For as long as he can remember, JJ Concannon hasn’t just ridden a motorcycle, he’s been riding one ever since. before he can remember.
When he was 3, his parents took him to several acres of property near Custer and let him ride for hours on a 50cc Suzuki motorcycle. At the age of 5, he participated in his first motocross race at Bellingham’s Hannegan Motor Circuitfinishing third in his class.
“I have no recollection of it,” says JJ, whose first name is actually Jacob.
Now 15, Concannon is a competitive amateur motocross rider who races across the United States. This year, he accomplished a major goal: to qualify for the prestigious National Amateur Motocross Championshipheld every summer at country music icon by Loretta Lynn ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
The event, in its 40and year, uses a series of regional and regional qualifying races to select the top 40 motocross riders, in multiple age-based divisions, across the United States and the world. Concannon is the first runner from Whatcom County to qualify for the event since the 1990s.
“Every kid wants one of these tickets,” says his dad Jaime, who earns a literal paper ticket to compete in the ANMC.
At the Whatcom county house of Concannon, sitting atop a fireplace surrounded by trophies and medals, are three large qualifying tickets. Getting them, however, was the byproduct of years of work.
learn to fly
Concannon comes from a motocross family. His uncle and grandfather on his mother’s side raced motorcycles in Hannegan in the 1970s and 80s, and it was his uncle who bought Concannon his first bike. Today, in fact, the two, with the help of her mother and father, manage Hannegan like nearly half of the track’s nine administrators.
The feeling of freedom and independence that comes with racing a motorcycle is hard to explain, says Concannon, and best experienced for yourself.
“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” he says. “You’re out there all alone, no one telling you what to do. You can’t hear anyone above the sound of a motorcycle.
As a 5-year-old rider in his first season of 50cc bikes at Hannegan, Jaime says his son’s goals were simple: have fun, be safe and not get passed. JJ has accomplished them all.
“I think he was faster than me when he was five, and he never looked back,” says Jaime, who only threw his leg over a dirt bike at the 35 years old.
After a few years at the 50cc level, JJ moved on to 65cc bikes. Jaime says movement is considered a defining point for most cyclists, requiring kids to learn how to use a clutch, change gears without stalling the bike, and use the front and rear braking systems.
JJ adapted quickly and it became clear that he was an above average talent. At age 8, he attempted to qualify for his first ANMC on a 65cc, lining up against gifted riders like Haiden Deegan, son of freestyle motocross legend Brian Deegan. He didn’t make the cut, but it whetted JJ’s appetite to keep trying to make the showpiece of amateur motocross racing.
As he got older, Concannon began riding more powerful motorcycles – 125cc and 250cc – in more and more places outside of Hannegan’s boundaries. There have been trips to places like Grays Harbor and Washougal in southwestern Washington, and in recent years to tracks in California, Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Over the past two years, Jaime estimates they’ve been on the road about 48 weekends a year.
“One of the biggest comments people make about him is that he looks like he’s going slow,” Jaimie says of her son’s riding. “He’s so smooth. He overtakes people, but he doesn’t seem to go that fast.
After graduating from Roosevelt Elementary School and Whatcom Middle School, Concannon was scheduled to attend Squalicum High School in 2020. But then the pandemic hit. Being pushed into remote learning made the Concannons realize that homeschooling was ideal for JJ, freeing up more flexibility for extra motocross trips.
As a result, JJ is now fully schooled through Washington Connections Academy, a state-accredited, tuition-free, online public school program. During the school year, Concannon home weeks consist of visits to the gymnasium twice a week and horse riding at the weekends. On travel weekends, he does his homework on his laptop while his parents head to the next track.
When Concannon sees a private motocross trainer in California or trains at a motocross facility, his schedule is busier. Twice-daily gym workouts and 2-3 hour riding sessions every day, plus work on his bike.
The rest of the family also helps. His uncle, an airplane mechanic, does quite a bit of ripping on his nephew’s bikes, and JJ’s grandparents help out when they can too. The family has two vans and a large trailer to travel with motorcycles and equipment; at this level, nothing is cheap or easy.
“It takes a whole village to do that,” says Jamie.
Fast and fearless
Like any sport, and in particular any motor sport, the risk of injury always persists.
In motocross, where riders speed down heavily rutted dirt tracks with jumps over 100 feet in close proximity to dozens of other riders, injury is virtually inevitable.
Despite wearing high-quality helmets, chest-protecting bruise guards, knee pads and sturdy ankle guards, Concannon broke his arm, separated the ligaments of both shoulders more than once and was knocked unconscious. several times. A friend of his once broke his back.
But like many athletes, the mentality of motocross riders is not to focus on injuries, but on how quickly they can heal and get back to their bikes.
“It’s no joke,” Jaime says of the risks. As a parent, he says the best thing he can do to minimize the risk to his son is to invest in the best safety equipment and training and believe it will be enough.
“At the end of the day, it’s your child who is there,” he says. “I don’t care if they’re good; if you can’t protect them, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending them there.
In May, Concannon traveled to Farm 14, a motocross track in Centerville, Mississippi, to try to qualify for August’s ANMC.
Facing a crowded field of more than 60 Class C riders, about 10 years older than him, Concannon finished third in each of the three divisions he raced – 125cc, 250cc Limited 12-17 and 250 limited ccs – to successfully qualify for the event. Only the top six in each race qualified.
It took seven years, but after finally getting his tickets to the ANMC, Concannon spends much of his summer training at Farm 14 in preparation for the big show. He will compete in the 250cc limited and 250cc 12-17 divisions, and says he expects to finish in the Top 10 at the very least.
His second goal is to improve his speed enough to come back and qualify for the riders’ B class in 2022. Eventually, he says, he hopes to become a professional motocross rider.
“That’s the main goal,” Concannon said. “Even if I don’t turn pro, I’d like to stay in the (motocross) community somehow. It’s a bit like a drug; I’m addicted to it.”