When Ryder Pietro, now 17, was born, his dad, motocross enthusiast Brad, wanted to name him Toby. His mother, Denise, wanted Ryder.
Not only did Denise win, but she’s starting to look pretty prescient.
This week, Ryder will race in the largest amateur motocross race in the world — the 36th Annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship. The event is held on the Loretta Lynn Ranch and Campground in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
Ryder has qualified to race at 250C and 450C. Over 22,000 riders joust for 1,446 qualifying positions at the championship.
“It’s always been a big goal of mine,” Ryder said earlier this week via cellphone from Arizona while traveling to the championship. “It’s a really big accomplishment on the motocross scene.
“We got pretty close to qualifying a few years ago, but we weren’t all the way qualified. That was hard on me because I really wanted to race.”
Ryder said he started riding at just 2 years old and has stuck with it ever since. Growing up in Soldotna, he had success on the Alaska motocross scene.
“For many years, you could tell he had some natural ability,” said Brad, who is making the trip to Tennessee along with Denise, other family and friends, and Ryder’s friend and mechanic Patrick Hartle. “A lot of people there were telling us that we needed to get this kid out of state.
“The few guys that have done really well from up there have done what we do.”
What the Pietros have done for the past three years is spend a ton of time traveling to motocross races. Brad works on the North Slope with a two-on, two-off schedule, and Ryder is now home-schooled, so when Brad has time off, the two are traveling to races.
“Getting some warm weather coming off the Slope is part of it, but wanting to help the kid try and live his dream, that’s most of it,” Brad said. “It’s been pretty spendy.”
The sacrifice has paid off. Ryder said he could not have gotten to his current level riding only two or three months out of the year in Alaska. One series the Pietros like to hit is the Transworld Motocross Race Series in California.
“It’s national level racing,” Brad said. “We like to ride with faster guys because that makes us faster.”
In order to qualify for AMA Amateur Nationals, riders must make it through area qualifiers and then regional championships.
Two years ago, Ryder was on mini-bikes and Brad’s work schedule did not allow Ryder to get to the races he needed for AMA Amateur Nationals qualification.
“Last year, he just got on the big bikes, so he took a year getting used to the big bikes,” Brad said.
The plan was to make a big push to qualify this season, but that plan got off to a terrible start when Ryder had a bad crash in February in Arizona.
“A few times I’ve been like, ‘Let’s give this up and build a car,’” Brad said. “A few people we know have gotten killed.
“Sometimes, it gets nerve-racking, especially for his mom, helping the kid live his dream.”
But Ryder shook off the crash by the area qualifier May 21 in Moriarity, New Mexico. There he took first at 250C, 250C Limited, 250C Jr. (12-17) Limited and 450 C, although riders can only qualify in two classes.
“I feel like me and my dad both enjoy the sacrifice,” Ryder said. “He used to race a lot and he loves the sport tremendously.
“Watching me do as good as I do, I think he enjoys that.”
On June 3, at the regional championship in Rancho Cordova, California, Ryder took first in the first moto and third in the second moto to finish second overall and earn AMA Amateur Nationals qualification at 450C.
On June 10, at the regional championship in Pala, California, Ryder took fourth in the first and second motos to nab second overall and earned 250C qualification.
Now he moves to the event where top pros like Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana and Ryan Dungey have won titles to help launch their careers.
“It gives you a lot of recognition,” Brad said. “All the factory guys will be there. They look at lap times and skill set.
“You never know what could happen if he wins. It could jump-start anything, really.”
That said, the Pietros are not solely relying on striking gold on this trip. While Ryder has been riding year-round for just three years, many of his competitors have been doing that their whole lives.
“I think since I haven’t been riding as much I have a lot I could get faster at,” Ryder said. “A lot of the guys are getting to a point where they can’t go any faster, but I’m at a point where I can go faster.”
There will be 42 riders at the gate in each of the three motos at 250C and 450C. The races are only 15 minutes, which means it is very hard to make up for a bad start.
“I really have high confidence about it,” Ryder said. “I have ridden with the top guys before in Northern California and done pretty well.
“I’ve been working on starts a lot and I’m planning on getting a good start.”
The plan is to do well at 250C and 450C this year, and move up to 250B and 450B next year.
“These are guys with a full factory ride — bikes, gear, everything,” Ryder said of the B riders. “I’ll be racing them out of the back of my Ford Ranger.”
Or, maybe he’ll have the free bikes and gear.
“There’s a chance,” Ryder said. “I have to go there and do good and see what happens in the coming year.”
The 250C races are Tuesday at 4 a.m. Alaska time, Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and Friday at 5 a.m. The 450C races at at 2 p.m. Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Saturday. The races can be streamed at www.racertv.com.