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A Conversation with Jeremy and Tim LeDonne

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Jeremy LeDonne is a pretty typical 10-year-old ... except for the fact that the Glenshaw youth has been a competitive ATV racer since the age of 4. When the national touring season begins this spring, he'll enter it as the No. 2-ranked racer of 51-70 cc ATVs, having scored 109 points in the Power Sports ATV Tour's 6-to-11 age bracket. You wouldn't know it by talking to him -- he's shy and relies on his dad, Tim, to help explain his passion -- but it's hard not to tell that a superstar lives on his street. One tip-off is the huge white trailer in the driveway emblazoned with "Jeremy LeDonne Racing."

 

So, how did this become such a huge thing for such a little kid?
Tim: Well, he actually got a dirt bike for his third birthday ...

He was 3?
Tim: Yeah, he actually couldn't fit on it and ride it yet, so I bought him a quad. We took him out to the racetrack that weekend. By the end of that first year he had won the track championship.

You were only 4 -- did you know you wanted to run in races at that age?
Jeremy: I don't know. ... I don't think I really remember.
Tim: Even as a really little boy, he would play with little dirt bike and motorcycle toys.

How many races have you been in so far?
Jeremy: Um ... millions.
Tim: It seems like it, huh? We started out racing at a local track, and then two years later we got into a national series because he didn't really have competition running around here. So we got him into the national competition series: That was 14 races over the year, and we traveled as far as California. He placed sixth that first year.

So how many kids your age compete in these races?
[Jeremy shrugs, buries his head in couch cushions.]
Tim: There are at least 20 riders in his class and they all have to qualify to get a spot.

Are the races over the summer? How does he square this with his schoolwork?
Tim: [The racing season] actually starts in March. In the past, we talked to his principals at his schools and between them and the teachers, they'd give him his work to do on the road and let him travel. ... I drive the ATV where it needs to be and then he normally flies out with his sponsors.
For him it's easy: He just has to show up and race. It can be tough on us with work.

What about the cost of this? I assume this is no run-of-the-mill machine we're talking about here.
Tim: No, it's expensive. The ATV is custom-made and costs around $13,000. He has a sponsor, Hetrick Racing, and they take care of his motors and all of his track-side support. They take care of the bike. But all of the other costs, travel, equipment -- that's all on us.

So Jeremy, you've been pretty quiet. I'm not going to look at you, I'll look out the window at the ATV -- can you explain how a race works?
Jeremy: It's usually four laps.

And what goes through your head when you're racing?
Jeremy: Well ... I don't know. You have to just make sure that your bike's running right, hit the turns right and hit the jumps right, don't go into any ruts. I think that's it.

That's plenty. How fast are you normally going?
Jeremy: About 45 miles per hour.

And you said something about jumps? You actually jump that thing? How high?
Jeremy: Really, really high.
Tim: That ATV will go about as high as 15 feet in the air.

Were you nervous about him jumping that thing? That's an awfully little kid to go flying 15 feet in the air.
Tim: I wasn't, but his mom was. He really knows how to handle the ATV. Even though he's 10, he has really impressed me with his skill and judgment on the track.

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