The flash of vibrant colors bouncing through the woods and over the jumps, and the ripping sound trailing them, makes it easy to overlook what the State Motocross Races at Twin City Raceway this weekend are really all about.
For Lacie Kelly, the secretary and treasurer of the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions – Motocross Division, families arriving Tuesday to camp out for the weekend and kids playing at the track at midnight are as much a part of the event as the dizzying swirl of bikes and dust during the races.
“They come from all over,” Kelly said. “It’s a big family. Everybody knows everybody.”
The 60-plus riders at Twin City Raceway on Saturday and today come mainly from the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage area and Fairbanks.
There are four state weekends throughout the season, two in Anchorage and one apiece in Fairbanks and Kenai. KPRL also hosts eight city races during the summer at Twin City Raceway.
Kelly’s family is heavily involved in racing. Her husband, Jesse Kelly, races, as does Jesse’s father, Mike Kelly. Lacie’s daughter, 9-year-old Danica Farrar, recently got a bike and is not racing yet, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her out there before the season’s end.
Lacie is in her second year on the KPRL board, while Jesse just became president this year. Along with Phil Celtic, vice president, they are trying to grow motocross numbers in the area again.
“It can be difficult,” Lacie said. “Sometimes it’s hard to make everybody happy. We try our best, especially since it’s a family sport.
“Over the last number of years, we’ve lost a lot of people and we really want to try and get that back. We want there to be two rows of racers at the start.”
Jesse, now 29, started racing when he was 14 and can remember when state races had 150 to 200 riders. He hungers for those days.
Jesse was in the Pro and 450 Expert classes this weekend, and said riding with less riders is not as fun.
“In my last race, there was nobody around me,” he said. “I was in fourth place, and the top three were way up there. The fifth-place rider was way behind me.”
Jesse rode until he was 21 before taking a break and getting back into the sport three years ago.
While he guesses the economy had something to do with the drop in numbers, his father, Mike, confirms that fact.
“The attendance dropped in half when the economy crashed in 2008,” Mike said.
Jesse said the plan is to make riding appealing to younger riders.
“It keeps them active instead of sitting inside all summer long playing video games and using their phone,” he said. “All the kids have a tablet or iPhone these days.”
Thus far, the plan seems to be working. The state races this weekend had 16 riders on 50cc motocross bikes, which is the kind used by the little kids.
And Mike says the little kids are where it ball begins.
“Each of the little guys has to have their family here,” he said. “After they’re old enough to be here by themselves, the parents keep coming anyway.”
But the parents mostly keep coming to watch. Very few get on a motocross bike themselves and start tearing up the track.
But that’s exactly what Mike did, at the age of 41, after watching his son have all the fun for years. At 54, Mike is still at it, competing at Vet Intermediate and Senior Vet this weekend.
“That’s a good question,” Mike said. “I have no idea. I still enjoy it.”
Isn’t that rough on the body?
“You just get used to it,” he said. “It becomes second nature. All summer long you are sore, bruised and hurt.
“I don’t know how to explain it.”
Mike says riding keeps him in shape, and it also gives him goals to chase. Jesse said his father is faster than ever.
“I was moving up at the end of last year, but this year I’ve started at the end of the pack again,” Mike said. “I’ll get faster.”
Jesse said his dad is part of the reason he got back into racing. He said the sport also gives him motivation to keep fit, and he lost 40 pounds this winter.
“They’ve been doing it for so long,” Lacie said. “They just love it.