Off-road motorcycle racing has come a long way since its humble beginnings more than 100 years ago when riders competed in cross-country (scramble) races in the United Kingdom on machines that were essentially gasoline-powered bicycles.
Nowadays, the sport of motocross is immensely popular around the world -- many youngsters hold professional motocross racers like James Stewart, Chad Reed and Ryan Villopoto in the same light as rock stars.
The popularity of this exciting and gruelling sport has also continued to flourish right here in Manitoba. Practically every weekend throughout the province, hundreds of local motocross racers pack up their bikes and gear and head to one of the many local tracks for their shot at glory in the dirt.
There are tracks in Gimli, Morden, Altona, Grunthal, Beausejour and Pilot Mound. Recently, we checked out the racing action at the newly formed Outback Raceway near Beausejour. The track was designed and is maintained by Kolten Stengel and is located on his family's property. The Saturday races we attended featured nearly 200 racers in a number of classes ranging from tiny kids who needed a boost to climb aboard their bikes to high-flying professional racers and even veteran classes that featured riders over the age of 40.
The races are sanctioned by the Manitoba Motocross Association (MMA). According to their website, the MMA is a not-for-profit, member-driven organization committed to the development and growth of competitive off road motorcycle racing on all levels -- amateur, professional, regional and national. The Canadian Motorsport Racing Corporation (CMRC) is responsible for setting, implementing, maintaining and developing standards for rules of competition, scoring and officiating.
When it comes to motocross racing, the sky is the limit. Top local riders have the opportunity to compete at the national level and if successful enough, even internationally.
Although crashes are common, serious injuries are relatively rare, and that's due to the considerable amount of safety initiatives implemented. In addition to having their bikes pass stringent technical inspections, riders must wear a laundry list of protective gear that includes certified helmets, goggles, gloves, boots, neck protection and body armour that makes the riders look like gladiators. The MMA also strongly encourages riders to practise regularly prior to competing in sanctioned races.
Like all sports, behind every young racer there's a supportive parent looking after all the details and providing words of wisdom and encouragement. We caught up with Troy Thauberger and his 14-year-old son Travis in the pits as they prepared for their next race.
Troy is a veteran racer but has opted to pass the torch to his daredevil son. "It's a great way for us to bond and I have a blast watching him race," Troy said as he did the final preparations on his son's Yamaha YZ 85.
The Thaubergers arrived at the Beausejour track early in the morning towing a well-equipped race trailer complete with tools, spare parts and even a pressure washer to rinse the bike off after races. Despite nursing a bump on his forearm roughly the size of a golf ball, Travis still managed to finish tenth in a field of 23 racers, and following the race, father and son were all smiles as they rehashed the race in the pits.
Perhaps the happiest rider in the pits was six-year-old Bryce Wadge from Stonewall. He had just picked up his most recent trophy and was showing it off to his twin sister. When asked what he liked best about racing Bryce, who already seems to possess the steely eyes of a veteran motocrosser, offered this nugget: "I like passing other kids," he said with a shy grin. "That's the best thing about racing."
This Sunday, racing takes place in Pilot Mound at the Prairie Hill MX Track. For more information on the MMA, race schedules and point standings, check them out at www.manitobamotocross.com.