POULSBO — Most kids don’t learn how to ride a bicycle until they’re 5 years old. When Poulsbo’s Caleb Start was 4, he was riding a dirtbike in his backyard. By the time he was 5, he had already put his motocross racing career into high gear.
Now, at age 9, he’s competed in more than 200 motocross races throughout Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma.
That’s a lot of miles. A heck of lot of dirt. And plenty of fun for the whole family. While mothers will always worry about their children, Kerry Start was fortunate she didn’t go gray overnight when Caleb took his first of many spills.
“A lot of times it looks worse than it really is,” she said. “After he’s had accidents he’s always walked away from them totally fine. The only injury he’s ever had was when he collided with another kid and broke his ankle. His only injury wasn’t even on a jump.”
“I used to get scared when he first started riding,” Kerry added. “But now I am used to it. His dad (Vaughn) rode for fun, and I grew up around dirtbikes. I guess it’s in Caleb’s blood.”
As such, Kerry has seen her son improve immensely since he started some five years ago.
“To see how far he’s progressed in a short amount of time is amazing,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting for Caleb, and he gets a lot of enjoyment out of it.”
But while motocross is certainly full of thrills, it has plenty of spills, too, as competitors navigate a maze of jumps, bumps, high speed straight-aways, tight corners, downhill runs as well as steep, uphill climbs.
But that’s all part of the enjoyment for Caleb.
“It’s fun. I like racing against kids and trying to beat them,” Caleb said.
Kerry said her son stuck a jump of 105 feet at his latest competition.
“It takes my breath away. I literally hold my breath and shoot up a prayer when he’s on these kind of jumps,” she said. “It’s unbelievable and scary at the same time for me.”
His prowess behind the handlebars has earned him a trip to the big show — for little riders, at least.
From July 3 to Aug. 4 Caleb will rev up his 65CC KTM motorcycle at the Air Nautiques AMA National Motocross Championships held at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. There he’ll compete in the 7-9-year-old division against 41 others, who are almost as good as he is.
Caleb breezed through the area qualifier in Spokane on March 31 and April 1 and sped through the regional qualifier taking second place overall during Memorial Day weekend in Washougal to advance to Nationals.
Like anything, practice makes perfect and motocross is no different.
“Caleb’s been riding about three days a week,” Kerry said. “We take him up to tracks in Port Angeles and Washougal so he can get more practice. Some of his friends have small tracks he practices on, too, and he also practices on trails around our house.”
But trails and competitive tracks are two different beasts, and Caleb has a definite philosophy on the latter: The most important part of any motocross race is what happens in the first 15 seconds.
“Getting out of the gate fast is important,” he said. “Whoever gets to the first corner with the lead or close to the lead has a good shot to win the race.”
“It’s really important to get off to a good start in the bigger races. If there’s 30 to 40 other racers, it’s vital to get in the front at the beginning to have a legitimate chance to win,” she said. “If a racer has a bad start, it’s a hard thing to recover from.”
But it can be done and being fast on the corners can prove as important as getting a good start, Caleb said.
“If I am fast on the corners, I can be faster than anyone on the track,” he said.
Kerry has witnessed how important perfecting the corners can be.
“On most tracks there’s at least 20 corners,” she said. “If he can go .5 seconds faster than his opponents on a corner, it will make a huge difference at the end of race. It can shave 10 seconds off his time.”
With all that said, Kerry believes her son can finish in the top 10 at Nationals at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch.
“He’s a top rider for his age group in the nation,” she said. “I am hoping he can finish in the top 10 at nationals.”
Caleb has other plans.
“I want to win. I am going to try to win,” he said.
Caleb certainly won’t be intimidated by the spectacle of Nationals. He’s already competed in front of a massive crowd.
“Last year, he competed in race in front of 54,000 people at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego,” Kerry said. “They treated all of the kids racing down there like mini-pros.”
Caleb’s fellow riders gave him the nickname “Celeb” after a magazine misspelled his name.
“They spelled Caleb’s name Celeb in the article,” Kerry said. “A lot of his fellow riders call him that now.”
A professional motocross athlete is something Caleb aspires to be one day.
“I want to keep going and make it all the way to the pros,” he said.
He’s definitely off to a good start.