Welcome to Racerhead, coming to you from smack-dab in the middle of the amateur motocross world (for these two weeks, anyway): Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. The 40th Annual Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship is set to take place, beginning with practice on Monday and the first moto going off at 7:30 a.m. sharp, after the playing of our national anthem, as well as amateur motocross' unofficial anthem, Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter." The racing is still four days away, but the place is already packed with campers, kids, pit bikes, golf carts, bicycles, and Stacycs. (Wait until you see the permanent track the folks at Stacyc and MX Sports built next to the swimming pool.) Everyone seems to be enjoying the company at what we started calling "the world's greatest motocross vacation" way back in the 1980s, forty years in the making. This year there were over 26,000 attempts to qualify—the most ever—and the 42 finalists in each of 36 classes will now get to decide the 2021 AMA Amateur National Motocross Champions over the course of three motos on a deceivingly rough ranch track.
That three-moto format, with no one having to qualify once you're here, is one of the secrets to the success of the event. It takes the pressure off everyone, because you're in, you really are in the finals. So everything is much more relaxed and people actually hang out and enjoy company, swim in the creek, cook out on the grill, and make seemingly endless laps around Loretta's massive ranch. Pretty much everyone in the amateur motocross industry is here, which makes this race as much of a reunion as a competition. But come Tuesday, when the first starting gate drops, it all gets a little more real.
- Loretta Lynn's
AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship (Loretta Lynn's)Monday, August 2
Over the next couple days we'll be finishing up the track, which is only used for this race and the following week's ATV Dirt Days. Right now it's a clean slate—no banners, but lots of sand and (new for this year) sawdust. It's been hot all week long down here (been here since Tuesday) but will hopefully cool down some next week for the actual racing. We’ll have updates for you all week long, and of course the streaming video, too, with expected cameos by Loretta Lynn's alumni like Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath, Jeff Emig (who's actually racing a Husqvarna 150 two-stroke in one of the Senior +45 class), and more. It's going to be a fantastic week of motocross and moto friends. Chad Reed is even here with his kids to check it all out.
But it's also a very busy one for me, so I need to cut my part of Racerhead short right here, put on some work gloves, and go start pounding in track markers—my job here for all 40 years. (Fortunately for me, a couple of kids who got caught jumping off the bridge into the water in front of Loretta's house yesterday have to put in some hours on the infield, so I’ll have a little "volunteer" help.)
See you at the races.
Check out a few shots of the track from this evening.
Forty Years at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch (dc)
Since 1982, Loretta Lynn’s Ranch has hosted the World’s Greatest Motocross Vacation. Here’s how it all began.
Welcome to the 40th Annual Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. Since 1982, the Ranch and the local community have welcomed amateur motocross racers and their families to Humphreys County here in central Tennessee with open arms. Practically every professional rider since the early 1980s who has competed in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and Monster Energy AMA Supercross raced at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch growing up, and many also come back here to race as vet and senior participants. And if you’re a working member of the American motocross industry, you’ve almost certainly spent some days and nights at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch supporting your riders and their families. Since day one, this race has been dubbed the “World’s Greatest Motocross Vacation,” though for many involved in the industry, it’s more like a working vacation—and a busy one at that.
The story of Loretta Lynn’s motocross is pretty much the story of amateur motocross in America over these past four decades. It is filled with familiar names and faces, past champions and future stars, and thousands upon thousands of participants. It’s impossible to tell this story and include all the great racers, personalities, underdogs, and characters who have come through the Ranch. We tried to sum it all up with the massive billboard that graces the infield of the racetrack this year but ran out of room quickly. Still, we think it’s a good collection of some of our favorite memories and graduates from over the years.
A program cover. MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives Jeff Stanton at the Ranch in 1986. MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives Alessi vs RV. MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives Ron Lechien in 1982. MX Sports Archives Loretta Lynn and Big Dave. MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives
The whole idea for this race started with some scribbled words on the pages of a notebook in a yellow Dodge van that was driving halfway across the country from another big amateur motocross event. Dave Coombs Sr., known as Big Dave, was working on a plan to take the old AMA Amateur National Championship programs—one for youth and one for amateurs—and consolidate them into one big championship event, with meaningful Area and Regional qualifiers to ensure that the best of the best were the ones lining up. He also wanted to find a centrally located venue that would only host that one motocross event, in order to make for the most even playing field possible; previous amateur nationals always seemed to give local riders an unfair advantage. He also envisioned a facility that was much more than a motocross track, because if families were going to spend their summer vacations at this new event, there had to be much more to do than just watch motos all day.
There were pages and pages of ideas in that notebook, but no real idea as to where a race this ambitious would work. That’s when Coombs’ fellow promoter Paul Shlegel suggested he stop at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, just a few miles off Interstate 40, which was right along the route home that Coombs was taking from Oklahoma to West Virginia. It was August of 1981, and to that point, Loretta Lynn had absolutely nothing to do with motocross, but she was one of the most familiar names in pop culture at the time. The film about her life story, Coal Miner’s Daughter, had just won the Academy Award for the actress Sissy Spacek, who played Loretta in the movie.
It just so happened that, the day Coombs stopped in to see the Ranch in 1981, that Loretta’s husband Mooney Lynn (played in the film by none other than Tommy Lee Jones) was at the front office. The two hit it off immediately. As they toured the campgrounds in Mooney’s old Jeep, Big Dave explained the vision of having this big motocross race in the middle of it all. Mooney knew just the place and showed Coombs the big field up over the hill, down along the river bottom, where Loretta and Mooney kept their horses. It was flatter that Coombs had envisioned for this once-a-year motocross race, but it would do. And while Mooney didn’t know much about motocross, he sure liked the idea that his ranch would be full of racers and their families for at least a week each summer.
Two months later, Coombs returned to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, this time with his co-promoter Shlegel and a man named Dave Jordan, the manager of a new amateur racing program that Kawasaki Motors Corp. was putting together called Team Green. His support would be crucial to the success of any event, especially a new one like this, as was the American Motorcyclist Association, which long wanted a bigger, more prestigious amateur championship. Jordan liked what he saw and agreed to support the event by making it a priority for his new amateur program. Finally, the AMA gave Coombs and Shlegel a five-year contract to hold the amateur national championship at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, beginning in 1982.
Throughout the next spring, the first Area qualifiers were held all across the country. From there the top finishers would advance to a Regional, from which the top finishers would advance to the first championship finals at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, beginning on August 4, 1982. Once there, they would not have to qualify again—their spots on the starting gate for the three-moto finals were assured.
MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives Loretta Lynn MX Sports Archives Tim Cotter interviewing Jeremy McGrath. MX Sports Archives Loretta Lynn MX Sports Archives Jeff Emig MX Sports Archives James Stewart MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives James Stewart MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives MX Sports Archives
When the first racers began arriving at the Ranch that summer, they were generally underwhelmed with the track itself. It was covered in grass with just a few jumps, as a week of rain threw the track construction schedule off. But what the course lacked in challenging obstacles, the talent level of the participants made up for it. Major motocross hotbeds like Michigan, Florida, Texas, and California were well-represented, and not just by their Kawasaki Team Green riders. Yamaha sent California hotshoes Ron Lechien and Johner Kight and Texas brothers Danny and Dale Storbeck to compete. It was Lechien who basically stole the show, as the 15-year-old future superstar won two classes and might have won all four that he was allowed to enter that first year.
Already well known in the motocross world, Lechien’s very presence at the first Loretta Lynn’s gave the event a welcome boost. Before the second Loretta Lynn’s in 1983, Lechien was off winning AMA Pro Motocross and Supercross main events as the program’s first standout graduate. Future prospects have been following Lechien’s route to the top ever since.
With 983 riders, the first Loretta Lynn’s race was a modest success, despite the less-than-enthusiastic reviews of the track. It began with the early morning playing of Loretta’s song “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” a tradition that lasts to this day. It ended with 25 brand-new AMA Amateur National Champions. And as soon as race was over, the gates were locked, the jumps were flattened, grass was planted, and the track was made off-limits to all but Mooney and Loretta’s horses until the following August, just as promised. The track itself became more of a concern the next year, with more obstacles and the addition of sawdust from a nearby sawmill. In fact, it’s been evolving and improving ever since, though it still follows the general layout and direction from 1982.
For the first five years, the Loretta Lynn’s AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship steadily grew, with more classes added, which attracted more racers. The AMA felt that the event was enough of a success to give Coombs and Shlegel and their company MX Sports a five-year extension to the original contract. And Mooney and Loretta herself enjoyed hosting the races and even coming out and watching the occasional moto. They also agreed to continue with the event. The AMA Amateur National finally had a permanent home, on a neutral track that was completely off-limits for the other 51 weeks out of every year.
The 1980s were about the Loretta Lynn’s Ranch race and the whole amateur national program proving itself. In those first years, the event helped shaped the careers of such standout young racers as Jeff Stanton, Damon Bradshaw, Jeff Emig, Donny Schmit, Buddy Antunez, Lisa Akin, Mercedes Gonzalez, and many more. And we can’t forget about the kid from Menifee, California, who worked part-time bagging groceries at a Ralph’s who showed up at the Ranch for the first time in 1987 and won the 125 C class—Jeremy McGrath.
In the 1990s, things began to change as a second generation of riders cycled through the Ranch. Kawasaki’s hugely successful Team Green program was being countered by big amateur support programs from the other manufacturers. Amateur motocross began to become an industry of its own, with an annual circuit that included weeklong events in other states like Florida, Oklahoma, California, Texas, Missouri, and more. The Golden State of California was still the epicenter of motocross and supercross, but the Sunshine State of Florida was beginning to churn out young talent that would soon see the balance of power shift eastward. Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Timmy Ferry, Davi Millsaps, and Jessica Patterson, as well as Georgia’s Ezra Lusk and Costa Rica’s Ernesto Fonseca, were the vanguard of this rising power in the Southeast. And Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is where they made their first marks.
And then, at the dawn of the new millennium, a new motocross superstar emerged before he ever left Loretta Lynn’s. Maryland’s Travis Pastrana, a multi-time, multi-talented champion, became an action-sports icon the moment he back-flipped his Suzuki into San Francisco Bay during the first X Games freestyle motocross competition. One month later he was back at the Ranch on the starting gate for the 125 Schoolboy class.
Unfortunately, as all of this was happening, the people at the core of that first race were moving on. Paul Shlegel retired from the motocross business, as did Dave Jordan of Kawasaki Team Green. Mooney Lynn passed away right here in Hurricane Mills in August of 1996. And two years later, on the first day of the 1998 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship, Big Dave Coombs passed away. Through it all, the race has continued, just as they would have wanted it to, and with the same standards and foundations they always envisioned.
Now it’s 2021. Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is arguably the best-known (and least-used) amateur motocross track in the world. There were a record number of qualifying attempts this year—nearly 26,000. The motos are livestreamed on RacerTV.com. Some of the young riders entered have massive social media followings, as do a few of the older ones. Amateur motocross racing is thriving, and The Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn’s is the engine at the center of it all, the most prestigious race, as well as the world’s greatest motocross vacation.
And to think it all started in 1981 with some scribbled ideas on the pages of a notebook as a yellow Dodge van rolled along across the country.
Postponements, Cancellations, and Schedule changes (DC)
As we are all unfortunately aware, COVID-19 remains a thing in many, many ways. While it seems like everything is almost back to normal here at Loretta Lynn's Ranch, the news from other parts of the country and the world is worrisome. The Olympics in Japan are being held in giant empty stadiums and venues, and the occasional Major League Baseball games are canceled due to a number of players on one team or another testing positive.
In the two-wheeled world, the FIM announced that the Swedish MXGP would be canceled, as that country is reimplementing restrictions and social distancing. In its place, Turkey will now host two rounds instead. And then this announcement came concerning Sweden's next-door neighbor, Finland:
Due to the sudden increase of COVID-19 restrictions enforced by the Finnish government on the events industry and travelling, this year’s Finnish Grand Prix cannot be run and therefore is forced to be cancelled. The event will be replaced, on a future date to be announced soon. An updated calendar will follow in the upcoming weeks to continue this exciting season of the FIM Motocross World Championship.
And then this from the FIM on EnduroGP:
The FIM, together with the German Motorcycle Federation (DMSB) and local organiser, regret to announce that the EnduroGP of Germany, round five of the 2021 Borilli FIM EnduroGP World Championship scheduled to take place in Zschopau, Saxony on October 8/9/10, has been cancelled. Despite the best efforts of the FIM, DMSB, and the organising club MSC MZ Zschopau, the strict Covid measures put in place by the area’s district administrator and the chief of health department means that it is simply not possible to organise the event.
The hits just kept on coming, next from South America. Due to the sudden increase of COVID-19 restrictions put in place by the Chilean government, this year’s Atacama Bajas, part of the FIM Bajas World Cup, cannot be run now either.
Finally, watch this space:
Vaccinated Visitors from European Union and the United States to Avoid Quarantine in England
Please get vaccinated. We're all going to have to in order to get past this once and for all.
Looking for Next (Jason Weigandt)
So off we go to Loretta Lynn’s, which just happens to be timed perfectly to give the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship a break, which is great because we wouldn’t be able to get those races on NBCSN if they were happening. Every NBC-owned channel is running wall-to-wall Olympics coverage for two weeks, which is why even NASCAR has taken a rare two-weekend break in its schedule. It’s also why the Washougal National went for four straight hours on MAVTV and won’t air on NBCSN until August 8, when the Olympics are over. There’s good news on the TV front, however. The Spring Creek National from Millville aired on NBC (the big network) and drew about 924,000 viewers, which makes it the most-viewed Pro Motocross broadcast ever on any network. That is awesome for the sport! A nice lead-in from the Golf Open right before it led to 1.37 million viewers for the first quarter of the hour. With TV, the lead-in is often more important than anything else. Also, although the Southwick National actually aired on NBCSN the day after the race (Sunday), it was sandwiched around NASCAR racing and actually drew the largest NBCSN rating of the year, and overall the NBCSN ratings for Lucas Oil Pro Motocross are up 18 percent compared to last year. Hey, last year was weird, but we’ll take any gains we can get.
Okay, back to Loretta’s. Throughout our various countdowns and bench-racing stories from this race, the tales often graduate to minicycle heroes, but in recent times the real talent emerges when riders first get on big bikes. That’s usually the B class. To me, this really started with Trey Canard’s emergence back in 2008, and it has continued with riders like Dean Wilson, Aaron Plessinger, and Shane McElrath changing the course of their careers with big-time B class performances. Today’s example is Levi Kitchen, who swept the 250 and 450 B Limited classes last year. It’s interesting to me, by the way, that Kitchen is a taller rider, similar to Wilson and Plessinger. Perhaps the tall kids don’t get to show their true talent until they’re off minibikes?
By racing the Limited class last year, Kitchen didn’t race the more hyped B-class races with modified bikes, but he subsequently proved his Loretta’s breakout was legit by basically winning everything and anything against anyone for the last 12 months. Kitchen is now considered the hottest prospect in the country, and he’ll give Loretta’s one more run in the Open Pro Sport and 250 Pro Sport classes before turning pro for real (he did race the RedBud Pro National this year and got ninth in a moto).
He is not alone with his breakout status. While Kitchen won the two B Limited classes, a lot of talent was jammed into the 250 B (Modified) and Schoolboy 2 classes. Few probably expected young Kawasaki prospect Chance Hymas to emerge with the Schoolboy 2 title over the likes of Nate Thrasher and Jett Reynolds. Since then, Hymas, like Kitchen, has proven Loretta’s was no fluke, with great rides for the past year. The A-level classes at Loretta’s have been pared down recently, as there are now just two, which means Kitchen and Hymas will be racing against each other. Another Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing prospect, Matthew LeBlanc, was also expected to be a contender, but he suffered a hand injury a few weeks ago and won’t be able to race. You also have longtime Kawasaki Team Green super talent Jett Reynolds in the mix. If Reynolds can flip the switch, he could reset the order and get back on top.
Kitchen is 20, so he’s ready to be a pro now; Hymas, 16, has time. Either way, no one was talking about these two riders at this level 53 weeks ago. Loretta’s still has the power to change a rider’s career. Will we see more breakthroughs this time? There are probably plenty of riders in the B and Schoolboy classes who believe now will be their time to shine.
Pro Perspective (THOMAS)
For the professional racers getting a weekend away from the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, this is a welcome break. The series just ripped through a four-round spree, criss-crossing the country from New England to the Pacific Northwest. This two-weekend break will give everyone a breather before we set off into a five-week frenzy to wrap up this series.
On this first off weekend, many riders are dealing with nagging injuries, mental fatigue, and simply beaten up by the consecutive weekends of racing. This is the time to rest, heal, and prepare. Most of the motocross testing would be concluded by now, leaving riders to their own devices. It’s critically important for riders to understand what their bodies are telling them. With five races on the horizon, being back to 100 percent (physically and mentally) is arguably the most valuable goal. Motivation starts to wane for many as the series grows long. A nagging injury that was manageable in the early rounds begins to wear on riders and many will opt to get surgery before 2022 gets any closer (Adam Cianciarulo, for example). For those that are able to find a second wind as we enter the home stretch, opportunity awaits. Riders like Chase Sexton, the winner of the last round at Washougal, could find himself racking up moto wins as some are thinking the championship picture and some are simply thinking about the off-season.
Time off should be managed very differently at different points of the season. Early in the season, riders would want to be focused on improving settings, advancing their fitness base, and finding small speed gains. As the season moves on, though, that focus changes to recovery and repair.Late in the season, there is no more valuable asset than being at full strength. So, with the five race run on the horizon, that’s my advice over the next couple of weeks. Focus on maintenance instead of trying to make large gains. Allow your body to rest and recover. You’ll thank yourself later.
2022 Alpinestars Gear Launch (Keefer)
We had the pleasure of heading out to Perris Raceway this week to enjoy some time riding in the 2022 gear lineup with the Alpinestars crew. Eli Tomac, Chase Sexton, Jason Anderson, Jett and Hunter Lawrence, as well as the Honda Rally team were all in attendance to ride and enjoy new gear day! Jett and Hunter even busted out an old CR500 to rip a few laps on, which was very interesting to say the least. The comments each rider made about the sheer horsepower of the ol' two-stroke were entertaining. Our industry has been kind of quiet with new gear/bike introductions since the pandemic, so it was nice to get out with colleagues and put the new gear through its paces. Alpinestars even brought out a DJ and a taco truck to enhance the evening. Alpinestars’ complete lineup of 2022 riding protection is up now over on Alpinestars.com. Here are some shots that our resident photographer Spencer Owens got of the launch, and if you want to hear more about the 2022 Alpinestars lineup, check out the video below.
Hey, Watch It!
Who’s the Future of Pro Motocross? ALL IN Part 2, Star Racing Yamaha
Is This Jeff Emig’s Last Race at Loretta Lynn's? | Fro at 50 Ep 1
Listen to This
How did Loretta Lynn's come about? Listen to this origins story by Brett Smith where he explains how it all started.
Head-Scratching Headlines Of The Week
“New Zealand rated best place to survive global societal collapse”—The Guardian
“'McBandit' targets McDonald's restaurants in robbery spree”—Fox 5 New York
For the latest from Canada, check out DMX Frid’EH Update #30.
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!