Loretta Lynn Revolutionized Motocross – Motocross at Loretta’s Ranch

While many know Loretta Lynn as one of the greatest country music stars of all time, only a few will be aware of the pivotal role she played in American Motocross – opening her ranch to host the Amateur American Motorcycle Championships. It completely changed the course of the sport.

Until Loretta Lynn’s intervention in the early 1980s, the amateur championship was disjointed, confusing, and frustrating for riders and families who wanted to compete. The race itself was round the century at a different course each year, giving a huge advantage on the field to the locals who had more laps. One of my motorcycle dads and motocross race promoter, Dave Combs, had had enough of subpar experience and wanted to do something about it.

Combs had heard about Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, through his friend Paul Schlegel, who told him about how great the family’s escape from racing was. Schlegel wasn’t wrong, Lynn built a camping ground right on the land, with space for activities like swimming, horseback riding, and even mini golf. So Combs and his family went to check out the ranch on their way home from a motocross race in Oklahoma. They loved this. Dave was going for a jog around the stadiums when he had a great idea, realizing that the ranch would be an ideal venue to host the National Amateur Motorcycle Championship; It will be a neutral ground with plenty of space and amenities for the racers and their families.

Scenic lake

Loretta | MX Sports / Media Alignment

But pitching the idea wasn’t quite as easy as simply asking a country music star and giving her the idea of ​​a lift. Instead, Combs found Money Lane, Loretta’s husband, and sold him on the concept. (As it turns out, Combs was adept at convincing others of his ideas.) Mooney wasn’t entirely receptive to the idea at first, citing past motorcycle projects they’d tried with relatively half-hearted results. However, once Combs made it clear that these races would involve dirt bikes, he offered him a five-year deal on the spot.

A neutral ground, Loretta Lynn’s ranch—often referred to as just “Loretta”—provided a level playing field, as riders were only allowed to take rides during the event itself. Combined with eliminating the home court advantage in other tracks, this meant competitors didn’t have to worry about driving cross country just to be able to compete. “When the Amateur Nationals happened in Sacramento in the late 1970s, it was hard for anyone from Pennsylvania to get into that,” says Brett Smith, a motocross journalist who raced for Loretta between 1986 and 1997. Organized, with qualifying races across the country setting the stage for the event.

“Loretta is the holy grail of amateur motorcycle racing,” says Smith. “It’s the place you want to see and be seen.” To offer some perspective, it’s the motocross equivalent of the NFL Scouting Group. However, there is really no other sport that makes it so easy to line up against the best player in the country and prove your worth. Everyone who is into motocross started their careers at Loretta—think names like Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, and Jeff Emig, among many others.

bike racers

Loretta | MX Sports / Media Alignment

While that probably makes it seem like a very dangerous event, when the racers are among the cars, it is anything but. The Smith family, along with many others, treated Championship Weekend as a holiday. “I remember learning how to swim in the pool at Loretta’s,” says Smith. “We’d go down to the creek, swim and jump off the cliffs, play in the pool, and then ride our bikes around.”

The event ran smoothly until 2021, when a massive flood hit the area after that year’s Loretta run. Nearly 17 inches of rain fell in mere hours; The flood leveled almost all of the motocross facilities. It is estimated that the farm sustained more than $1 million in damages. It also took the life of ranch manager, Wayne Spears, as he worked with camp director Chuck Makelea to salvage what equipment they could. MX Sports, local businesses and many entities in the motorcycle industry have banded together and rebuilt the facilities for the 2022 AMA Amateur National Championship at Loretta Lynn.

Loretta Lynn was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2021 for her contributions to the sport. Its namesake event—now over 40 years old—continues as one of the greatest amateur motocross races in the world.

A shot to the head by Matt Crisara

Matt Crisara is an Austin native with an unquenchable passion for cars and motorsports, both foreign and domestic, and as the Automotive Editor for Popular MechanicsHe writes the majority of auto coverage across digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor1 after his training at Circuit Of The Americas F1 Track and Speed ​​City, an Austin radio broadcaster focusing on the world of motor racing. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he raced mountain bikes with the university’s club team. When he’s not working, he enjoys racing sims, FPV drones, and the great outdoors.

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