Very few Motocross tracks, if any, compare to the aura of Loretta Lynn's.
It is a Holy Grail of sorts for the Motocross rider. The track only exists a few weeks out of the year, the rest of the time it's a home for horses, though the Grand National Cross Country series includes a stop here as well as the ATV Motocross Championship series. Not everyone gets to ride the Loretta Lynn Motocross track either - only those who qualify at area and regional races organized specifically for a shot at Loretta's.
Perhaps most importantly, it also tends to be the final stop for the amateur before he or she turns pro and joins the ranks of their childhood heroes.
Loretta Lynn's is underway this week as young would-be Motocross riders compete with the best and brightest on a dirt bike. It's been a long road for all of them competitively as well as a long car ride for many. Loretta Lynn's is indeed named after the great country music star. Her former ranch, yes where she lived for quite some time, is now a tourist spot for her fans and, for six days, home to some of the best Motocross racing in the country.
Adam Cianciarulo at Loretta Lynn's
Loretta Lynn's, as it's affectionately called, started in 1982, just a year after race promoting legend Dave Coombs stopped by the ranch and immediately took to it. At the time, the AMA's amateur racing circuit was a bit discombobulated and Coombs came up with an idea of creating a national amateur race competitive for riders of all ages by eliminating the "home" advantage enjoyed by local stars of other year-round tracks.
Coombs told promoter Paul Schlegel about his idea of creating amateur racing on a track with an even playing field. Schlegel further suggested holding the race annually in the middle of the country where no one had ever raced before. Schlegel then told Coombs to check out Loretta Lynn's.
Located in Hurricane Mills, TN Loretta Lynn's Ranch features 6,000 acres of land with room for 300 camp sites. It seemed to be the perfect spot to hold a Motocross racing event. Coombs presented his plan to the ranch owners, Loretta and her husband Mooney, who embraced the idea of dirt bike racing on their property and today it's the center of the Motocross world.
"Dad had an idea, he stuck to it. He asked Loretta and Mooney and all the people at the ranch to believe in him and they did," said Davey Coombs, Dave Coombs' son, in a video produced by RacerX.
Riders must qualify for Loretta's at local and regional racing events between April and June and can compete in two of the available 37 racing classes. Only the country's best 42 riders in each class get a ticket to Tennessee. Once at Loretta's, racing consists of three 20-minute Motos (plus two laps). The atmosphere is electric and often likened to a Nationals Outdoor event rather than amateur racing. It's always held the first week of August and subsequently three or four rounds remain in the Pro Motocross Championship series - enough time for an amateur champion at Loretta's to try their luck in the pro ranks.
Ricky Carmichael made his pro debut a few weeks after winning his final amateur title at Loretta's in 1996. Mike Alessi won seven titles at Loretta's and also started his pro career weeks after sweeping his final six Motos at Loretta's in 2004.
James Stewart won seven titles at Loretta's from 1998-01 before he claimed Rookie of the Year honors in 2002. Ryan Villopoto took the 125 A amateur title at Loretta's in 2005 before turning pro and, the same year, Ryan Dungey grabbed the 125 Modified 12-15 title before starting his pro career.
The younger Coombs compares Loretta's Lynn's to the Little League World Series. While other regional racing events have a seasonal vibe, Loretta Lynn's exemplifies sacred playing ground dropping the gates for a select few. There's no Motocross school or private year-round track. The only way to ride Loretta's is to earn it.
"I think that built a sense of fair play, an even playing field," Davey Coombs said of his dad's vision. The elder Coombs passed away on August 3, 1988 - the first day of Loretta Lynn's that year. "The essence of Loretta Lynn's has not changed. It's the most important race you've ever been in because it's the one everyone's watching."