July 31, 2013

Gone country: Kendrick ready to race motocross at Loretta Lynn’s

Chris Whitfield

— Some 3-year-old boys receive the gift of a tricycle or Big Wheel from their grandfather.

Colton Kendrick’s grandfather gave him a motorcycle. A real motorcycle — not some plastic toy version, but one with a real engine, shocks and outdoor tires.

“His first one actually had training wheels, and he rode it for a couple of months before he said he didn’t want the training wheels anymore,” Tony Kendrick said of that first motorcycle for his grandson. “I raced (motocross) back in the 1970s and ’80s, and my son Josh raced when he was younger, but we all sort of got away from it. Colton came along and he loved it.”

He’s good at it, too.

“It is a lot of fun,” said Colton, who is 8 and lives in Crandall. “When I was little, it was cool and I wanted to do it. I want to turn pro one day.”

He will race today in the first round of competition at the 32nd annual American Motorcyclists Association (AMA) Amateur National Motocross Championship at country singer Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. On the amateur level, making it to Loretta’s — as it is known in the sport — is as big as it gets. The AMA championship is just a step below the professional circuits.

This is the second time Kendrick has made the trip, having also competed in the event as a 6-year-old in summer 2011.

Kendrick is one of more than 40 motorcyclists in his age group who advanced in the 51cc class after competing in area and regional races to earn their spots at the national competition. He missed the event last year after finishing outside of the top seven at regionals.

He will compete in three different races this week, and the competitor with the fastest average of those events is the winner of the classification. The competition ends Saturday.

While Colton’s task may be every kid’s dream — to jump over hills and race through the dirt — it has sometimes been trying for his mother, Kim. While others his age wear helmets and shoulder pads for football in the fall, Colton looks more like he is wearing full-body armor when he hops on his KTM Pro Senior motorcycle.

Still, she knows what the chance to race means to him.

“I guess for any mother, you don’t want them to get hurt and it was scary at first,” Kim said. “But he has always wanted to do it. We had something on television with racing when he was little, and he just fell in love with it. He would rather watch that than watch Barney back then.”

For mom, most of the race isn’t filled with tension. At the beginning, all of the competitors are bunched on the starting line, waiting for the gate to drop. After that, they tend to separate rather quickly.

“Going off the line is probably the worst part. After the first turn, you can breathe,” Kim said. “I have talked about him not doing it, but if you watched him ride and saw how much he loves it, it is kind of hard (not to let him race). It is kind of natural, it seems like. He is very good.”

After his early start in the sport, Colton won the first race he entered at 4. Since then, he has collected more than 40 victories across the South.

Motocross has become more than just a hobby for Colton, a Northwest Elementary School student. His grandfather is one of his sponsors and owns five different motorcycles, and the family has invested in a motocross track on their property. While it was a family project, the track is almost big enough to stage professional races.

Tony Kendrick said professional racers run tracks that measure out to roughly 1 minute, 55 seconds per lap. Pros have gone through the Crandall track at 1:45.

“It is something that he loves, and I love doing it with him and helping him,” the elder Kendrick added, noting that the family makes this week at Loretta Lynn’s a big get-together. “It has been a lot of fun for all of us.”