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November 21, 2014

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Rush of Dirt: The scoop on local motocross

Image

Steve Marcus

Robert Slattery, 25, of Henderson goes through a banked turn at the Sandy Valley MX motocross course in Sandy Valley Thursday, May 15, 2014.

Sandy Valley MX

Eddie Chittock, left, 23, of Las Vegas, and Robert Slattery, 25, of Henderson fly off a jump at the Sandy Valley MX motocross course in Sandy Valley Thursday, May 15, 2014. Launch slideshow »

UPCOMING RACES

Races at Sandy Valley MX

• Night races: June 7, July 19 and Aug. 9

• Day races: Sept. 21, Oct. 12, Nov. 9 and Dec. 7

• Tickets: $10

Monster Energy Cup

• Oct. 18, Sam Boyd Stadium

• Tickets: $56-$76

WHERE TO RIDE

Sandy Valley MX

• Off Lee Lane just outside Sandy Valley and past California state line

• $30 practice fee

• Schedule varies, check svmx.com for updated information

Mesquite MX

• Off Peppermill Palms Boulevard in Mesquite, Nevada 89027

• $20 practice fee

• Open from 9 a.m. to dusk Tuesday through Sunday

St. George MX

• One mile west of 5536 S. Desert Canyon Parkway in St. George, Utah 84790

• $25 practice fee

• Open seasonally, closed until September

COST BREAKDOWN

• Basic 450 Motocross bike: $9,500-$10,000

• Annual bike maintenance (with riding twice weekly): MIN. $1,500

• Helmet: $200-$500

• Boots: $150-$400

• Goggles: $60

• Uniform: $200 (clothing including pants, jersey and gloves)

The groans of the two engines grow deafening before the dirt Robert Slattery and Eddie Chittock sprung up from a sharp turn with their motorcycles crashes to the ground outside the track.

Slattery and Chittock accelerate to 45 mph on a straightaway before arriving at the first of three 30-foot hills. They plunge over the obstacle side-by-side with sudden silence as a copper- and sanguine-hued sunset forms under the Mesquite Mountains.

The tranquility is interrupted as the friends land inches apart with their front wheels pointed inward toward each other. Chittock later will claim he “rubbed elbows” with Slattery before the two veered the opposite way at the last split second to avert grievous harm.

“When you get a close call like that, it kind of puckers you up a little bit,” Slattery says. “I’m not even going to lie on that. But it’s natural, and you keep going. It’s a pure adrenaline rush, man.”

The adrenaline is what keeps them riding. Not only Slattery, a 25-year-old from Henderson, and Chittock, a 23-year-old from Las Vegas, but all of the 50-some motorcycle enthusiasts who turned out for the open session at the Sandy Valley Motocross track on a recent Thursday night.

Almost all had to drive at least an hour, a mile past the California state line, to a landmark sign declaring “The Heart of the Mojave.” Sandy Valley is one of the region’s last operating motocross tracks. Desert weeds and crop circles are the only sight for miles.

It takes a hearty dose of devotion even to dabble in motocross in Southern Nevada, where there’s a dearth of courses. At Sandy Valley, the community’s passion oozes like the water that shoots out of the truck used to irrigate the course.

“Once you learn about this sport and do this sport, it’s the coolest thing in the world,” said Devon Gibbs, a 20-year-old from Las Vegas. “It’s the freedom of riding with the athleticism of racing on a track — jumping, standing and lifting. There’s nothing like it. I love it more than anything.”

Co-owners Kit Stokes and Clark Abecassis, both 35, have preached the idea for most of their lives. The two construction-industry veterans joined forces to start Sandy Valley Motocross 10 years ago, shortly after the Las Vegas Motor Speedway shuttered its bike tracks.

“We just wanted a place for people to go riding,” Stokes said. “We were dirt bike kids. We’ve been on these things our whole lives. This was pretty much all we knew.”

Stokes and Abecassis built everything themselves, pounding down the fences and wiring the lights. They continue to dedicate as many as 50 hours a week to the track while juggling other jobs.

“It has kept the scene alive, actually, since there are no tracks,” Stokes said. “These kids don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The longtime friends rearrange the course annually, changing everything from the grooves to the hills. Stokes said they consciously tried to make Sandy Valley less complicated and daunting than the swamp of venues in Southern California. Motocross is difficult enough as it is with its nonstop physical demands, they said.

“A lot of people don’t realize that,” said Jesse Fossett, 40, owner of a Henderson air conditioning company. “They watch football, where the guys get a break for a minute after every play. You go out to a motocross track, and it’s full throttle for a half-hour where you’re getting thrown around.”

Stokes has broken both shoulders, a wrist and ruptured his spleen. Abecassis has undergone ACL surgery and broke his back, both major bones in his leg and his shoulder four times.

“You can go skydiving, paintballing or whatever you want,” 17-year-old Chaparral High student David Kartes said. “But for adrenaline rush, nothing compares to motocross.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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