RJ Motosports outside Barrie hosting CMRC nationals this weekend
Austin Watling, of Corunna, Ont., blasts out of the berm during a practice session Wednesday at RJ Motosport in Springwater Township, north of Barrie. Watling will be taking part in his first pro race this weekend at the motocross nationals. MARK WANZEL/PHOTO
The 10th and final race of this summer’s motocross series promises to be a dirty, dusty and winner-take-all grand finale.
And the racers wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Both titles are up for grabs and Barrie’s always been a great, great track,” said Marc Travers, host and producer of the 2017 Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals series.
Travers has been with the organization for 19 years, and has toured with the pack as it made its way across Canada this summer.
More than 15 teams from four countries have been on the national tour, starting in the west in Kamloops and moving east to Prince George, Calgary, Regina, Courtland, Notre-Dame-du-Bon Conseil (Quebec), Truro, Moncton and back to Deschambault (Quebec City) before heading to Ontario.
“And now, Barrie. It’s such a great town to have such a big finale in,” Travers said.
Although it’s known nationally as the Barrie track, RJ Motosport Park is located on Old Second Road South, just outside the city in the Midhurst area.
On Tuesday, half-a-dozen teams had already arrived and were testing the track forged out of sand dunes in the middle of a large forested lot in anticipation of this weekend’s races.
Saturday will feature a full day of amateur racing, while Sunday belongs to the pros, who will practice and qualify to place in the morning, with the first race beginning shortly after noon.
There will be a handful of local riders competing this year, including Taylor Ciampichini, RJ Marnoch and Steven Azarkowicz, who will race against internationally known riders such as former France world champion Christophe Pourcel and two-time Canadian national champion Matt Goerke of Florida.
Nineteen-year-old Brock Leitner arrived in an RV with his family from Summerland, B.C., at RJ Motosport Park on a sunny and mild Tuesday afternoon.
Racing against the pros in the MX1 (450ccs) class, Leitner said he’s feeling good on the track after breaking his shoulder blade in a bad crash in February.
Leitner said he allowed his shoulder to heal properly this time – he’s broken it twice before – so now he’s confident he can compete at this level.
“I’m doing the best for my age. Everyone else beating me is 23 and over, so I’m happy with my progress,” Leitner said.
But, he added, the national tour is not just about winning the races.
“It’s a great adrenalin rush but it’s also about family time, with me and my parents. We’ve travelled together across Canada for the past four years and it’s a great way to make memories and we’re always making new friends,” he said.
One of his friends – and competitors – is Dillan Epstein, 22, of California.
Leitner has stayed at Epstein’s house in the United States while practising in the winter months.
Sitting in his van stuffed with bike parts near the loud racetrack, Epstein said he has placed second overall in Kamloops, Calgary, as well as doing well in Moncton.
“I just love racing. It’s something I have a passion for and I’m lucky to be able to do it,” Epstein said.
He pointed to the hills and trees surrounding RJ Motosport Park and said it looks nothing like California.
“We’re always racing out in the desert or in an industrial area. Southern California is not so green,” he said with a laugh.
Young Ross Thirnbeck of Peterborough sat atop his 250cc bike near the track.
Ranked 15th out of 42, Thirnbeck, 16, said he’s now considering moving from the junior level to intermediate.
After attending the Hurricane Mills motocross races in Tennessee on famous singer Loretta Lynn’s ranch earlier this year, Thirnbeck says racing has offered him a chance to see more of the world.
“It was so exciting,” Thirnbeck said. “It was such a huge race track, like nothing I’d seen before.”
To catch the action, visit RJ Motosport Park on Old Second Road South, north of Barrie, on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information, visit www.mxnationals.ca.