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Hangtime at Hangtown

Auburn fathers now guiding their sons at popular motocross event
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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RANCHO CORDOVA — Nathan Gibson listens attentively in the aluminum bleachers at the Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area as his father, Mark, shares stories about a track he knows well. Nathan, 17, is gearing up for his Under 25 C race Friday at the 40th Hangtown Motocross Classic, the oldest and largest of the 12 races in the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship Series. It’s his second year competing at Hangtown, an event Mark has raced four times. “In the motorcycle world, Hangtown is special,” said Mark, who grew up with members of the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club who host the race. “It’s always an experience. For the kids it’s pretty special when you can go back to school and say you did something at Hangtown.” Nathan Gibson and 12-year-old Will Schroeder, both of Auburn, were two local youths leading the way Thursday and Friday during the event’s amateur races. The professionals take control of the track today in front of an anticipated 30,000 fans. Gibson took 16th in a 43-man field Friday, while Schroeder finished seventh out of 29 riders in Friday’s Supermini Open C race after winning a trophy for fourth place overall Thursday. Nathan isn’t satisfied with his performance. He sacrificed a top-10 spot in the opening seconds of the race to narrowly avoid a crash on the first turn. The Placer High junior wipes disappointment from his face at his pit and hurries back to the bleachers to cheer for Schroeder. “They’re friends but they’re just like brothers,” said Jay Schroeder, Will’s dad and a five-time Hangtown competitor. “The camaraderie is excellent out here.” It’s a family affair at Hangtown. Many fathers who raced the event decades ago now serve as mechanics for their sons. Mothers hydrate, feed and tend to injured riders. For the Gibsons, it’s another week on the road together. They’ve already spent 15 weekends in hotels this year, training and competing in cross country and motocross races across the West Coast. “It’s the coolest thing in my life,” Mark said. “I thought the time of my life was when I raced before, but I’m having the time of my life with my son right now.” The duo will race in Monticello, Utah in two weeks and at cross country events in Idaho and New Mexico before the AMA Hare Scramble East vs. West Shootout in Davis, Oklahoma in October. “I love it,” said Nathan, who is in his second year of competitive racing. “Most kids don’t get a chance because their dad’s doing something else for them, or being their mechanic, but I’d rather race with my dad.” Mark, a 53-year-old Auburn native, won his debut race at age 16 and turned professional that year. He “kind of slowed way down” after losing his front teeth in a racing accident years later, but still competes in local District 36 and cross country races with Nathan. The Gibsons race in their respective classes during the District 36 cross country series each spring and fall, while their summer months are devoted to motocross. Nathan is second in the cross country series in the B250 class, while Mark leads the Super Senior A class in district and national competition. The class letters designate racer skill level. Novice racers are C, intermediate racers B and amateur-professionals and professionals A. “I really hope to become professional in it. I’m working pretty hard at it right now,” Nathan said. “I’m almost an A-rider in the district cross country. If not moto, I hope to go pro in cross country.” While cross country races can last between two and five hours in heavily wooded terrain, motocross races last less than 15 minutes on wide-open tracks. “Cross country helps my motocross so much more,” Nathan said. “You’re in better shape for it, you can choose your lines better and you have more endurance for it. Most of the guys who do moto don’t have as much stamina as a lot of the guys who also race cross country.” Across the pit from the Gibsons, Will Schroeder isn’t racing cross country — yet. But he’s already earned an impressive nickname, emblazoned under the handlebars of his 85cc Honda. “I guess I always do wild things,” the Bowman Elementary School sixth-grader said. “They called me Wild Will when I started and it stuck ever since.” In three short years of motocross competition, Schroeder’s injury list includes four concussions, a dislocated thumb, a cracked growth plate, a chipped elbow and a dislocated knee. “I just like racing, so I hope to overcome every injury,” he said with a simple shrug. Hip osteoarthritis ended Jay Schroeder’s 24-year motocross career nine years ago. Now 49, he remains involved as Will’s one-man pit crew. “I wish I could still be riding with him, but being his mechanic is second-best,” he said. Will spent most of Friday’s six-lap race in eighth place and challenged for a top-five position before sliding out of control on a steep turn late in the race. “I’m really proud of the way he rode,” his father said. “He didn’t give up. He’s putting his heart into it, and that’s all I can ask as a father and mechanic.” Will still has a few years left on his 85 mini before he’ll have to upgrade to a larger 250F bike. He hasn’t pondered a professional future in the sport. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead because I haven’t got on big bikes yet,” he said. Jay isn’t concerned about whether his son follows in his father’s tracks as a professional racer. “I don’t pressure him into doing any of it,” he said. “If he wants to, we’ll do it. If you’re having fun, let’s do it. If you’re not having fun, we’ll find something else to do. If he wants to try to pursue that avenue, I’ll back him 100 percent. At this level right now, it’s just a fun, family sport.”