With a gang of kids running around helter skelter, it can be easy to forget that you’re at a motocross race at Kenai’s Twin Cities raceway.
At many of the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions motocross events these days, the adults have had to share the course with riders half their age or younger. Saturday’s day of state races featured its fair share of fresh faces brimming with anticipation of going fast.
In one corner of the sea of campers and bikes sat a camp of riders known as Team Valley Rally from Sutton, a town just outside Palmer. In between events, no less than eight kids were scrounging around the bikes, either cleaning the mud off a freshly completed run or goofing off with kids from other camps. In all, 14 riders make up Team Valley Rally, ranging from the youngest at 5 years old to the oldest at 30.
The leader of the group is 30-year-old Andy Andersen, who has ridden bikes since age 5 but has since returned after a long sabbatical. Andersen’s kids currently race with the group as well, surrounded by supportive family members.
“We drive down for every one of the Kenai City Series races,” Andersen said. “We like to support this town.”
Andersen said his group will be down again in two weeks for the City Series on June 28. The State Races continue with a weekend of racing July 5 and 6 in Fairbanks.
“What’s different with us is that we tell them to ride at their skill set, ride fun, but if you’re bobbling and getting out of control then slow down,” Andersen said. “Other parents are yelling at their kids to go, go, go, but we’re yelling, slow it down!”
After humble beginnings that saw only a few riders struggling to break even on a weekly basis, Team Valley Rally has come a long way in the five years since then.
“What blows my mind is that it’s just snowballing,” Andersen said. “Every year we get people begging to be on the team, and we’re going, well do we just let everybody be on the team?”
Andersen said his business, Andersen Electrical, helps pay some of the bills, but in a hobby that sees costs run as high as $1,500 on a racing weekend, things add up quickly. Luckily, Andersen has received local support from businesses, as well as the riders on his team. In addition, Team Valley Rally has been getting some pointers from Pro rider Kraig Riese, a former New Yorker who has competed at the AMA Amateur National Championships, but now lives in Wasilla.
“These kids work their tail off on our property, picking sticks, cutting trees down, watering the track and everything,” he said. “It’s hard to let other people on our team that don’t throw out that kind of effort.”
Taking a glance at the team’s camp, it’s not hard to see why Andersen’s group is thriving. Andersen’s 5-year-old son, Chase, won the 50B division last year, and races in the expert class this year.
Odin Andersen, 15, has the looks of a rider half his age. But two years ago, Andersen won the City Series championship in the 85 Novice division.
In one of the first races of the day, 10-year-old Trinity Pendergrass, Andersen’s niece, finished second out of 12 racers in the 50cc division. Young Trinity was leading for much of the race, but a fall on one of the corners allowed the young boy behind her to take the lead and win the event.
“I was (leading) and then I crashed,” she explained. “Then he finished and I fell behind.”
Pendergrass said her friends and family got her interested in racing at the same age as her uncle, and she’s been hooked ever since.
“It’s really fun and it’s fast,” she said. “Race hard, never stop.”
Alongside Pendergrass were cousins Cole Blydenburgh and Kyle Berberick. Blydenburgh, 13, is an eighth-grader and Berberick, 14, is a freshman at Palmer High. Racing in the 250cc Novice division requires that the duo race a full-size bike with a powerful engine, but both handle it like professionals.
“Our family did it, and it was just fun,” Blydenburgh said.
Berberick said he followed in his family’s footsteps onto the dirt paths.
“It’s something that they started doing, so I started doing it too,” Berberick said. “It’s something to do during the summer.
“It can be a little nerve-wracking at times, because sometimes at the start I get butterflies, but it’s really fun.”
The Andersen’s run their own race track out of their backyard near Sutton, which at one point was considered illegal. Since then, the family has been able to obtain the rights to stage a motocross course on their property, and the original name — “Secret Ninja Training Facility” — stuck.
With their own course, personal training and local support coming in from all angles, Team Valley Rally has certainly produced a younger look at the Kenai state races, and Saturday was no different.