PERRIS, Calif. — Opee is only 8, but he's already a popular veteran in the down and dirty sport of motocross.
He can pull 6 Gs. He has been the centerfold for Cycle News and poses regularly for fan photos. He's a survivor of the grueling Baja 500 and has racked up more than 10,000 hours on a dirt bike.
Sometimes, you can barely see the 70-pound pooch — a blue merle Australian shepherd — through the dust on his goggles and his custom helmet, complete with cam.
"I am his biggest fan," said Mike Schelin, Opee's owner, race partner and a purveyor of used motorcycle parts from a shop next to his mobile home.
Schelin got the dog in 2001 shortly after his divorce. He raises him with other dogs and two horses at a spread he calls Miracle Flats. Known as the Dogfather to some in the sport, Schelin always takes a back seat to Opee.
"He was my instant best friend," Schelin said. "He slept in my tool bag. There was something about him. He's had charisma since Day One. I knew I had a dog who could make a difference."
Schelin, 41, realized he had a four-legged motocross fan as a pet when he started riding in the desert with Opee on the chase.
"I felt bad for him, he would run so long." So Schelin bought a four-wheeler and they went desert riding together. The dog didn't like the dust in his eyes, so Schelin got him goggles. One day, Opee ditched the four-wheeler and hopped on the motorcycle tank, where he has been ever since, Schelin said.
Schelin doesn't go racing without Opee these days. "I can't go as fast without him. I can't jump as far without him. I don't feel as safe without him. He's become a natural part of the bike with me. We have this natural rhythm."
Even the most skilled motocross racer has a plaster cast past and Opee is no exception. His worst crash came in the 2006 Baja 500.
"We took a spill at 75 mph in the dirt and went into a 40-foot skid," Schelin said.
The dog isn't attached to the bike or Schelin in any way. He skinned his nose and scraped his paw. Schelin sliced his leg. The injuries weren't enough to put them out of the race though.
"I would never do anything to hurt my dog," Schelin said. "Opee keeps me in check at all times. If he doesn't jump up on the bike, we don't go."