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Motocross action: Fair event puts injured racer back on a bike
Hundreds of quad, pee wee and motocross riders gathered from all over California to compete Saturday at the Food Maxx Arena at the Stanislaus County Fair. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

Saturday not only marked the near end of the Stanislaus County Fair, but also concluded the over week -long period of motorsports action at the Food Maxx Arena with quads, pee wee bikes and motocross competitors taking the action to the dirt track.

Many of the riders, who represented  ages from as young as seven to 30 and older, consisted of locals but there were also competitors from the Bay Area and throughout Northern California who came out looking for a top place finish and the possibility of moving on to the next race.

“It’s fun, I love it. I love the sound of the motor, I love the dirt and I like adrenaline. This is it, it’s awesome,” said Hilmar native Tanner Gemperle, who competed in the quad series.

Amongst the racers who competed for the love of the sport was Steve Hoot, a 28-year-old Turlock native who had not picked up a bike since he was 22 after a near fatal motorcycle accident.

At the time, Hoot had just signed on to race at the professional level but the crash that punctured his lung, cracked his sternum, rib and back, left him wondering if he would ever walk again — let alone ride again.

“Basically I broke a bunch of stuff,” said Hoot. “I was actually training for arena cross but, unfortunately, I got hurt.”

Six years later, Hoot decided to pick up and ride once again, this time using his friend’s bike,  deciding to compete at the fair in the 250 class for beginners — just for fun.

Despite a first place finish in the first race, he failed to finish the second race after a crash depleted his positioning and also the mental aspect, remembering that he nearly lost his life and he decided to pull back because he said his life was more important now that he is older.

“I had high expectations to run today and I ran in an easy class. It was my fault for running with people that are just beginning,” Hoot said. “I had nothing to prove so that’s why I pulled out, it was good enough. Winning the first moto was good enough to let me know I could still ride a little bit.”

While many competed for a top placing and results, the new up and coming stars saw this as an opportunity to continue practice races with local competition.

Such was the story for Turlock’s Austin Nickel, who began racing at the age of 2 and is now 8-years-old competing in the 7-8 beginners 50 class. Nickel took first place in Saturday's first race.

“I am not too sure how I won, I got a good start and worked around some people by keeping the gas up,” Nickel said. “My dad told me to stay on the gas on straightaways and the turns as well.”

Nickel is far ahead of his competition in experience and hopes that he can continue to do the sport he loves.

“I love having fun out there and winning,” said Nickel. “Being out there is fun and the adrenaline rush feels great as well.”

“If anyone did this sport, they would probably never want to do anything else ever again,” Hoot added. “If I could do it for work I would, but I’m too old for that. It’s amazing, just your freedom and you don’t think of anything ...don’t need to worry about bills or anything.”