---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
SUNBURY -- For a motocross rider, a holeshot -- the ability for a rider to be the first to get to the narrow part of the first corner of a moto -- can mean the difference between winning and getting caught up in an opening-lap crash.
For a mother, it can be the most gut-wrenching moment of a race.
Jude Smerlick, 7, of Sunbury, is getting to be a pro at making the holeshot work to his advantage.
The soon-to-be second grader at Oaklyn Elementary school is at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., to compete in the 32nd annual Red Bull AMA Amateur National Motorcross Championships which runs from this coming Monday through Saturday.
It's his first-ever appearance at the Amateur Nationals.
Smerlick, who has won many trophies in his first three seasons of racing motocross, started his fourth season (2013) by winning his age group (4-6) at Motorama in Harrisburg. He won two 2012 District 6 championships and the Ultra Series Championship at Evansville Motocross Park in Evansville, his home track, last year.
To get to Loretta Lynn's Ranch, Smerlick won a regional qualifier in Ohio to be one of 1,146 riders to qualify for a trip to Hurricane Mills.
It's the 32nd annual event that has given riders in the past, including the likes of Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana (racing NASCAR now) and Jeremy McGrath, a push into the national spotlight.
"I like doing the rhythm sections," he said of his favorite part of racing. "I also like the table tops."
The family has had just two weekends off this year while racing from Florida to Michigan and everywhere in between.
They are already looking toward the 2014 season, starting with the indoor arena cross circuit.
"My friends at school think its pretty neat that I race," Smerlick said. "The kids in my class wished me good luck when I left for regionals."
His father, John, a retired United States Marine, raced motorcycles when he was younger and at the age of two, he had Jade sitting with him on the gas tank going around the yard.
Jade seemed to be a natural from the first time he got on a bike when he was four.
"I took him out to the back yard and I wanted him to stay down in the lower part of the yard and make a loop around the pine tree," John said. "We were all standing around and the driveway was lined with two rows of cars. I told him not to go over towards the cars. He went around the tree, around the house and in between both rows of cars. Then he came down the driveway, missed all the cars, missed the wood stove, missed the wood pile and finally my wife, Jennifer, was able to stop him."
While his father is his coach and mechanic, he's also getting coached by A-rider Jeremy Cook, of Elizabethville. He practices on a motocross trail that his father carved out in the woods near the family home.
To prepare for his first trip to the Amateur Nationals, he's been watching videos of it on YouTube.
Smerlick's bike has a 50cc engine which, in optimal conditions, can top out at 30 miles an hour. Next year, as AMA goes by your age on Jan. 1, he moves up to a bike that will also use a 50cc engine but will have a larger front wheel and a different suspension and will be 10 miles an hour faster.
Smerlick is the current points leader in District 6. He'll wrap up this season in Florida over the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
His sister, Summer, who just turned 10, takes the videos of him at the track.
Among his highlights this year is finishing second in the Wilkes-Barre Arena Cross and a fourth-place finish in Daytona. He broke his wrists at the season-ending race last year.
When asked about if he was excited about going to Loretta Lynn's, he replied with a great big smile.
If he gets that holeshot and out-guns 41 other riders at the starting gate, mom will be smiling too.