For this group of friends and family, race weekend kicks off a different kind of competition.
By Kinsey and Ashleigh Sullivan
Every race weekend, motorcycle riders gather to meet for a few days of dirt bike racing. The energy they bring is a testament, reaffirmed each race, to the sport of dirt bike racing and the community that loves it. Rain or shine, in the chill of winter and the heat of summer, through woods and over rivers, they fly on mechanical monsters and wrestle with the limits of their bodies and the land. Medical professionals are always near at hand—this is a dangerous sport, after all. Their families and friends camp out close by, cheering on their loved ones. Cold beer and dirt-happy dogs encouraged, but not required.
Typically, hundreds of riders meet at the races. There are professional dirt bike racers, amateur riders, and children. The pros, who will be sponsored and, if they win, paid, tend to be the stars of the show. In contrast, the amateurs pay for all of the expenses related to racing out of pocket. If they’re lucky, the amateurs may walk away with an award, or show up in the background of someone’s Instagram post.
This isn’t to say that they’re unhappy about that set-up.
Rather, the lack of financial reward means that the physical and emotional reward has to be that much stronger. They don’t do it for the glory, and they sure don’t do it for the money. They do it for—as you might have guessed—the good things. Passion. Family. Community. Spirit. Grit. A really, truly good time.
One group of 23 amateur riders from North Carolina and Tennessee are having a little extra fun, taking their joy for dirt bike racing and their race family to another level. Most of these men have been friends since they were children and riding motorcycles for just as long. For them, it was crawl, walk, ride.
Today, they run in the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro races, a grueling series put together by Jason Hooper. The series has race weekend trophies, as well as overall season trophies based on points.
Before the 2018 season started, while jawing about points and winners and losers, they decided to do a competition within the series, just to up the ante. The decision was made to split into two teams within the series, and compete against each other: North Carolina riders versus the Tennessee riders.
The North Carolina team, Team YOC, is comprised of Jonah Cloninger, Jarrod Arnold, brothers Clayton and Carl Faber, Travis Walker, Gary Gattis, Jerry Owenby, Jeff Doane, and brothers Colby and Cameron Bryant. They’re primarily from in-and-around Asheville and Charlotte, NC.
The Tennessee riders, Team Atlas, is Dwayne Leonard, Charley Harley, Montey Harley, Jay Brown, Aaron Jones, Cody Hobbs, John Cross, Chris Doran, Riley Miller, Ray Wilson, Ben Denton, Christian Estes, and Jeff Scott. Team Atlas is from the Tri-Cities area of East Tennessee.
“Racing the Full Gas Series, every test at every round could have been won by any of us who have ended up taking the top places in the championships,” said Dwayne Leonard of Team Atlas. “Of course, the trash talking was just as interesting as the racing. We all needed one more thing to talk trash about.”
Jonah Cloninger added, “We’re all competitive and want to win, but it’s about having fun more than anything else. This side competition is simply another way to get results, and it adds fun to the race weekend and the days leading up to the race.”
Team YOC came up with the scoring process, and Team Atlas came up with the trophy: a barebones old PW50 strapped to a bike stand. The trophy is awarded to the winning team each race weekend and travels with the weekend’s winners. The winning team adds an item to the trophy after each race to commemorate the competition.
For the kick-off race of the season, the riders met in Blackshear, Georgia at the Moccasin Creek Off-road Park for round one of the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro series.
On Friday, they rolled in late and tired after a day of working and being on the road. On Saturday morning at 8 am, they were up, making any last-minute tweaks to their bikes, walking the track and getting ready to ride.
After a full day of riding, day one came to a close and Team YOC had won the first round of this season-long competition.
“What I remember most was passing Clayton Faber jumping some ruts and seeing Jarrod Arnold buried up to his seat,” said Dwayne Leonard.
Clayton didn’t miss this opportunity to remind Dwayne of passing him as Dwayne was putting the chain back on his back.
Jonah Cloninger with Team YOC quickly responded, with a big smile, that he doesn’t remember seeing anyone.
Clayton said of the Team YOC win, that it was an easy win and that they’re all looking forward to Round two at Harleywood.
“It was great to win but, this game is almost as fun to lose,” said Jonah when asked about winning. “The win gives you a good basis for talking trash, but if you lose, you get to come back and go for the W.”
After determining the winning team, everyone rinsed off and met for dinner around the campsite, with all of the men and wives and girlfriends and babies and dogs.
What becomes clear at about this time is that, while they all have direct families, this is a real race family.
“It’s the kind of thing where we all have dinner together on race nights and talk and enjoy each other’s company,” said Ashleigh Arnold, wife of Team YOC rider Jarrod Arnold. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a group as wonderful as this one, and we definitely don’t take that for granted.”
As the season goes forward, both teams are confident they will be the eventual champions. If you ask any single one of these racers who the real winner is, they will each say themselves. Why?
“Because I get to spend my weekends riding with my best friends and my family," said Jarrod Arnold. "What else could I ask for?”