Round 5 of the AMA ATV Motocross National Championship Series heads to Oakland, Ky. this weekend for the first-ever race under the lights at the Ballance Moto X facility. This year’s championship battle in the ATV Pro class has been one of the ages, literally. The top five contenders in this year’s title run range from ages 19 all the way to 36.
Defending champ and ATVMX veteran John Natalie holds the coveted number one plate this season after proving to be the most dominant racer of 2011. The elder statesman of the group, Natalie is quickly realizing that the ever-evolving sport of ATV racing is now piloted by a youthful generation. Especially Natalie’s newest Motoworks/Can-Am teammate Joel Hetrick, who has shown bursts of speed with two overall wins in his 2011 rookie season, in addition to his overall victory in Round 3 this year. Nineteen-year-old Hetrick is the only rider – besides points leader Chad Wienen – to take home an overall win this season.
Wienen Motorsports/SSi Decals/Walsh Race Craft/Yamaha’s Chad Wienen is also a veteran of the sport; however, the twenty-seven-year-old doesn’t quite top the age charts. Wienen has swept seven of the eight motos this season and holds the points lead over Natalie as the series heads into the halfway mark.
“I believe it takes a lot more than just winning races to take home a championship at the end of the year,” says Wienen. “There are so many variables throughout the season and while I want to win every race, I’m mainly focused on staying healthy and consistent for all 10 rounds this year.”
Another young gun in the lead pack is 22-year-old Thomas Brown, who currently sits fifth in the overall standings. The TBROWN Yamaha powered by Moto-X-Perts rider heads into familiar territory this weekend as he’s spent a substantial amount of time training with nine-time GNCC ATV Champion Bill Ballance and his Yamaha supported team. Brown came close to taking his first moto-win of the season last round after leading a majority of Moto 2, and looks to carry over the momentum to his home away from home in Kentucky.
Twenty-seven-year-old Josh Upperman sits between Hetrick and Brown in the point standings and the Baldwin Motorsports/PEP/Maxxis rider continues to put down consistent finishes each weekend. Only three points away from Hetrick’s third place spot, Upperman is within striking distance of the second-year pro, and this weekend’s night race could mix up the points battle immensely.
As part of a unique Night Show feature at Ballance Moto X, pro riders will run both motos under the lights on Saturday, in between a full schedule of amateur racing. All Youth, Women and Veteran classes will run their regularly scheduled motos throughout the day Saturday, with the exception of a few classes. Opening Ceremonies kick off at 6:40 p.m. for Pro Am Production, AMA Pro ATV, and the second moto of the Women and 50cc Sr (6-8) classes.
Tickets on Saturday are only $15 for spectators ($10 for ages 6-11) after 6 p.m., and admission includes full pro-pit access and an autograph session.