Is Loretta Lynn's Worth It For a Vet? | A First Timer's Experience 8

Jamie Guida talks about his first attempt at qualifying for the Monster Energy Amateur National Championship at Loretta Lynn's Ranch. How did it go, what did he take away, and was it worth it?

2024 marks the 43rd AMA Monster Energy Amateur National Championship at Loretta Lynn's Ranch. It also is my first time attempting to qualify for the prestigious event. The entire motocross community knows what Loretta's means to amateur racing, especially for riders who dream of becoming a professional. It's also a special place for vets of the sport like me and many of my friends. 

I decided to write about my experience in the format of an interview. Before doing it, I had questions about how it all worked and whether it was worth the attempt. Now that I have done it, I have some answers to those questions.


What were your thoughts or impressions of the Loretta Lynn Amateur Nationals leading up to your decision to attempt to qualify? 

I grew up hearing and reading about Loretta Lynn's in the magazines and how riders who did well there got factory contracts and raced under the lights in Supercross and the Great Outdoors. I never thought about attempting to qualify myself because, as a kid, I didn't race regularly and wasn't really fast enough. As a young adult, it seemed so out of reach to afford the time and money to go to Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, for a week. It simply wasn't a possibility or of interest to me during those years. It was almost a mythical place that I didn't think I belonged going to. 

What made you finally want to try to qualify? What took so long?

Sometime in the last five or six years, I started paying more attention to the stories from Loretta's about the vet riders who were racing. Instead of reading the stories in magazines, I was hearing the guys talk about their experiences on the PulpMX show. Whether it was hearing about Mike Brown pissing guys like me off because they had to race him or it was hearing about Paul Perebijnos, Kris Keefer, and Jeff Emig making trips to the ranch, it was intriguing. To hear average vet riders were going and competing against those guys sounded absurd but also fun. They had such cool stories and amazing times with their buddies. Yeah, it sounded incredibly difficult, stressful, and expensive, but the memories they made had my wheels spinning. As far as what took so long, it was not in my budget. I also rarely got to ride until I got hired at Vital MX in 2022. There was no way I could have been prepared to qualify when digging ditches for a living. Once I got hired at Vital, I was very fortunate that the job allowed me to ride regularly and train. I also am lucky to have access to bikes and parts that I otherwise wouldn't have. I finally made the decision when Alex Martin's Troll Training came on board with the MotoXpod Show. Alex and his partner, John Wessling, told me to pick a couple of events I wanted to do so I would have some goals for my training. Loretta Lynn's was my immediate response.

Photo
KB Films and Photography

What did you do to prepare?

As I mentioned, Troll Training was on board with the show, and I was doing the workouts they sent daily. I had already been going to the gym and running bleachers at my local high school, but Alex and John lined me up with a more knowledgeable program. I rode my mountain bike or road bike on top of the gym stuff almost every day. I had also started eating better around that time. I love junk food, fried food, Cokes, and almost anything with sugar. I cut most of that out or significantly cut back on my intake, and I started eating salads most days for lunch. Salads are gross, by the way. Those were the things I was doing to physically feel better and be able to do longer motos when the time came. Then, I was riding a lot. Thanks to my job, I can ride two or three days a week usually, and as I trained, that became easier and easier. I remember one practice day in 2023 when I looked down at my Polar watch, and it said I had been on the track for 22 minutes. These were full output laps, and I wasn't tired at all. I thought to myself, "This is weird. I don't have any arm pump, and I feel like I can do another ten minutes." So, I did. I did five motos that day that were 20 minutes plus. I felt amazing. That motivated me even more. I have continued those things as much as possible since then. I did have a couple of injuries at the end of last year and one early this year that set me back, but that is the program I've been on. 

Did you understand how the area and regional qualifiers worked? 

Somewhat. I didn't really know the difference between an area and a regional, but I grasped the concept. I assumed the race formats were the same at every area and regional, but I was wrong about that. It was suggested that I try to qualify from more than one area for more chances. So, I chose to attempt it in the Southwestern and South-Central areas. I was told the areas are very easy to qualify from because there are so many, and they take a fairly large number of riders out of them. Michael Lindsay and I didn't even race our second motos in the Southwestern area because there were fewer riders than being taken. Even with a DNF in moto two, we made it to the regional. I understood that the regionals were where it got deep.

Photo
KB Films and Photography

As the regional qualifiers got closer, what were your expectations? 

I kept saying my expectations were realistic. The Keefers and some other friends said they were too low and not going to be helpful. Because of the format for the vet classes, I knew qualifying from the regional would be extremely difficult. I signed up for the Senior +45 class and only attempted one class because of the budget. The senior classes are basically open classes, meaning riders of any skill level can enter. Riders who have scored points in Supercross or the nationals cannot race in the +45 class, but the class was made up of local 'A' riders on down. I'm a fast 'C' rider or slow 'B' rider, so again, realistic expectations. My friends felt I needed to believe I could qualify, but I didn't. I kept saying, "I'm doing it for the experience, and I will give it my best." 

How did the regionals go? Did anything change once you were there? 

I went into my first regional at Fox Raceway with that mindset and surprise, I didn't qualify. I didn't really ride well in general. Kris Keefer kept saying, "You're just a five. You have to get fired up and get aggressive. Don't you have some fight in you?" He meant I was a five in personality and not getting excited. He was right. Even my girlfriend, Amber, was trying to give me a kick in the ass. After my 11th in the first moto, Kris had Amber tell me if I didn't get at least an eight in moto two, I wouldn't get any 'attention' from her for a few days. I didn't believe her, but guess where I finished…eighth. 

I ended up going 11-8 for eighth overall. They were taking six from that regional to go to Loretta's. I had failed and wasn't even disappointed, which bothered me later. I had gone in expecting not to do well and watched Kris and our friend Dave Martinez get their tickets to the ranch. I saw their excitement and knew they would get to go and make their memories at the ranch. By the way, Dave's story and the reasons he wanted to go to Loretta's is beautiful. He's doing it for his dad, who passed away a few years ago. You can hear his story over on Keefer's podcast channel. 

Kris Keefer, Dave Martinez, and Jamie Guida
Kris Keefer, Dave Martinez, and Jamie Guida Heather Keefer

Later that evening, I was asked if I would still be doing the regional at Thunder Valley. I was undecided. I still didn't believe I could make it, and I didn't want to spend the money to travel to Colorado and fail again. Amber and the Keefers thought I should go and were once again trying to give me a kick in the ass. Kris and his family are very supportive, with encouraging words and motivation when they care about someone. Kris had pushed me hard on mountain bike rides leading up to that event because he wanted me to push my limits. I appreciate him greatly. Amber also wanted me to go and believed I could do much better. Between their support and hearing Dave's excitement, I decided to go to Thunder Valley.

So, the first regional went as expected. What changed was my attitude. I made up my mind that I could qualify, and I would show some more fight. I drove back to Texas with a week to prepare for the next one. I rode a couple of times and worked on that improved mindset.

Did the change in mindset improve your results? Did you make it to nationals, like in a movie?

Yes, the mindset made a difference. No, it wasn't like in a movie. I did not qualify, but I did improve my performance. I did not leave there disappointed. I actually left very motivated. 

Photo
KB Films and Photography

Thunder Valley was a three-moto format, while Fox had been a two-moto format. Riding at approximately 5,500' of elevation was interesting in and of itself. You can definitely feel your lungs working harder, and the bike is much slower. It took some laps to get used to that and the fact that the track is on the side of a mountain. It was different from anything I had ridden before. I had driven to the race with my good friend Michael Gage, who was attempting to qualify for another Lorettas, and Amber drove 14 hours from California to be me. So, I had my support system and was fired up and ready to race. I can't really explain what it meant for her to drive all that way just to be there and help with anything I needed. It was motivating.

Jamie Guida and Michael Gage
Jamie Guida and Michael Gage Amber Lynn Photos

For the first moto, there was an issue with the gate drop. As we waited for the start of our race, the gate guy pointed down the line to make sure we were ready. He then walked to the doghouse and went inside. Our RPMs rose, and we waited and waited. I started to look towards the doghouse, assuming there was a problem. I looked around a few times and then noticed a light up the start straight that was yellow. I assumed there was a rider down, so I put the bike in neutral and sat up, which was when the gate dropped. 

It caught a number of us off guard, but I dropped the bike into gear and took off. I was 16th at the end of the first lap and finished 14th. I had an amazing battle with a guy on a GasGas for three laps, and we passed each other at least six times. It was incredibly fun. After the moto, I talked to the gate guy, who told me that the light I had seen was what they used for the start. That was not discussed in the rider's meeting, and there were several complaints. It was what it was, though. 

 

The next two starts were better once I knew the system, and I improved with each ride. My moto scores were 14-12-9, which put me 11th overall. Six made it to the ranch. I was happy with my improvements in each moto and the fact that my fastest laps were the final laps of each moto. I could go home proud of that.

Photo
KB Films and Photography

Was there anything you didn't like about the events or that need to be changed?

It's not cheap, and it is very time-consuming. I don't know how the average person can go to all these events, spend the amount of money it takes, and then go to the ranch for a week. It's unreal what people spend, especially when racing multiple classes.

Beyond that, I found it odd that the Southwestern regional was a two-moto format over two days, and then the South-Central regional was a three-moto format over two days. I would have thought there would be some consistent formatting. Also, the gate situation should not have happened. That should have been made clear. We spent a lot of money to go, and to be held at the gate for almost 25 seconds was ridiculous. Clutches were smoking from guys holding the throttle on for so long. I posted the video on my Instagram because it was so nuts.

What were your takeaways from the experience? Would you do it again, and was it worth it?

My takeaways were that it's difficult, and you must be prepared. You need to be all in. It's the biggest amateur national in the world, and it is not designed for the regular weekend warrior to just show up and race. I learned what I must work on, including attitude and mental toughness, technique, and physical strength. 

I also took away the fact that the camaraderie of this sport is heightened when attempting to qualify. Hanging out with all the people I'm friends with, my show's listeners, and Vital MX's readers at these events was a major highlight. I had people who knew of my story coming up to say hi and my loved ones cheering me on. This sport is rad, and I am taking away some cherished memories even though I didn't reach the end goal.

Jamie Guida and Amber
Jamie Guida and Amber Heather Keefer

Will I do it again? Was it worth it? Absolutely! I'm in for next year, and I will qualify. It taught me a lot about myself and opened my eyes to things I need to improve—not just in my riding but also in my attitude in life. ML didn't qualify this year either due to some issues with his wrist, but we will both be back next year, and Vital MX will be representing at Loretta's.

If you have considered qualifying and have doubts, I'll say you should try it at least once. It's not a perfect or easy process, but the memories and experience are well worth the struggle. Come in prepared and knowing what to expect, and enjoy it with people you care about.

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