As we drove up the hill towards the track, an ambulance helicopter was circling above.
It began descending onto the track, creating a massive gush of wind that knocked over barriers and caused a dust storm which forced the crowd to shut their eyes.
I got out of my car in shock, wondering if the person was going to be okay.
I walked down towards the starting line.
Looking around, no one seemed too fussed that there were two ambulances and a helicopter ambulance on the track – I guess this kind of thing is perhaps expected in extreme sports.
All around me were young riders, ranging from the age of eight to 28.
Boys and girls, dressed in their gear and itching to get back on the track. The motorbikes were lined up as if they are ready to begin the race themselves, all next to each other and on the starting line.
The track itself looks like sand dunes in the middle of the outback. The red dirt has been carved out to create a 1.5 km track, known as the Bacchus Marsh Motocross track.
It is made up of a combination of natural terrain and man-made obstacles. The obstacles that look like small mountains are created by molding large amounts of dirt into the track.
There are hundreds of tracks in Australia, usually in rural areas, where the requisite open land is relatively plentiful. Each track is unique. Riders need extreme skill to be able to maneuver through the track successfully along with 20 or 30 other racers.
Lewis Woods is 20-years old and rides for Insanity Kawasaki, and in a sense ‘owns’ the Bacchus Marsh Motocross track. Lewis, along with his brother Alex, are the most well-known riders from this track. And Lewis is one of the most well-known riders in Australia motocross.
The Woods brothers began riding for fun as soon as they could walk. Their father, Craig Woods encouraged the pair and bought them their first motorcycle when Lewis was only 2 years old. They shared a QA 80, which they still have today. The motorbike is tiny; it’s smaller than the wheel of the motorbike that is the next size up, and it has the dirt from 1991 still on the small wheels.
The bike stands in a proud position at the family’s Bacchus Marsh home, along with the many other prized bikes that the boys would use to dominate tracks all over Australia in the future.
The boys began club racing in 1998.
“At this stage racing was just a hobby for Al and I,” Lewis says. “Although Dad would have us training every now and then as well as teaching us about the mechanics of the bike, it was all for fun, we were happy racing at Bacchus Marsh on the weekends when we could and making small jumps at home to muck around with our friends on.”
The passion that Lewis had for the sport soon turned into determination.
“Racing at the club wasn’t enough for me anymore, I wanted to race properly and I wanted to win,” he says.
Lewis began racing in the juniors and quickly won the state championship. He moved onto racing against others in Australia in the national circuit. In 2001, after three years of intense training, he won the national title.
“The best moment of my career so far was winning that national title, knowing you’re the best at what you love most in the world is a feeling you cannot beat… and that was the moment I realised I could turn my hobby into my career,” he says.
At this point, the next step for riders is to gain a sponsor and join a team to ride for. For five years Lewis rode for Honda. This year he has been picked up by Kawasaki and now represents them when he cuts up the tracks.
At the track the excitement is buzzing, literally. The juniors’ race begins with a wave of a flag and the motorbikes take off with what seems like an extraordinary buzzing sound, like a large swarm of bees.
As the grades go up and the motorbikes get bigger, the buzzing changes to a large roar. The riding is much more intense in the higher grades, the bikes flick a lot more dirt on the corners, and the riders are bigger show offs, not only taking the jump a lot faster and higher but turning around in the air, or letting go of the bike all together.
“The adrenalin is always pumping during a race, the most intense moments are when you go as fast as you can up a jump and grab a lot of air time, then when your in mid air flipping the bike and landing again,” Lewis says.
It’s enough to make you cringe watching this.
“Those who are passionate and determined won’t let anything get in the way of riding,” he says.
Imagine breaking both wrists at the same time, the left one twice, four ribs, dislocating your shoulder, suffering from heat stroke and to top it off injuring your spine.
In Lewis’s 12-year career he has ticked all of these boxes. This won’t stop him though.
“As long as I can throw my leg over the bike I will keep riding.” Woods says.
The success that Lewis has experienced seem to outweigh the injuries he has suffered. So far Lewis has conquered Victoria; since 2003 he has been ranked first in the state, although he was unable to race in 2004 due to injury. In Australia he is currently ranked fifth.
Last year, Lewis broadened his horizons and raced in Indonesia and managed to come first over there, which he describes as his “most exciting win to date. They love Aussies over there, standing on the podium I was very proud, the crowd was going crazy and there was a lot of media, we just don’t get that in Australia.”
The aim for riders in Australia wishing to make it big time in Motocross is to get a deal in America.
Chad Reed is an inspiration for all Australian Motocross riders.
In 2001 Reed, determined to move to America went to Europe to race for Kawasaki and raced against professionals from all over the world. Reed won the Grand Prix of Lierop and eventually finished the year second to multi-time World Champion MickaelPichon.
The win acted as a catalyst for Reed’s booming career in America. He has now won the AMA World Champion Motocross title twice.
Motocross is highly underrepresented in Australian media. Unlike sports like football and cricket, motocross doesn’t gain any national television time and the results are not published in any daily newspapers on a regular basis.
In 2008, Reed helped promote motocross in Australia as he raced for a season down under, he introduced racing within football stadiums and a series was held at Skilled Stadium in Geelong. For the finals, the stadium was sold out, “racing in front of such a large crowd was a surreal but awesome feeling.” Lewis laughs.
Lewis has high hopes for the future of the sport: “It’s growing, in a few years I think it will be as big football, well I hope. We are starting to race in bigger stadiums now, which means more people see what we do and more people will like it.”
From my own experience at the track, watching the dedication, the skill and the risks taken, I’m happy to say that I think Lewis’s predictions will come true.
Jenna Matheson is a second-year Journalism student at La Trobe University. Her blog is called It’s your life, live it. This is her first piece for upstart.