But a better-kept secret – or at least not widely publicized in the media – is how many enjoy doing it on a cross-country motorbike, dashing through rugged, muddy terrain and over obstacles at speeds as high as 45 miles per hour.
“We don’t get a lot of media attention,” says Vickie Vaughn whose son Tucker is among a growing number of avid competitors in cross-country dirt-biking.
Tucker is one of three Watertown youngsters who rank in or near the top of their respective classes in the Mid-South Cross-Country Racing Series. Case Burton is ranked No. 1 in the Junior B Class, Tucker is No. 3 and Addison Elliot is fourth in Mini A.
“It’s interesting that three students from Watertown are ranked so high,” Vickie says. “And in addition to our racers in Watertown there are several others in and around Wilson County who participate. It’s a fast-growing sport.”
A recent race in Park City, Kentucky, drew around 250 riders, plus hundreds of spectators.
Vickie says most people are familiar with closed-course Moto-cross racing, which is frequently televised.
“Cross-country racing is different from Moto-cross racing,” she says. “Our racing is not done on a closed course, but rather on a cross-country course with all sorts of obstacles. We race through the woods, over hills and rocks, through the mud and across creeks.
“There are between 70 and 80 riders in various classes on the course during each race, and none of them have ever been on the course prior to the race. Each course is different, so the racers never know what to expect when they line up for the start. The challenge is not so much the sheer speeds but being able to handle and maneuver the bikes over the obstacles and remain on course.”
The average race takes about an hour to run, which translates to a lot of bumps and bounces.
Vicki says it’s the most demanding, exciting sport most folks have never heard of.
“One reason why cross-country racing doesn’t get the kind of TV exposure that Moto-cross racing gets is that it’s hard for a camera crew to follow the action through the woods and over the rugged terrain.”
This season’s schedule consists of 14 races. The next event is in early March at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Waverly.
“The series is like a family,” Vickie says. “We race together and work together and everybody is willing to help the other competitors.”
Tucker, who began riding at age three, is a third-generation dirt-biker. His dad Toby rides – just for fun, not competitively -- as did his grandfather. As for his mom?
“No, I don’t ride,” Vickie says. “I just watch and take photos. I’m a photographer and I enjoy taking pictures of the action.”
Obviously hurtling full-throttle through the woods and bouncing over obstacles has its risks, but as a biker-mom Vickie doesn’t dwell on them.
“I get a little scared sometimes,” she admits, “but the riders are extremely well protected with special pads and helmets. They sometimes get some scrapes and bruises, but serious injuries are rare.”
So rare, in fact, that Vickie and her husband encourage their son to forego playing football in favor of dirt-bike racing.
“We believe he’s safer on a cross-country race than he is on a football field,” she says.
The demands of dirt-bike racing are intense.
“Riders have to watch their weight, stay in good physical condition and practice constantly,” Vickie says. “What they do requires physical and mental ability, discipline and dedication. These riders are definitely athletes, and I’m glad they are starting to get some recognition.”