. “We’d look out the window and see him pop up over a jump and be 10, 15 feet in the air. I would just hope he stayed on the seat.”
Richard feels that at least some of his natural ability at the sport comes from his father. Matt Richard competed in motor cross when he was younger, and was the son of a Suzuki motorcycle dealer in Chanute. In those days, there were lots of tracks around this area where this sport could be learned and practiced. Those facilities have since closed down, so Richards’ father built him a track on the family’s farm just east of Chanute.
In addition to working on improving his skill at this home track, Richard spent two weeks this summer training at a facility in Oklahoma. It was the first real professional training that Richard has received.
“I haven’t really trained at all, or done any of that hard work that the pros put into it,” Richard said, “but now that I’ve made it to one of the biggest races of my career, I’m actually putting a lot harder work into it and started training. Now I’m starting to put the pieces into the puzzle.”
Part of his inspiration for doing this is to increase his endurance for the upcoming Loretta Lynn race.
Most of the races that Richard competes in throughout the year are roughly eight minute motocross events, which means he can usually get around the track four or five times. However, the Loretta Lynn races are 20 minutes, and Richard expects to do at least 10-15 laps.
“Those 20 minutes in the hot sun are going to be a little hard on the body.” Richard said.
He feels like this sport is a bit of a mind game, especially when 42 riders are on the track at the same time.
“The kid that is the most mentally focused, that’s the kid that’s going to win there,” Richard said. “It’s all in his head that he’s going to win. If he goes there saying he’s going to win and he has his hopes high, he’s going to go out there and he’s going to do good. But if he’s with the other 41 fastest riders in the world and they’re all starting and going into a corner, and he gets worried on how he’s going to make it through, he’s not going to do good on that start.”
Richard is aiming to keep in a positive mindset heading into this event, even though he will be facing more riders on the track than he usually does and doing so for longer than he usually does.
“It’s the same probability that another rider could still take you out,” Richard said. “It’s just a race with more people. It’s just going to be a little tighter fit.”
He usually competes with 15-20 riders on the track at one time.
“I’ve had some stacked gates before,” Richard said. “At a regional in Michigan, at Red Bud, there was 62 riders, and they had to split them up into divisions because there were so many.”
Some trouble with his bike halted Richard from qualifying during this race. He generally rides a 85cc KTM motorcycle these days, and currently competes mostly in the 12-14 age group. When he gets older, he will start being able to compete on a more powerful bike. Next year, he will start using a 105cc Super-mini, and eventually aims to ride a 125 cc bike.
The high-level pros in this sport generally use a 250cc motorcycle. Being a professional rider for a living is what Richard is really pushing towards and hoping for. He feels that making a good showing in this Loretta Lynn race will be a good, positive step towards that goal.
During a race, Richard focuses on how he can catch the person in front of him.
“I’m always thinking ahead of how I can get to the next corner and gain on that kid,” Richard said. “I just try to catch every rider that I can, especially if I get a bad start.”
He mainly looks just ahead of him, and never really looks back during a race.
“If you look back, you’re going to turn your whole body,” Richard said, “and that can slow you down a couple of seconds each lap if you do that.”
Richard said that whenever he throws his leg over his bike and prepares to compete, everything else on his mind goes blank.
“It’s just me and the dirtbike,” Richard said. “I like jumping big jumps and hitting corners fast and smooth and winning. I love winning.”
His participation in the sport so far has garnered him lots of trophies and positive attention, but Richard has also had two mild concussions, and a fractured collar bone from racing.
“I haven’t gotten hurt that bad,” Richard said. “I guess I just know how to fall when I crash. The pros get on trampolines and they jump up and do these tricks where they’ll purposely fall, so they know how to fall when they wreck. They know what position to fall in where they don’t stick their hand out and snap their wrist or something like that.”
Richard has borrowed this technique, and does practice this, although he joked that the family’s trampoline is currently broken. He also observed that he has broken more bones just messing around and playing with friends than during high-speed and big-jumping motorcycle races.
“To do this, you can’t be scared of anything,” Richard said. “Sometimes, you can’t see a landing on the other side of a jump. So, you’ve got to really be a daredevil.”
In the past year, Richard has competed in the Jeeps Night Nationals series in Wichita, where he has placed first and second. He also traveled to compete in five different races in the Texas Winter Series, where he picked up third, fourth, and seventh place finishes. He currently races in a 9-round Oklahoma State Championship Series, and is in first place overall in all three classes with one race left in the series.
All of these tracks have slight differences, in both the structure and the kind of dirt that is used on their surfaces. It is up to racers like Richard to adjust to these differences and quickly learn the most efficient way to get around them. This also necessitates changes in the types of tires used in these events.
“It’s an expensive sport, but we’ve had fun with it,” Jennifer Richard said. “We bought a motorhome, and we use it just about every weekend for this. We’re pretty much traveling.”
The winter series that Richard participated in took place during the school year, which involved driving down to Dallas area for the weekend every two weeks.
“My husband really enjoys it, having been in the sport when he was younger,” Jennifer Richard said.
Matt Richard functions as the primary part of the pit crew for his son at these races, helping to do any necessary bike repairs.
“I have a lot of other people that actually help me out at the races, when my Dad’s not there or if he’s away from the track,” Richard said. “I’ll have some of my friends help me.”
Richard someday would like to specifically hire a mechanic to help him at these events. Many of his competitors either do this or get a sponsorship from a factory team.
Another goal of his is to eventually be home-schooled, so he’ll have more time to practice for this sport. That is what a lot of young motocross competitors do, in order to strike a balance between the time demands of school and the rigorous practice that being good at this sport requires.
“I’d rather be home schooled, because it’s super hard to keep up on your schoolwork and not fall behind,” Richard said, “so with me being home-schooled, I think it would be a little bit easier, because I’d have a computer and I could do my schoolwork on that whenever I wanted after I’m done riding. Because, when I’m in school, I come home at 5 or 6, with all my activities. Then, I’ve got homework, and I can’t ride at all.”
He feels this holds him back from some of his competitors. He wants to have the option of looking at training schools and race camps during the school year, in addition to his studies.
“We’re not quite ready to make that step, as parents,” Jennifer Richard said.
For now, he will be attending CHS in the fall, where he plans on being a part of the football and wrestling programs.
He doesn’t really know anyone else in this region who competes in motocross.
“I haven’t really seen any,” Richard said, “so I don’t know anybody around here that does, and that kind of sucks. Just riding out here by yourself, you’ve got to love it to do it. If you have no one to ride with, it’s kind of boring. But putting in those laps, the hard work does pay off.”
Heading into next week’s race, Richard is confident and thinks that he will do well.
“I know I’ve got the endurance to be out there for 20 minutes and I know I can run out there with them,” Richard said, “because I’ve just trained and put all the hard work in it.”
He is hoping to end up somewhere close to the middle of the pack at the Loretta Lynn event.
“I just hope I don’t get anywhere from 30th to 42nd,” Richard said. “I just really want to run 20th -30th in that fast pack.”
To follow Richard’s progress through the Lorretta Lynn race next week, www.racertv.com will have 32 hours of live racing coverage. Richard is scheduled to compete in these races.
Tuesday, July 29 - Mini-sr. 12-14 8:30 a.m.
Wednesday, July 30 Mini-sr. `12-14 3 p.m.
Friday, August 1 Mini-sr 12-14 10 a.m.
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