Youngsville teen Wilkinson qualifies for the largest amateur motocross race in the world

Samantha Wilkinson barely has her driver’s license.

But she’s been racing dirt bikes for nine years.

In fact, the Youngsville High School junior is all about motocross, competing nearly every weekend at Mapleshade MX Raceway in Sugar Grove.

It was only recently, however, that the teenage tomboy realized a dream of qualifying for the largest amateur motocross race in the world – the 33rd Annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships. The track for the event is built on a section of Loretta Lynn’s Ranch and Campground in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. The course contains a variety of jumps, corners and other obstacles designed to test the skills and stamina of the racers.

But overcoming obstacles is nothing new to Wilkinson. She took on over 20,000 hopefuls from across America to earn one of 1,446 qualifying spots for the races July 27 to August 2.

“This was my third try to qualify for Loretta’s, and you know what they say, third time’s the charm,” said Wilkinson, who had to race in an area qualifier, then finish in the top five in her girls 12-16-year-old class in a regional qualifier.

“No one else from around here locally has tried to qualify that I know of,” said Wilkinson, “and, yes, this has been a dream for about four years now. It’s one of the greatest feelings knowing that in about a week we’ll be making the 12-hour drive to Tennessee.”

Most of America’s top professional motocrossers, including James Stewart, Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana and Jeremy McGrath, have won AMA Amateur National Championships at Loretta Lynn’s. The race is so prestigious that in 2012 it became part of the Red Bull Signature Series, airing race coverage on NBC for the first time ever. In 2013, the coverage of the Red Bull Signature Series broadcast live from Loretta Lynn’s for the first time, and in 2014, the racing will be streamlined live online all week on RacerTV.com.

“The Amateur Nationals at Loretta Lynn’s is the event every motocross racer in the country wants to compete in,” said even director Tim Cotter. “A win at the Amateur Nationals gives a rider instant national notoriety and can serve as a springboard to a lucrative professional motocross career.”

Wilkinson isn’t thinking beyond this race.

“I think becoming a pro would be awesome,” she said, “but for this to even happen, we need to get women’s professional motocross more races and get them running with the men on Saturdays like they used to.”

If anyone is proof that Wilkinson can accomplish anything it’s her “biggest role model,” Ashley Fiolek.

In a sport dominated by sound, Fiolek has been deaf since birth and, in 2008, became the youngest Women’s Motocross Association champion ever.

“She has never let her disability or being a girl stand in her way of doing what she loves,” said Wilkinson.

“My goals for Loretta’s is a top-15 finish (in the girls’ ages 12-16 class), but I also want to have fun, and leave knowing I tried my best,” she said. “Motocross is a sport that a lot of people do for fun, but there’s that select few that make a living doing what they love. There’s definitely a lot more guys racing than girls. But when you head to bigger races like Loretta’s qualifiers there’s almost always a full gate. I feel like being able to be a good racer you just have to believe in yourself. And you have to trust and be comfortable on your bike because if you don’t you are going to get hurt.”

Wilkinson plays softball – a catcher – for Youngsville High School, but, “I think most of the teachers I’ve had in school know that I race because I’m always doing (school) projects about motocross,” she said. “And my classmates know a lot about me racing because it’s all I talk about most of the time.”

Wilkinson has won seven championships in many different classes of motocross, but it’s the feeling she gets when she races that draws her to the sport.

“My cousin is the one who got me into the sport; he had his bike out to my grandma’s and I got on it and fell in love,” she said. “Soon after, my dad got me my first bike and I started racing after that. I would say I realized I could be good when I decided I wanted to be good – because this is such a mental sport, you have to want to be fast. I mean, some kids just have the talent, but others have to tell themselves that they can be just as good if they try.

“My favorite part about motocross is the ability to be in charge,” said Wilkinson. “I don’t rely on teammates to help me. And the fact that if you make a mistake there’s no one to blame but yourself. What I love off the track is thinking about being on the track and where I can cut my lap times down. And what I love most about being on the track is just being able to ride my dirt bike.”