‘We’re just trying to finish out our season’ : Anchorage Racing Lions riding safety mandates to the finish line

Racers tear through the dirt at the Anchorage Racing Lions Championship series. With only a couple races left in the season, they're playing it safe with strict COVID safety rules so they can finish.
Racers tear through the dirt at the Anchorage Racing Lions Championship series. With only a couple races left in the season, they're playing it safe with strict COVID safety rules so they can finish.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Sep. 6, 2020 at 7:17 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Racing Lions motocross club has just two more races until they successfully complete their season in the midst of the pandemic. Many racers were there for trophies and victory, but all of them were grateful they could be there to compete in their sport.

According to ARL President, Jason Nunn, their presence at the Kincaid Motocross Park comes with extra work and a lot of new rules.

“I understand the concerns, so even outdoors, you need to stay six feet apart, you need to have less than a hundred people out here, and we have to have hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes--just trying to not break any rules whatsoever,” he said.

He said only 55 racers were signed up for the championship series races on Sunday. That’s less than half of the usual amount.

On their event page, a much longer list of COVID safety rules is laid out for participants. Some may come as a surprise for this outdoor, non-contact sport in particular.

Racers are the only ones permitted into the park. Family members can come too, but their guidelines say they’re asked to only bring one. Even the cars are supposed to be parked 10 feet apart.

“We’re just trying to follow the guidelines to the T,” Nunn said, “this is Parks and Rec property that we’re permitted to use. We pay to use it but it’s still government property. We want to respect the mandate even if we don’t agree with it.”

Most of the racers said it was ’weird’ to be at the race with all the guidelines in place. It had less energy than what participants are used to. No music, no food vendors, no crowds. The only sounds coming off the cliff at the track were the revving of engines and a PA system calling racers to the starting line.

Even though it was strange compared to other years, the racers and few spectators had a blast.

One of those racers has been having the thrill of motocross fuel injected into his life for the past 29 years, Mark Oppegard. On Saturday, he celebrated his 60th birthday at the track.

He described his birthday race while standing proudly next to his bright red machine, with a bold ’34′ on the front and sides of the bike.

“The good ’ol Honda here pulled me right in front of everybody, and I just lifted the front tire and road a 700 foot wheelie to the first corner,” he said, “you know, you got to show them how it’s done.”

Coming out of the closures brought on by the reset, Oppegard was happy to report 10 brand new racers signed up with the club in the last two weekends. He believes it’s the result of motocross being an fun thing to do outside that the whole family can be apart of.

A few of those new comers, or future pro motocross racers if you ask them, are Conner O’Neel, his little brother Cameron, along Cameron’s friend, Jordin McPherson.

Despite the series not being quite the event it normally is, the boys said they’re having a good time participating this season. However, they are looking forward to a season without COVID.

“Hopefully this will end pretty soon so all of us can join each other,” Cameron said.

“Let’s say you make a new friend, you can’t go to their house or hang out with them,” Jordin added.

Conner said he gave sports like soccer and wrestling a shot last year. Now, he’s pretty glad he switched to motocross.

“I wasn’t really into it, but when I hopped on a dirt bike and raced it, it was kind of like my thing,” he said.

With a plan to be safe, Oppegard explained why they put so much effort into being able to compete. The escape that being on their bikes gives them what brings this ’motofamily’ together in his words. In a place as extreme as Alaska, he encourages others to embrace their own.

“You got your snowboarders, you got your straight liners, you got your trail runners,” he said, “if you feel yourself locked down at this time, go out performing your sport. Take your friends with you, and be active in your community. It’s the only thing that’s going to allow us to be humans.”

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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