Cobey Carper was 18 months old at the time. He learned to ride a motorcycle eight months after he learned to walk.
“It's what he wanted to do,” his mother said.
Ten years later, not much has changed for Cobey Carper, now 11 and a recent fifth-grade graduate of Gold Bar Elementary School. He still loves riding, and he often goes out to practice on a motocross track carved through the trees on property behind the family home.
He also loves competing, and later this month he will head to the prestigious American Motorcyclist Association National Championships at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
The championships, the biggest amateur motocross event in the country, will bring together some 1,400 racers of all ages, including some as young as 4. Cobey Carper will compete in the 65cc Mod class against 41 other kids ages 7-11, and he will be one of just four riders from Washington at the event.
“It's very exciting,” he said with a shy smile.
He started in the sport because his father, Bob Carper, used to ride recreationally, though he also rode competitively for two years. Nel Lisa Carper would also ride for fun and as a small child Cobey would go along with his parents in a backpack.
Four years later he began competing in an arenacross series at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. He won right from the start and has never let up, including eight state championships in several classes and age groups over the years. He has more trophies than the family has wall space in the home.
“When he was real little, some of those trophies were bigger than he was,” his mother said.
Her son succeeds, she went on, because he has “a determination and a drive that I've never seen in kids his age. And all his teachers have said this. ... He practices (a lot). He's constantly building bicycle jumps or working on his dirt bike track. He just has a drive that's different.”
Cobey Carper admits he sometimes gets nervous on his motorcycle, “but not that often. If I'm doing really good, but then I almost crash, then I get a little nervous,” he said. “It's like, whoa, that was (close). But sometimes going up onto the line I get a little nervous just because of all the people.”
When it comes to nerves, Nel Lisa Carper admits she suffers more than anyone in the family. Watching her son racing along a dirt track, going airborne over jumps, and occasionally spilling his bike and himself, “it's scary,” she said. “My husband and I stand on the sidelines and cheer a little bit, but there's a lot of stress that goes into this, especially at these big races. He's going much faster than we've ever seen our kid go.”
Even though her son wears a protective vest, a neck brace and a helmet, “it is still very, very hard to watch him ride,” she added. “It's so great he's doing what he (loves) doing. But at the same time, every time he suits up I'm scared to death.”
She combats her nerves at races by busying herself taking pictures. “I have to do it because otherwise I'd be a mess,” she said.
The family, which also includes younger son Josh — he is 8 and also a promising rider — will leave for Tennessee in about a week, traveling with a truck and trailer. Racing begins on July 27 and continues to Aug. 3.
With top riders coming from across the country, “it'll be the best of the best,” Nel Lisa Carper said.
In the years to come, Cobey Carper wants to continue riding. His goal is to race professionally, like 18-year-old Darian Sanayei of Monroe who has mentored the youngster and is preparing to turn pro himself, and top rider Ryan Villopoto, who has won several motocross and supercross championships in recent years.
And all because “going fast is fun,” he said.
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