Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2010

Practicing last weekend at Lone Lake Moto Cross were (from left) Colin Winton of Collierville, Dylan Craft of Southaven, Dakota Bolton of Pope, Taylor Godinez of Olive Branch and Katie Anthony of Byhalia. All are 12-year-olds who race on 85cc bikes. Bolton and Anthony are currently point leaders in their racing classes. The Panola County track will host racing this weekend. (See story, photo on page A6) The Panolian photo by John Howell Sr.

Motocross racers savor terrain challenge at Lone Lake

By John Howell

There will be racing at Lone Lake MX Racing this weekend.At an otherwise obscure location in southeast Panola County scores of vehicles hauling lightweight, cross-country motorcycles, their riders, family and other spectators will converge at 2234 Phelps Road.

That’s where track owner and developer Joe Barnett has utilized his talent for operating earth-moving machinery to reshape an already diverse landscape into sharp mini-hills, curves and berms. In the eye of the motocross riders, it’s near perfect.

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Although he’s not a motocross rider himself, “I love sports and I love kids,” Barnett said. “It seems to be something that kids and parents can do as a family,” he added.

Barnett started building the course about three years ago, he said. Prior to last weekend, Barnett spent three days on a bulldozer, reshaping and extending the course, track manager Mark Sutton said. It covers about a mile, Barnett said.

“He does a good thing for the kids, (it’s a) great family atmosphere,” said Memphis auto dealer Brad Ballentine, who serves as the track’s announcer on race days.

Riders race in classes determined by age, engine size and riding ability, Sutton said. There is a course for riders as young as four and a classification for “old rollers; that’s more of a granddaddy class,” Sutton added.

The racing classes at Lone Lake this weekend are open to motocross cycles from 50 cc to 250 cc engine displacement. Riders in each class race twice,  a “first moto” and “second moto,” Sutton said. Winners are determined by averaging the rider’s two race times.

The course is open most weekends for practice. Riders pay $15 maintenance fee for the afternoon. Last Sunday there were perhaps 12 to 15 cyclists from northwest Mississippi going through the jumps and curves, testing Barnett’s recent alterations.

With those alterations Barnett, “took some speed out of it and put in more tactical challenges,” he said.

 “The key to it is to put enough challenges where the young people can get enough experience here where if they want to go pro, they can,” Barnett continued.

Dakota Bolton Pope was among riders practicing at Lone Lake last weekend. Bolton is current point leader for his age group in the 85cc class in the 2010 AMT series in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. During his 2008 rookie year was first place point winner on a 65 cc machine in the beginner series. Last year, again racing the 65 cc motocross cycle, he won his region and competed in national competition in Oklahoma.

Dakota’s dad said his son’s love for the sport is also an effective incentive to encourage schoolwork. “If he falls below a 90, he doesn’t ride,” William Bolton said.

This weekend’s schedule at Lone Lake includes practice runs on Saturday with racing on Sunday. The track opens at noon in deference to hunters in the area as well those who might be attending churches within hearing of the buzzing cycles, Barnett said.

The Christian Motorcycle Association leads prayer and conducts a brief service prior each Sunday’s race, Barnett said.

The Bynum Volunteer Fire Department operates a concession stand as a fundraiser during race weekends “They do a great job on concessions; a lot of people come here to eat and watch,” Barnett the track’s builder continued.

Riders are required to wear protective gear that includes helmet, boots, chest protector and a neck brace, Sutton said.

“We have a lot of people who donate gear. … If a family shows up and they don’t have the gear, it would kind of break your hear to tell that kid he can’t ride,” Sutton said.

“What he’s done with this is try to make a family atmosphere,” Ballentine said of the Lone Lake track Barnett has built. “People camp, enjoy campfires, there’s electrical outlets for RVs,” he continues. There’s also a clubhouse with a big screen television.

But for the riders there are the hills. They approach with all the speed their machines can muster and then soar away from the ground underneath, rider and bike becoming as one, gracefully defying gravity as adrenaline pumps through their veins.

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