Published 12:00 am Friday, June 23, 2006

Pair of local riders taking skills to national level

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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VALLEY GRANDE – Keenan “Slick” Sanders had a knack for winning at motocross almost literally since he straddled a bike.

In his first race, he looked around and saw riders in full gear and an obvious look of experience in their eyes.

Then he looked down and eyed the cutoff jeans he was wearing.

In Sanders’ words, he didn’t just beat his competitors. He “smoked ’em.”

About a decade later, competitors are still looking at the track through the dust flying off his back tire.

“When you can win a motocross race and you’re riding against really tough competition, coming across that finish line first…” Sanders interrupted himself as he leaned back and sighed heavily, unable to finish his sentence.

Yeah, it feels that good.

Motocross riders don’t just crank up and go around in circles until a checkered flag is waved.

They race in sweltering weather, wearing a uniform and protective gear that adds even more heat.

They run tracks that get so worn during the course of a race, a full-grown man could stand knee-deep in the ruts.

So the fact that the 15-year-old Sanders and 6-year-old Kyler Godwin are going to compete in the AMA/Air Nautiques Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch is a very big deal.

Both are Alabama State Championship winners in their respective classes – Sanders in the 125 C Stock and Godwin in the 50cc 4-6 (age).

Godwin is the only Alabamian in his class to qualify for the event. Sanders is going for the first time after what he says has been five or six attempts.

They will both compete against 41 of the best riders in the country July 1-August 5 in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.

Each driver has to qualify in area and then regional competition to punch their tickets to the event.

Godwin, nicknamed “Hole Shot” because of the way he begins races, said that is his favorite part.

“I like starting out of the starting gate,” Godwin said.

Bike racing is not like any other sport. It is far more expensive, to begin with. Bikes can cost several thousand dollars. Throw in the cost of maintenance, travel, and entry fees for events, and the ticket adds up.

But to already be considered one of the top racers in the country without even setting foot on the championship track makes it worth it.

“You couldn’t imagine,” said Jason Godwin, Tyler’s father. “As hard as he’s been working, most kids wouldn’t even attempt it. And when they do, they don’t make it.”

Thirty-three classes will run three times each to determine the respective champions, making it a weeklong event.

For the drivers that win, their names become well known among the circuit, and the sponsorships and accolades come rolling in.

Sanders, looking as if he could already see the course ahead of him, tried to sum up what it would be like.

“It’s a big adrenaline rush with 41 other guys going down a bottleneck straightaway,” he said. “The whole week, you run the track and you have to train right. You only get to fall once; everybody is so good. If you win this, you’re set.”