Samantha Peters kicks up dirt as she chases the boys around the track. She's the only girl in this race of about a dozen seven-year-olds riding mini-dirt bikes.
Neil Peters bought the $2,900 mini for his daughter's third birthday, riding it right into her party.
"You did?" Samantha asks her father.
Young sportbike riders
"Yes, honey, don't you remember? I was in a clown suit," he replies.
"Oh, yeah, my daddy dressed like a clown," she says.
Samantha's been riding ever since.
A motocross bike may seem like an unusual gift for a toddler. But as Neil Peters, who rides himself, explains it, Samantha was a "daddy's girl" who'd sit by him on the couch watching televised motocross races. Because she showed such an interest, he decided to give her the mini. But Samantha didn't start racing until she turned seven -- in retrospect, two years too late, says her mother, Kimberly. Many of the boys she races against started when they were five, and their experience on the track shows.
That's one of the reasons Samantha, Neil and Kimberly go to Mile High Super Bikes. Samantha says she'd like owner Mack Humphrey to fix her engine so she can go fast enough to beat the boys, and her parents would like a customized look. Samantha's current bike is a size 50, which has no gears -- but Neil is hoping to soon get her on a five-speed 65.
In the meantime, every Sunday, Samantha goes racing at one of the sportbike tracks scattered around the Denver area. Several hundred local riders -- ranging in age from five to senior-citizen status -- go head-to-head each week in the motocross league run by the Sport Riders Association of Colorado.
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Practice starts at 6:30 a.m., which makes for a twelve-hour day for the family. Between races, Samantha munches crackers, rests in the shade or jumps on the back of her friend's four-wheeler and cruises the scene. "She asks three times a week, 'When can we go riding again?'" Neil says.
So far, Samantha has won a fifth-place trophy, and although the races don't have a cash prize, Neil hopes that his daughter can one day have a motocross career. If she does, it's likely to be a short one, since pro racers tend to peak in their twenties.
Samantha, who learned to ride a motorcycle before she even tried a bicycle, is no longer allowed to ride pedal bikes. They're too dangerous, her parents say. Dirt-bike racers are protected by their gear and get used to hitting jumps fast, with the sportbike's suspension providing cushion. Pedal bikes don't have that suspension.
Samantha lifts up the sleeve of her T-shirt and shows a scrape on her shoulder. "I went off a jump," she says. On a bicycle.