Three decades in, amateur motocross championship thrives in Hurricane Mills

Monday, July 30, 2012 at 3:02am

When the late Dave Coombs Sr. stopped at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch three decades ago, the enterprising motocross promoter envisioned a dirt-bike playground for the country’s top riders.

If only he could see the monster he created.

Starting Monday and running through Saturday, more than 15,000 fans a day are expected to invade the legendary country music singer’s property in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., for the 31st annual AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship.

“It becomes a city,” said MX Sports event director Tim Cotter, who has been at the event since its inception. “Those first years were pretty special because it built a foundation now for the national championships. But the whole thing has evolved into something much larger than any of us anticipated.”

Since January, more than 20,000 riders have embarked on a quest to get to the 3,500-acre ranch, which sits 75 miles west of Nashville. After 50 area qualifiers, including one in Hawaii, and 12 regional championships, only 1,446 riders reach the final destination.

Riders from all over — including Europe, Japan, South Africa and Puerto Rico — compete in 36 classes. The oldest age division is 50 years and up, though there is no cutoff age. Nearly 60 riders will hop on miniature Yamaha and Honda bikes to compete in the 4-to-6-year-old age division (“You can probably outrun them,” Cotter said).

More than 1,300 tons of sand and dirt are brought in to cover the 1.25-mile track. After several ATV races next week, organizers will bulldoze new jumps, re-seed the grass and leave it untouched until next year’s championship.

“The uniqueness is that this racetrack is only raced on one time a year for motorcycles. It is a fair playing field,” Cotter said. “Whether you are from California, Pennsylvania or Miami, nobody has an advantage here. So there is no home track.

“It’s just a special place. This is Augusta if you’re a Motocross rider.”