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Soaring with select company

14-year-old McKenzie headed to Amateur Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch
By: Cecil Conley Special to the Journal
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His buddies know better than to ask K.J. McKenzie if he wants to go swimming or play video games. The 14-year-old rarely has time these days to be a teenager. He would much rather climb aboard his 250cc motorcycle and race around a dirt track than hang out at the mall and look at girls. Such is the life of a motocross racer, especially one who has qualified for the American Motorcycle Association’s Amateur Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Tennessee. Twenty thousand racers entered the qualifying. McKenzie was among the 1,368 who survived and will compete in the championships, which will be Aug. 2-7 in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. McKenzie’s knowledge of motorcycles far exceeds his interest in country music. All he could do was grin when asked if he knew any of Lynn’s songs. He admitted he has never heard of her. Rap music is his preference, so there is little chance of finding “Coal Miner’s Daughter” on his iPod. Music may be the only thing McKenzie has in common with many of his friends at Del Oro High School in Loomis. His hectic schedule leaves him little time for his pals, but he is not complaining. “Most of them know if they call, I’m going to say, ‘No,’” he said. McKenzie is quite content to follow in his father Ken’s footsteps as a motocross racer. After all, he was named after his father. K.J. is short for Kenneth Jr. “I was 3 when my dad got me my first dirt bike, and I’ve loved it ever since,” McKenzie said. “I was 12 when I got on the big (250cc) bikes and I wanted to go faster right away. I wanted to go for it.” Racing is not just a hobby for McKenzie. His father works with Jim Dobbas, Inc., which provides railroad response services. The Antelope company has become McKenzie’s first official sponsor. The sponsorship has lightened the financial burden for his parents, but it has also raised the stakes. “It’s definitely a business now,” said his mother, Shelly. “There are people putting money into this. It’s a little more serious now.” Shelly will go to Tennessee to watch her son, but she will not be traveling in the family’s motorhome. “I’m flying,” she joked. “I’m taking the easy way.” The trip will be costly, and McKenzie realizes he has to do his part in preparation to make it pay off. “I’ve starting running more and I have to go to the gym,” he said. “I’m putting in more hours at the track.” Fortunately for McKenzie, his mother happens to be an instructor at fitness centers in Roseville and Rocklin. Shelly joined her son Thursday afternoon during his practice session at Prairie City. As he raced one lap after another, his mother weathered the heat and tried to avoid inhaling the flying dust. McKenzie has a younger sister, 13-year-old Ciara, who has found a way to be involved in her brother’s passion. Ciara has inherited her mother’s Hawaiian Ice machine and runs it at the tracks. “It gets her to feel like she’s part of it,” Shelly said. Ciara has her own motorcycle, but she prefers to play basketball. Since she has to follow the family to the track, McKenzie returns the favor by attending her basketball games. He would much rather be on his motorcycle than in the bleachers, however. Sitting still is not his style.