Kids don't have to race to have fun on motorcycles, but if they're mentally and physically tuned for racing, competition can be an immensely rewarding experience.
As a parent, you need to honestly assess your child's desire and ability before they line up at the starting gate.
It's a big deal to start racing—for both your kid (emotionally, physically) and you (time and money investment). To help you get started, we caught up with a man who's an expert when it comes to kids and racing: Philip Rispoli, who runs the Coolskunk dirt-track racing program that introduces kids to the fun world of dirt-track racing.
"They need the right combination of parental support and the right rider attitude," he says. "The parents must be committed to supporting the rider, and the rider needs that twinkle in the eye."
Rispoli stresses that parents must be on the right page: "If you end up with a world champion, great, but that's not what this is about. We want to build a winner both on and off the track."
If you decide that racing is in the cards for your kids, there is a range of events to consider—from low-impact, participatory events to serious racing. Among those, your kid might qualify for one or more classes that vary by age and/or skill level. He or she will also need to be an AMA member, and possibly a member of your particular AMA district, to be eligible to compete.
On this page, you can see a description of the different kinds of competition sanctioned by the AMA. Read on to see what you need to know as the parent of a fledgling racer at some of the most common events.
Many clubs offer for-fun-only, semi-competitive trail rides in addition to full-bore races. Often, to take the competitiveness of the event down a notch, the organizers introduce some fun, random elements into the competition.
One such club is Variety Riders in Ottawa, Illinois. Variety Riders organizes about six "egg hunt" trail rides each year, with wooden pegs instead of real eggs.
"The riders run two 15-minute heats around a set loop. At some point in the loop, they stop and pick up a colored peg," explains Mark Fleming, vice president of Variety Riders. "They drop that peg in a scoring bucket and at the end of the second heat, we randomly assign points to each peg color and add up each kid's points. We stress safety and fun. We run it as a family day, just people with a common hobby getting together and having a good time."
Most kids get started racing in motocross.
A motocross race usually includes a practice session and two "motos." The combined score of the two motos determines the winner.
You will pay a gate fee to get into the track and then an entry fee at sign-up for each class your child enters. The entry forms are straight-forward and basically cover liability and class selection.
There are a number of beginning-level classes for kids.
AMA Classes 3 and 4 accommodate less-experienced kids from 4-8 years old, riding less-powerful 50cc motorcycles. The AMA Amateur Rulebook includes the specific rules. Often, these classes are run on a smaller track. At some races, parents of kids in Classes 3 and 4 will have access to the track to help their kids if they fall.
Classes 1 and 2 generally include more experienced kids riding racier two-strokes with more advanced suspension. Class 1 is for kids ages 4-6. Class 2 is for kids ages 7-8. These classes, particularly Class 2, can be quite aggressive and aren't a good choice for your kid's first race.
Most tracks also offer beginning classes for older kids. If not, rest assured that there will be a wide range of skill level in any class they do run.
For more on getting started in motocross, see the motocross section of this website.
Hare scrambles (also called cross country or grand prix races) are like motocross races in the woods. Because there is no second moto involved, as there is with motocross, race days are generally shorter.
The class structure is similar to motocross, and kids compete on the same type of motorcycles.
While the top kids are just as determined at a hare scramble as at a motocross, the general perception is the woods races are a less-intimidating environment. Much of that has to do with the longer course that leads to less tight racing.
Hare scramble racers, particularly new ones, race against the course as much as they race the other participants.
Youth racers in dirt track compete on the same type of bikes as youth racers in motocross and hare scrambles. Other than running dirt-track tires, few modifications are necessary for beginners.
There are three types of dirt-track racing for kids: short-track, half-miles and TTs. (Larger bikes and amateur adult classes will also compete on mile tracks, which don't allow youth racing.)
- A short-track race takes place on a small oval course. Racers circulate the course counterclockwise, making only left-hand turns.
- A half-mile is just what it sounds like -- an oval course roughly a half mile in length.
- A TT course looks like a cross between a motocross and a short track. A TT course will include right-hand turns and usually a jump. Because the bikes run dirt-track tires, the course surface becomes hard-packed, rather than a motocross track which becomes rutted up from the knobby tires.
Dirt track typically follows a heat/semi/main event format. Racers compete in the heats to qualify for the main. The top racers (the number depends on the size of the class) will qualify (or "transfer to") the main. Those who don't qualify in a heat compete in a semi.
Unless the class has few entires, not all racers will make the main event. In small classes where everyone makes the main event, the heat race finishing order will be used to set the starting positions in the main event.
Plenty of options
Motocross, hare scrambles and dirt track are just a three of the types of motorcycle competition available for kids. Hillclimb, trials, desert racing, road racing and others also offer opportunities for youth riders. For more on these opportunities, see the sections of this website dedicated to those types of racing.