Judging from hundreds of comments posted by readers of The Salt Lake Tribune article
describing Logan’s death, the incident catapulted kids’ motocross onto
the mainstream radar and gave readers, some of whom had no direct
knowledge of the sport, license to condemn the Emersons and other
motocross parents as negligent or abusive.
Brad Frampton, who raced on the national circuit until 1999 and has two sons—ages 10 and 12—who race, is one of two people in the motocross community interviewed for this story who became so incensed by those comments criticizing motocross parents that he shut off the computer.
“One woman wrote, ‘I can’t believe that parents would strap their kids to a motorcycle and send them out there for a cheap thrill,’” Frampton fumes. “Somebody that doesn’t know anything about this sport doesn’t have any right to judge it.”
The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends that off-road motorcycling be restricted to
children over age 16, citing “immature judgment and motor skills” in
younger children. Under Utah state law, children over age 8 only may
ride off-road motorcycles on public land; there is no such restriction
for private land, such as motocross arenas.
According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 245 Americans age 19 and under died in 2003 from offroad motorcycle injuries, and 56,870 were treated in emergency rooms for offroad motorcycling injuries. Twenty percent of the nonfatal injuries occurred on motocross tracks, with 8.9 percent caused by a jump and 5.3 percent from hitting another motorcycle or other vehicle. The injuries represent 32.6 people per 100,000 of the population in that age range, but no estimate is available of how many Americans in that age range use off-road motorcycles, according to the CDC.
A dislocated hip and
punctured lung sustained in a motocross crash led Brad Frampton to quit
racing on a national level, he said. Before that, he broke a leg, as
his older son, Broc, did last year. Broc, a freckled kid with braces
wearing a Logan Emerson memorial shirt, didn’t even care about walking
after the injury—he just wanted to ride, his dad said.
Back at the Iversons’
trailer, where everyone is sitting on folding chairs under a tarp
rigged up to provide shade, Austin’s friend, Evan Crawford, 14, peels
down his racing pants to put on knee braces in preparation for his
first moto. Knee braces, which can prevent a break by keeping the joint
from moving laterally, aren’t part of the safety equipment required by
the American Motorcycle Association and therefore by RMR—helmet,
protective pants, long-sleeve jersey and boots. But last year, Evan was
practicing at RMR when he landed a jump, did an “endo” or “digger”—a
forward flip—and got run over by another rider. He broke his leg, and
now he’s wearing the braces to protect himself in the event of another
Demar Iverson usually races in the over-40 class, but this year he’s sidelined with a knee injury. During 27 years of racing, Demar has also dislocated his shoulder, torn his anterior cruciate ligament, broken his wrist and broken his collarbone. Ellie Murphy, 13, who took third in her ATV class on Pioneer Day, flipped off her ATV last year and landed on her hands, breaking both her wrists. She was back on the machine as soon as she got her casts off, though it took four or five races before she was back to her previous speed, her dad Mark says. As Ellie, Shayden, and a few other little riders horse around in a circle behind the adults, trying to spray each other with water, Mark remembers that the group of kids is one short.
“Logan would be out here playing,” Mark says.
Getting Your G.O.A.T.
One thing critics of
kids’ motocross probably don’t realize is that most professional
motocross and supercross (more technical wintertime dirt-bike racing,
done in indoor arenas) riders began racing no later than age 4,
according to RMR motocross manager Curt Stewart. “James Stewart, the
reigning supercross champion, started when he was 4 years old,” Curt
Stewart says. “It’s a young man’s sport— you have champions retiring
when they’re 26, 27 years old.”
North Salt Lake’s SLMX
motocross complex director Robin Williams says if riders don’t have a
sponsor providing them with gear by the time they’re 11, the chances of
them getting a national sponsor are nil.
Ricky Carmichael, dubbed the “all-time winningest racer in AMA history” by motocross.com, started racing at age 3 and retired at 27 after winning 15 national championships. Sports Illustrated estimated his 2005 income as between $8 million and $10 million, including his salary from Suzuki and championship bonuses. Carmichael, often called G.O.A.T. or “greatest of all time” is Austin Iverson and Broc Frampton’s idol—both boys would eventually like to turn pro.
“We hope for it, but
don’t push it,” mom Dena Iverson says. “I think whatever they do, I’d
like to see them go as far as they can. But we leave it up to them.”
pro-motocross riders Peyton Smith idolizes dominate the décor on his
bedroom walls—in the form of “fatheads” or life-size stickers. “You
would die if you saw his room,” his mother, Robin Smith, says. Peyton,
7, got his first motorcycle when he was 3. The family lives on four
acres in Syracuse, so Peyton has his own motocross practice track.
“It’s a spendy sport, but we also have horses—whatever you’re into’s
expensive,” Robin points out.
The Iversons estimate
they spent about $15,000 in 2008 on motocross. A race-ready 50cc that a
child outgrows in a few years costs between $3,500 and $4,000,
according to Austin Boyd of Full Throttle Powersports in Centerville,
which outfits many of the area’s little riders. Safety equipment like
helmets and boots vary widely in price; the average parent spends
between $400 and $500 on safety gear, Boyd said. Participating in a
race at RMR costs $35 for the first moto and $25 for each additional
moto, for a minimum cost of $60. A day of practice at RMR costs $15.
Most children are
sponsored by Full Throttle or another dealer, but it’s a buy-in
sponsorship that basically serves as an incentive to choose a
particular store. At Full Throttle, parents get a package of free
practice days at SLMX and reduced price on gear and mechanic service
after buying a bike.
An additional cost some
families take on is oneon-one coaching provided by a motocross trainer.
On a Saturday morning at SLMX, a trainer is coaching Nicholas Garza,
10, trying to get him to go over a jump called a step-up. The 14-acre
course, with a variety of doubles, triples, tabletops and step-ups is
more technical—more like a supercross track—than the RMR track,
according to complex director Robin Williams’ husband Ben, who does the
track maintenance and grooming.
At SLMX, riders at all levels do the whole course, Robin Williams says. Riders approach the step-up going uphill and have to get over a lip before coming down the other side. It’s a little eerie, Nicholas Garza’s dad, Steve, says, because they can’t see what they’re going to go down.
Despite its family appeal, motocross is not for everyone. Nicholas is out in near-100 degree weather on a weekend working on that challenging jump, but Nicholas’ five siblings don’t race—one of his brothers attempted the sport but, when he fell into a puddle on a muddy track, he walked away from the bike. And that was it, his dad says.