But on Sunday, May 29, 1994, Kevin Windham was a 17-year-old Team Kawasaki support rider sitting behind the starting gate of High Point Raceway on his KX125. Having made his debut at Gatorback Cycle Park in Gainesville, Florida, nearly three months before — where he got duly smoked — the standout amateur racer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, waited for the starter to signal him and 39 other racers to kick their bikes to life. He was about to start the third moto of his rookie season, and on the gate with him were riders with surnames like Henry, Emig, Lamson, Hughes, Huffman, Dobb, and Ferry (oh, Pingree was probably there, too).
When the gate dropped, the pack roared up the start hill and circumvented the wide Mount Morris left-hand first turn. The first rider out of it was the #510 Kawasaki rider Windham. For 30 minutes and one lap, he led the opening moto of the Mount Morris National. Fans lining the fences scratched their heads, trying to figure out who the kid in the AXO gear and the funny number was.
“It would have been great to have won it, but at this stage of my career, winning really isn’t as important; proving I can hang with these guys is,” Windham told Cycle News after the moto. “I tried not letting the pressure get to me, but it's hard not to when you come up to the starting gate and line up next to Henry, Emig, and those guys. I am just happy I kept my head and didn’t let them influence me on the track.
“I started to get fatigued,” he added. “Once I started to tire, I began making mistakes, so I decided that second was better than taking a soil sample. I guess I kind of surprised myself.”
In the second moto, Windham came back down to earth somewhat and placed 11th for sixth overall. Henry won the overall that sunny spring afternoon with an unlikely 1-5; Jeff Emig and Ryan Hughes went 1-2 in the second moto.
“I don’t remember how I got the holeshot,” he reflected. “I was so nervous. I just put my head down and went. I was coming from racing amateur events, where you race just four or five laps, and here I am running up front in a 30-minute moto, with the pressure of Doug Henry behind me — it was just overwhelming.
“Mount Morris kind of turned everybody on to me,” he added. “Yamaha started talking to me and came down to Loretta Lynn’s that August to watch me ride. I felt that they had the best program at the time, so I signed on with them.”
Thirteen seasons later, Windham is still at it. Racing for the SoBe/No Fear/Samsung Honda outfit, the seasoned veteran rides full-on factory Hondas. Although his 2006 campaign started relatively late — the result of a preseason testing crash — Windham is now back in the mix and a threat to take a place on the podium on any given Saturday night. In fact, if all goes to plan, come tomorrow night in Qwest Field in Seattle, Kevin will be doing what he has done so very often in his storied career: spraying champagne and holding a trophy above his head.