Motocross gaining popularity at Raceway Park

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY staff Local motocross enthusiasts have found a new home at Raceway Park, where a new practice track provides a venue for both the beginner and experienced rider.PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY staff Local motocross enthusiasts have found a new home at Raceway Park, where a new practice track provides a venue for both the beginner and experienced rider.

Raceway Park has been synonymous with drag racing, and for a very good reason.

Since the raceway opened in 1965 as a drag racing venue, it yearly hosts one of the biggest events in the National Hot Rod Association, the SuperNationals, that has brought with it national recognition.

The raceway, though, is equally popular with motocross riders. Since the raceway opened its motocross track in 1975, it has become the place to race in the tri-state area.

Ken Landerman, Raceway Park’s general manager, said the track was the brainchild of Kerry Irwin, of Lincoln Mercury in Freehold.

"Motocross racing was his hobby, and he talked about how there were no tracks," he said.

Irwin, Landerman noted, talked Raceway Park owners, Vincent Knapp Sr. and Louis Knapp, into building a motocross track on some open space on the raceway’s 308-acre property, and the rest is history. The next year, his brother, Jay Irwin, and Landerman took over the reigns of the motocross program, and now, 29 years later, Raceway Park is as big to motocross riders as it is to drag racers.

"I knew when the track was built that people would come to race," Landerman pointed out. "I didn’t anticipate this much success. I always thought there would be a steady pace of riders."

Now, going on 30 years, motocross racing is as big as, if not bigger than, ever.

"It’s gaining in popularity because of television," Landerman said. "The extreme games that you see all came from motocross. It’s getting more TV coverage, and where there were three or four magazines, there are now 20."

The riders are different as well. The machinery is more sophisticated and expensive, and riders are less likely to race in the rain and mud. They like racing under ideal conditions.

Motocross races at Raceway Park are AMA/District 6-sanctioned events. Riders picked up points toward the District 6 championship and Raceway Park track championship. Sunday the track will be hosting one of its AMA/District 6 races.

At the last motocross championship race at Raceway Park, Washington Township’s Nick Desiderio won the 7-9 age division 65 cc race, winning both motos. In the 65 cc 10-11 division, Brick’s Frank Lettieri was the victory. He also won the 7-11 85 cc class.

In the 12-13 85 cc division, Nicholas McPhee of Windgap, Pa., edged Farmingdale’s Dakota Kessler, with each winning a moto. Toms River’s Adam Blessing won the 14-15 age division 85 cc class.

McPhee came back to win the Supermini 12-15 division.

In the 125 Novice C class, Robert Garthe, Elverson, Pa., finished first. In the Amateur B class, Jason Lawrence of Estell Manor won both motos on his way to the win. Garthe also won the Schoolboys (12-15) class.

In the 250 Novice/Open Novice C Class, Old Bridge’s Joe Pateman finished first, while the B class went to Lawrence, who also won the College Boy (16-24) class.

Barnegat’s Joseph Boehler won the 25-plus Amateur B moto.

Jason Harper of Salem won the 25-plus Expert A class with a pair of wins. Robert Anderson of Brick, won both motos in 30-plus Novice C, while Yardville’s Kevin Blazic won the Amateur B.

Barry Carsten of Bayville won the 30-plus Expert A class while Blazic won 40-plus Senior B. East Windsor’s Jerry Seip captured the 40-plus Senior Expert A.

Carsten added the 125 Pro-Expert A class and 250 Pro/Expert A classes to his win in the Expert A class.

Jessica Smith, of Morgantown, Pa., won the women’s class, sweeping both motos.

Next week, from July 15-18, the 1-mile track will be host to the Northeast Motocross Classic Series. The top amateur riders in the country will be in action and the event will be aired on FOX Sports.

Motocross racing is for riders of all ages, with classes ranging from 7 and up, to senior (30 and up). The riders are divided by skill level as well racing in Novice, Expert and Pro divisions.

The biggest race on the year is the Kawasaki Team Green Motocross Race of Champions, which is celebrating its 28th year at Raceway Park.

The number of motocross riders increased in 2001, when the raceway opened up its practice track. This has given riders of all skill levels the chance to race as often as they want and as long as they want to. Dave Knapp, the public relations manger at Raceway Park, pointed out it was done out of need.

"Riders were telling us that there was nowhere for us to go and ride," recalled Knapp. "There was an area of our parking lot that was marshy swamp, and we decided to bring in some dirt and build hills. It’s not a techno track, it’s for anyone. For $30, they can race the whole day in a safe environment."

With the suburban sprawl claiming more and more land each year, there are fewer areas for riders to take their motorcycles out to and enjoy. Many of those who use the practice track have no intention of racing, they just want to dust off their motorcycles and ride.

Landerman pointed out that the practice track has been good for those who want to get into the sport as well as the experienced riders.

"It helps the riders who want to get started and it helps the racers," he said. "Their time is limited during races to practice time and two motos. With the practice track they can go all day."

The track was made to order for riders like Rich Connor and his son Ian Connor, both of Rumson, who used the facility a couple of times a week not to be race-ready, but simply to ride.

Rich Connor has been riding motocross for 35 years and with his competitive days behind him, he still enjoys taking the bike out for a ride.

"It’s more fun just to ride," said the elder Connor. "It was great they built it [practice track] because there were no legal spots to ride. You were riding where you’re not supposed to."

Ian Connor was a late-starter to the sport, not following his father on the motorcycle until he was 15. He quickly became hooked and has been riding non-competitively for eight years now."

"It’s so much fun, you’re out there on your own," he pointed out. "You push yourself to do something a little better each time you ride."

Rich Connor has seen the evolution of the sport not just in machinery, but in course structure as well.

"The style of the track has changed," he explained. "There’s stronger emphasis on jumps. The hills used to be smaller, and you were more concerned about the rigorous turns. You have to be able to jump now."

The practice track is open Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to dusk.

For more information on motocross at Raceway Park, call the raceway at (732) 446-7800 or visit the Web site at