Picture a 10-year-old decked out from head to toe like an Indy car driver in flashy protective gear including helmet, knee pads, chest protector, gloves, shoulder pads, pants, boots and goggles.
Now picture him or her straddling a 65cc dirt bike (motorcycle) racing around a 5-mile closed course like their hair's on fire fighting off 10 other riders around hairpin turns through woods and fields littered with obstacles like logs, rocks and tractor tires, launching full throttle off hills and sprinting for the finish line in a winning time of an hour plus. That is a hare scramble and it is one of the fastest growing motor sports for kids in the country.
You can find good friends, Travis Bloyer and Kaiden Fisher, accompanied by their support crew of family members, flying around off-road cross country courses someplace in the Midwest practically every weekend from the time school lets out until the end of September.
Polite, unassuming 10-year-olds until they slip on their helmets, mount their machines and dump the clutch sending sand and dirt flying everywhere including their opponents' faces, Bloyer and Fisher transform into fierce competitors on the course.
This past racing season, both Bloyer and Fisher competed nearly every weekend on the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) District 16 Off Road circuit racing on challenging courses all over the Midwest from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Illinois chasing enough points to place in the top five in their respective classes.
Both young racers performed exceptionally well with Bloyer taking first place in the District 16 Hare Scrambles 85 cc Class Championship finishing with 235 points while Fisher, in his first year of racing, won the District 16 Hare Scrambles 65 cc Class Championship with 225 points.
According to Bloyer's grandfather, Paul Bloyer, a former racer himself, that is the equivalent of a football team winning a division state championship.
Amateur racing winners receive plaques, trophies or medals. In the AA and pro classes, winners also receive an additional cash payment. At the end of the season, class winners are awarded a large plaque and custom embroidered jacket.
The News had an opportunity to check in with both boys on the heels of their championship seasons.
Who taught you to ride dirt bikes?
Travis (T): My dad and grandpa.
Kaiden (K): My brother and I kind of taught myself.
What is the hardest thing about racing?
T: The course conditions can be so different because of weather. Each lap the course changes.
K: Other riders that cut you off. Steep cliffs. Some spots are really scary.
Who is your toughest competition?
T: Illinois riders!
What is your favorite part of racing?
T: The competition. Racing in different states against different riders. Hanging out with my friends before and after the races.
K: I'm kind of a daredevil, so I like to race because it's got so many obstacles in it. It's really fun to try and force yourself to do things you know you can do, but it will be hard for you. It's kind of like challenging.
Do bikes or riders win races?
T: The rider wins the races. Most of the bikes in our class are pretty equal. But bike prep is real important.
What plays a bigger role in winning luck or experience?
K: Definitely more luck.
Have you ever crashed during a race?
K: I think I crashed about six times. One time, I hit a log and went over the bars and smacked my hip on a tree.
T: The only time I ever was somewhat injured was last summer. I crashed in the rocks in an enduro-cross section at the race in Illinois. I twisted my knee but still finished the race.
What would you tell other kids who are considering racing?
K: Technically, if you're going for the lead, my advice is, go for the front and hope for the best like not crashing and busting an arm or something.
T: It's just a lot of fun going to all the different races in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois and being with my family and friends.
Do you plan on making a career of racing?
T: I don't think so. It would be nice, but most of the top guys in off road racing are the factory riders. They also work for the bike companies.
K: I'll probably just ride motocross and hopefully I'll get sponsored.
Racing runs deep in the Bloyer family. His father Chris won AA state championships in 2002, 2003 and the Vet+30 in 2011. Chris's father, Travis's grandfather, Paul, also raced retiring from the sport in 2011. Today Paul helps Travis and Fisher race including helping with maintenance of their bikes.
In the Fisher family, his older brother Riley also races having placed fourth in the C Class Championship standings in 2017.
The AMA is responsible for setting up all of the sanctioned races during the District 16 season, typically 8-10 races spread across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. An individual AMA membership costs $40 per year. District cards cost $20 per year per person. At races, the gate fee for riders is usually $10 per rider and the cost for individual youth class races is $30 and for older classes it is $40 per race.
If you are a family considering getting into the sport, keep in mind, it can be expensive and dangerous.
In addition to normal costs associated with travel like gas, food and lodging if you're staying overnight, you'll need a motorcycle which can cost anywhere from $6,100 for a 65cc bike up to $8,500 for a 250cc bike. Add in the cost for protective gear, around $600, plus regular maintenance of the bike throughout the season, $30 if you do it yourself, and gas for the race each weekend, about $20, and you're probably looking at close to $10,000. You may not have to purchase a new bike every year, but figure every couple years as kids age into faster classes.
Even with all the safety gear and precautions, the sport experiences its share of injuries. A study by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program (NEISS-AIP) during 2001--2004. Those data indicated that an estimated 23,800 off-road motorcyclists aged 19 years and younger were treated for nonfatal injuries in U.S. hospital emergency departments each year. Be sure you have good health insurance and be prepared to sign a waiver before each race.
"They crash quite a bit throughout a race. It's scary, especially when you see them crash. Kaiden's brother ended up in an ambulance ride to the hospital," explained Kaiden's mother, Jamie Fisher.
Like any exciting sport, off-road racing has its share of danger and injuries. It also brings families together building tradition and creating lasting bonds. The Bloyer and Fisher families have become good friends.
Paul Bloyer shared his love of racing with his son Chris and now his grandson, Travis, handing down a tradition of competition but also emphasizing the importance of good sportsmanship.
"It's a great family sport. Like traditional sports, it takes everyone's dedication," said Chris.
The AMA makes a dedicated effort to promote sportsmanship as well as education while encouraging participation by the whole family.
From the AMA website: AMA-sanctioned motorcycle racing is the most exciting, accessible and affordable motorsport in the world. Motorcycle racing has always been a family sport, and it attracts competitors of all ages. In addition to the fun, kids can learn a lot from getting involved in active competition. Like any activity, your experience is helped (or hindered) by your attitude. Approach racing with an open mind, a fun mindset and in a safety-conscious manner, and it will be one of the best moves you'll ever make!
This year's Wisconsin District 16 Awards Banquet was expected to draw more than 700 racers and their families to the Kalahari Water Park at the Wisconsin Dells on Saturday, Nov. 11 for the annual year-end awards presentation.
For more information about off-road racing visit the AMA District 16 website at: amadistrict16.com.