Loretta Lynn's: Make or Break | Vital MX Editorial 3

How crucial are results from the Loretta Lynn's Amateur National Motocross Championship?

As the 42nd annual AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship at Loretta Lynn's took place recently, I was pondering some thoughts. The event is considered the premier amateur race in the world, and much hype and significance is put into it. Loretta's delivers glory, the agony of defeat, pressures, adversity, life-long memories, recognition, and much more. 

Is it as crucial as it's made out to be? How important are the results versus what a rider shows when dealing with everything that comes with a one-week, three-moto format race? What are the teams looking for? This year was particularly eventful with the rain and lightning that came in, causing delays and track conditions that are very uncommon. 

Let's start with the results. Winning an amateur national championship at the ranch is an awesome accomplishment, but we all know that doesn't automatically equal winning titles at the pro level. Additionally, not winning a championship at the ranch doesn't mean a lack of success as a pro. Adam Cianciarulo and Mike Alessi are the two winningest riders at Loretta Lynn's, with 11 championships each. Adam has one professional championship, while Mike never won one. The flip side is that Ryan Villopoto only won one title at Loretta's but went on to win ten professional titles, six of which were in the premier class. Ryan Dungey won a title in the 125 Modified class and then won nine professional titles.

Adam Cianciarulo - 2007
Adam Cianciarulo - 2007 John Parkinson

Those stats lean towards the results not being as weight-bearing as many may think. I asked some riders and team managers if the importance of Loretta's was overstated. 

Cooper Webb - Four championships at the ranch and five in the pros: "Yes and no. In the 50, 65, and 85 classes, I don't think it was nearly as important as those later years. At the time, you think it's the end of the world if you don't do well. As I sit here at 27 years old and a pro for almost ten years, it wasn't as important as I thought. At the same time, once I did well on a super-mini, that's what propelled me to get an offer from Star Racing. That's what started the pro journey."

Zach Osborne - One championship at Loretta's and four professional titles: "At the time, I felt it was the only thing in the world that mattered and that my whole life hinged on it. Looking back, it was somewhat important for getting a start with sponsors, but all your accomplishments as an amateur quickly fade when you line up with the men of the sport."

Cooper Webb - 2007
Cooper Webb - 2007 John Parkinson

Craig Martin – Former Team Green Team Manager (Dec of '99-2004): "It's important at the moment for those riders in their minds and for the managers for each team. As a Team Kawasaki guy, I needed to go home from those big races and report to everyone at Kawasaki in marketing, R&D, and all the people that matter about the weekend. We talked about how many championships we won, the competition, who was hurt, and what the other companies were doing. Going home from Loretta's and saying we won 15 championships was always good."

None of this is to say that Loretta Lynns holds no importance. The importance may lie in other areas other than results. I believe how the riders react to the pressure of the event, how they deal with adversity during the week, and how changing conditions through three motos over the five days are dealt with are much more meaningful to teams. Most top-ranked kids already have their future plans locked in with their teams, so the results won't change much. It will show the teams what to expect from the kids when they line up at their first pro race.

Daniel Blair - Orange Brigade Team Manager: "Loretta's is a character check. So many variables affect results, and I watch how riders respond to their good and bad motos. The most important thing is that it exposes a rider's heart, and it's easy to see who will be successful at the next level."

Aden Keefer – Keefer Testing and B class Loretta's racer: "For the teams, they hype it up to see which kids are going to fold or not when they get to the pro ranks and are in high-pressure situations."

No matter what, a lot of pressure is put on the participants. Most significantly, the kids on the path to the pro ranks. As stated, it's made out to be a huge deal, and the kids feel it. In truth, that's not a bad thing if they want to make a career in Supercross and motocross. It isn't going to get any easier.

Parker Ross - Second overall in the Open Pro Sport and third in the 250 Pro Sport in 2023: "The last few years, I've been told it's not that big of a deal, but as a rider, it does feel like a make-or-break situation. This year going in, I believed it could be big for my career if I did well. I had already done the work before the race, so I was going to do my best, and how I finished was how I finished."


He took some of the pressure off himself, and it worked out well. I'm sure other riders use the pressure to their advantage. One undeniable thing is that the memories created at Loretta's every year are some of the most special in the participants' and their families lives. When I asked what their favorite memories were, everyone perked up.

Zach Osborne: "My best memory was winning there in 2004. I only won one title, and it seemed like a great weight lifted off my shoulders at the time."

Cooper Webb: "The race was always the focus, but the best times I've ever had were with friends riding around in the golf cart, going down to the creek, becoming a teenager, getting interested in girls, etc. Traveling and camping with your best friends for a week with the families was our summer camp."

Aden Keefer: "My dad and I went fishing on the lake, and I caught an eight-pound catfish. That was the first fish I ever caught with my dad. My mom and I went on a run together. You get to spend time with your family and have stories you'll tell your kids."

Kris and Aden Keefer
Kris and Aden Keefer Heather Keefer

Parker Ross: "After the motos, when I get a bad start and come from 30th to fourth and see the pure excitement and joy on my family's faces. Making my parents happy and proud, and getting that hug after the moto."

Michael Dean Gage – +50 Masters and Senior 45+: "It means family, travel, new friends, old friends, and community. To compete in the 50 plus class represents fun, fitness, and camaraderie."

Aden Keefer also told me how it's extra special for him because he and his dad can relate to each other by talking about the track after they each race it. Many dads go to the ranch with their kids, but very few actually race the same day, and both end up on the podium. Aden said after his moto that his dad, Kris, was racing the next moto and he came over and congratulated Aden, sharing some line choices with his dad. That's pretty special. 

Spending a week at the ranch year after year builds character, develops personalities, and teaches life lessons. One lesson to be learned for many of these kids is how many sacrifices are made by their parents to get them there. There are financial sacrifices and time sacrifices. The road to Loretta's is expensive and time-consuming. I like hearing when the kids realize these things and show appreciation to their families. It's a great character trait that will serve them in adulthood.

Sophia Phelps – WMX champion (2021 and 2022. Third in 2023): "It means so much to me that my parents are willing to put out that type of money, and my siblings are willing to take this time out of their summer. Also, my parents are willing to take the time from the summer and work for the race and the qualifiers and regionals. It's unreal. I did not realize how much they were spending."

I have never been to Loretta's for an amateur national week. I went for the pro-national in 2020, but that's it. I feel I've missed out on some epic moments. It's a special place with an essential spot in the sport's history. Nothing proves this more than all the riders that have returned over the years. Mike Brown, Jeff Emig, Jacob Hayes, and Ben Lamay all lined up this year. There are rumors of Alex Martin and Kevin Windham coming in 2024. They come back because of the memories they have of the facility, and they want to re-live it. I, of course, had to ask Coop and ZachO if they would ever return.

Zach Osborne: "My wife pretty much had me talked out of it after I won the two rounds there in 2020, but I think we are both keen to go back. My eldest son is starting to ride a bit, so maybe we can go in the PW, +25, and Pro Sport classes next year since my two years of no points are up."

Cooper Webb: "100%. I actually can't wait. I think taking my family there to re-experience it again would be cool. The last time I raced there, I thought, 'This will be the last time I ever come to this place.' The perspective has definitely changed. I think it's cool to go see the young kids and up-and-comers and reconnect with old faces. Once I hang the boots up on the professional career, I would love to race Loretta's again."

Loretta Lynn's
Loretta Lynn's MX Sports

So, is Loretta Lynn's Amateur National Motocross Championship as crucial or as big a deal as it's hyped to be? Yeah, I think it is. Maybe not for the reasons that, on the surface, seem obvious. There is no doubt that winning a title is a great accomplishment and can bring opportunities, but a career is not dependent on it. Its importance lies in developing these young athletes' character traits. Who will they be when conditions aren't perfect and the unexpected happens? Will they buckle under pressure, or will they fight through? If there is a bike failure, crash, bad start, or a massive rainstorm, can they mentally overcome those things and still put in 100%? Loretta Lynn's is a proving ground, and it's special. No other amateur national is equal to it. 

I look forward to 2024 and attempting to qualify. Whether I make it or not, I'm going so I can experience it for myself. I look forward to creating some of my own memories with new and old friends. See you guys at the ranch.


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