Veteran riders keep ripping it up well into their 30s and 40s

Posted: Sunday, June 13, 2004

This ain't your father's motocross. Then again, maybe it is.

Look past the under-20 crowd that tends to dominate most dirt-bike races across the country, and you'll find a dedicated group of riders pushing the limits of their aging machines.

As participants in the Veteran motocross division, riders like the Kenai Peninsula's Mike Kelly, Barney Phillips and Mike Arno don't fit the typical adrenaline-junky mold popular among today's X-Games crowd.

"We've got to go back to work on Monday," Kelly, of Kenai, said while preparing for races Saturday at Twin Cities Raceway.

Kelly, Phillips and Arno were among six 30- and 40-something racers who competed in the Veterans division at the third round of state motocross series races Saturday. Although they admit they're a touch past their prime, Homer's Arno said the need for speed still has a grip on his psyche.

"If you're going to be out here, you're going to be competing," Arno said.


Dan Kouf (330) competes in the Veteran Novice class Saturday at Twin Cities Raceway.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Competing, yes, but maybe not going all-out. After all, these guys aren't teen-agers anymore.

"There's kind of an unwritten code with the veteran riders," Nikiski's Phillips said.

While the young guns of the sport are more apt to take chances and do a bit of pushing and shoving out on the track, Phillips said the veteran riders are a little more careful on the track than their teen-age counterparts.

"We're not that crazy," Phillips said.

Once you get past a certain age, Kelly said, the desire to win begins to take a back seat to staying healthy.

"That's probably 90 percent of the reason we don't go as fast as the kids," he said.

"We break easier and heal slower," Arno chimed in.

Many veteran riders said they rode bikes when they were younger, and now have kids starting to take up the sport. Since motocross and quad (four wheeler) racing are sports that take a tremendous investment of time and effort, Kelly said they're perfect for getting the whole family involved.

That's how Kelly got into the sport. He said his teen-age son and daughter were both racing, and he finally got tired of being the guy behind the scenes.

"They were having all the fun and I was doing all the repairs," he said.

Like Kelly, Arno also caught the racing bug after watching his 23-year-old son compete.

"My son started last year, and that kind of got the adrenaline going, so I signed up," he said.

Riders said Saturday that the family aspect of dirt track racing may be the biggest thing people fail to realize about the sport. Although racing is inherently an individual pursuit, veteran riders said it's a perfect way for parents and kids to enjoy something in common.

"It's an excellent family deal," Arno said. "It's something you and your kids can have in common."


"You've got guys reliving their youth, then people who never grew up," Barney Phillips said.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

In addition to having family members racing, Phillips said the entire culture of dirt track racing is set up as a family affair.

"You look around and you've got kids and dogs and family friends out here. It's just a real family thing," said Phillips, whose 9-year-old son raced a four-wheeler Saturday.

Despite the family-friendly nature of their sport, Miller admitted there are a few older riders who simply aren't ready to leave their glory days behind.

"You've got guys reliving their youth, then people who never grew up," Miller said, stopping short of admitting which category he falls into.

The veteran riders may be able to momentarily turn back the clock, but Miller said the pounding riders take while circling a rutted, dirt track full of jumps and hairpin turns does have a tendency to take a toll on the body.

"It's kind of like kick-boxing a kangaroo while running on a treadmill," he said.

Still, sometimes the need for speed can trump the desire to stay safe. Arno said his wife told him he's a little foolish to be out racing, but that they came to an understanding about things.

"She said, 'If you're dumb enough to do it, fine. But if you get hurt, don't come complaining to me," he said.

Arno didn't get hurt Saturday. In fact, he beat out second-place Phillips for the top spot in both of the two Veteran's Intermediate class races. Kenai's Kelly placed fifth in the Veteran Novice class, while fellow Kenai Peninsula riders Dan Kouf took third and Mike Rewis got fourth.

But winning isn't everything. After all, when the dust settles, it's more about having fun than crossing the finish line first.

"When you get to our age, it's all pretty friendly," Arno said. "We're only racing for plastic trophies."

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