Bryan County Elementary School student Zac McClenny will miss class when school starts Aug. 3, but he’s got a pretty good excuse.
Zac, 10, will be busy competing in the 30th annual Red Bull American Motorcycle Association Amateur National Motocross Championships, which get under way Monday and continue through Aug. 6.
“I can’t say enough about how good she (BCES principal Debbie Laing) has been about it,” said Zac’s dad, John McClenny.
It’s Zac’s second trip in three years to the nationals, which will be held this year at country music legend Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
Making the trip with Zac will be his father, mom Lisa and 11-year-old brother Tyler.
The goal for Zac, who is one of 1,400 riders left out of an initial pool of more than 25,000, is to finish near the top of his class.
“Nobody expects him to win it, but everybody knows he’s a top-10 kid,” McClenny said. “That’s what we’re looking for at nationals, a top-10 finish. That will be good enough for us.”
The McClennys moved to Bryan County last year when John was assigned to serve with a Special Forces team on Fort Stewart. Zac, who first rode a bike without training wheels when he was 2, got his first dirt bike in 2007 when he was 4.
“I went to a race and watched it and I wanted to do it,” Zac said. “My dad said no, but my grandpa (the late Oscar McClenny) went out and got one. We were out somewhere like Wal-Mart. We came home and the bike was sitting in the driveway.”
McClenny remembered thinking that Zac’s first bike would be a passing fancy.
“We had roofers roofing the house at the time and Grandpa had left the bike in the driveway. We put Zac on the bike and put him in the backyard thinking he’d fall off and that would be the end of it,” John said. “He didn’t fall and we started letting him race locally. We thought sooner or later he’d get tired of it, but it didn’t turn out that way. He started winning.”
Since then, the McClennys estimate that Zac has won somewhere between 50 and 100 of roughly 200 races – so many that they now recycle his trophies by taking the name plates off and giving them to organizations that can use them.
But Zac, McClenny said, has never had formal training.
“We’ve met a lot of people in the sport who say he’s just naturally talented,” McClenny said. “Even the top kids in the sport say he’s got natural talent. We don’t do a lot of practice. There are weeks we don’t even touch these bikes. He plays baseball and football. We go hunting and fishing. I’ve always believed if you’ve got it, you’ve got it. If you don’t, you don’t. We don’t live, eat and breathe it.”
More importantly, Zac, who lists math as his favorite class, is expected to stay on the honor roll, his dad said.
“That’s one thing we’ve always stressed,” McClenny said. “Motorcycles are great. It’s great going to nationals, It’s great being in magazines. But we’ve told him ‘If you’re injured badly, you’re done with motorcycles and if you don’t have school, you’re going to be dumb.’ If he’s not on honor roll, we don’t ride.”
Injuries aren’t unknown in motocross, a sport that takes a physical toll on riders. Zac, who wears a special neck brace to help keep him safe, has already broken his thumb, busted his teeth, suffered a hyperextended thumb and “has had a lot of scrapes and bruises,” John said.
That’s in addition to a foot Zac broke playing football.
“I’ve seen worse, but Zac has been banged up a little bit,” McClenny said. “He always gets right back up.”
Zac, who weighs 81 pounds and stands 5-foot-4, may be an amateur, but he currently rides an Austrian-made KTM 65cc, a powerful little bike that weighs 102 pounds and costs about $4,300.
He also has a number of sponsors – Allegan Motorsports, Powerband Racing, Team FMF, Sunline, Tag Metals, Pit Posse and Matrix Concepts – all backers that help keep the family in the sport.
Zac is set to lose some of those sponsors when he moves up a class to 85 cc next year, but he plans to continue racing until he gets tired of it.
That’s apparently not likely going to be anytime soon.
“I want to race until I wear out,” Zac said.
In the meantime, the McClennys will continue to back Zac.
“I think he’s a great rider,” said older brother Tyler, who plays baseball and football and will enter Bryan County Middle School this fall. “He works really hard at it.”
Zac will have to best 41 of his peers to win a national title at an event where, according to the AMA, more than 1,400 riders will be competing. More than 25,000 tried to get to nationals.
But it’s good competition, McClenny said.
“Racing is like a big family,” he said. “When you go to races you know everybody … It’s a big, big community. You never have to worry about anything. Everybody sticks together and it’s fun.”
The young riders, especially, know how to enjoy themselves.
“Once they get on the track they’re competitors,” McClenny said. “But after a race, you look around and the kids are off over there playing in the mud together. It’s interesting to watch these 9-10-year-old kids shut it off like that. On the track it’s ‘me against you,’ but off it they’re friends. You’ve got adults who can’t even do that.”
For more information on the race, go to http://www.mxsports.com/