When the first starting gate falls on August 2 in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., it will mark the 30th anniversary of the world's most important and closely observed amateur motocross race. The Red Bull AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn Ranch is a six-day motocross summer vacation that assembles the best 42 riders in 34 classes based on age, skill and displacement. Since 1982, any rider hoping to become a professional motocross or supercross racer has graduated from this event that is familiarly known as "Loretta Lynn's" because the track and campgrounds are held on the expansive property owned by the country music legend. The idea for the race was born in 1981 during a return trip from an amateur race in Ponca City, OK, when motocross promoters Dave and Rita Coombs, who were looking to organize a pure national amateur race, stopped at the ranch on a tip from a friend, fell in love with it, and made a deal with the owners and community.
While it's not the only U.S. amateur race with national distinction, it is the most highly regarded by the industry and riders. It's also the most unique. With two levels of qualifying spread throughout the country in local and regional events between April and June, the finals at Loretta Lynn's is the one week of the year that riders can race on that specific track, eliminating any chances of a home-field advantage. (The track serves as a horse pasture the rest of the year.) The race format consists of three 20-minute (plus two laps) motos, and riders can qualify for up to two classes. "The whole atmosphere of the race is more like a pro national than an amateur race," said Team Green Kawasaki's Adam Cianciarulo. "It's different than anything we do the whole year and everybody in the industry is normally there and watching you."
Cianciarulo, whose speed and accomplishments have led some to compared him to the amateur versions of Ricky Carmichael (mid-'90s) and James Stewart (late '90s and early '00s), is being tapped as the next "it" rider. At 5'3", 108 pounds, the 14-year-old said it's still too early to say when he'll turn professional. With seven titles already at Loretta Lynn's, Cianciarulo will compete in the Supermini 1 (ages 12-15) and Supermini 2 (ages 12-16) classes. Supermini is an age-based class that often attracts the best mini-cycle talent in the country and allows modified two-stroke motorcycles with engine displacement up to 112cc.
Other young riders favored to win championships this year include Cooper Webb and Jordan Smith (also in the Supermini classes), Chris Aldridge and Jace Owen in the schoolboy classes, and Jessy Nelson, Zack Freeburg, and Justin Boggle in the expert classes (250/450A).
Always held during the first full week in August, the Loretta Lynn's generally precedes the final four professional AMA Motocross Championship races. The race has become the "retiring" point for many young superstars. In 1996, Ricky Carmichael won his last amateur title a few weeks before arriving at the Steel City National for his pro debut. Mike Alessi grabbed headlines in 2004, Ryan Villopoto in 2005, and Ryan Dungey in 2006. This year, Nelson and Bogle are the two most likely riders to make their pro debut before the end of the AMA MX season.