SPRING HILL — For most parents, the idea of a 5-year-old child riding a motorcycle is something out of a bad dream. For David Stodart, it was no less terrifying.
"It was a nightmare," said Stodart, the father of 9-year-old Devon Stodart. "He wanted a motorcycle when he still had training wheels on his bicycle."
The story goes that David promised Devon that he could have a motorcycle when he could ride his bicycle without training wheels. The next day, the wheels were off and Dad was off to the store buying his son a Yamaha 50.
Almost four years later, Devon is now one of the top dirt bike riders in the country in his class. He's headed to Hurricane Mills, Tenn., after qualifying for the Air Nautiques/American Motorcyclist Association Amateur National Motocross Championships Aug. 2-7.
The rambunctious youth went from riding his Yamaha to trying to jump the motorcycle. Since it wasn't made for jumps, David traded it in to buy Devon a KTM 50 with better suspension, and Devon began to take his riding more seriously.
He began to follow his motocross heroes like Ricky Carmichael and Travis Pastrana more closely. Both riders parlayed titles at the AMA National Championships at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Tennessee into long careers.
"The amateur nationals at Loretta Lynn's is the event every motocross racer in the country wants to compete in," AMA event director Tim Cotter said. "A win at the amateur nationals can serve as a springboard to a lucrative professional motocross career."
This past year, Devon has been more dedicated to his sport than ever. He expanded his competition from riding 50cc bikes to 60cc bikes, and sometimes to 85cc. His win total surpassed 40 for his career.
While he usually competes weekly at his home track in Dade City, Devon has found time to enter events in New York, Kentucky and all around Florida. When the qualifying run for AMA began, his focus sharpened even more.
Devon won the Southeast Area Qualifier in Bradenton in both the 50cc and 60cc races. He won the Mideast Area Qualifier in Thunder Valley, Ky., in the 50cc race. The success moved him on to the Mideast Regional Qualifier in London, Ky. He placed fourth in that 50cc race when he struggled with some technical problems, but the performance was good enough to get him to Tennessee.
Some would be surprised at the amount of physical endurance it takes to ride in a motocross event. Devon trains at least four times a week around the Tampa Bay area to keep himself in prime condition on his bike. On his off days, he runs the stairs at Booster Stadium at Springstead High School for 30 to 40 minutes, no small feat for a kid his age.
"If you think about the fact that they're going to run 20 minutes on a track a mile long on unimaginable terrain, you better be in shape," his father said. "After about 10 minutes, kids start to get tired. It's going to be 95 to 100 degrees out there."
Devon is no fan of the conditions, but he thrives on the competition. In fact, there are two things that he can picture himself growing up to be: the first is a professional motocross rider; the second is a lawyer. While most would see those as two diverse alternatives, one thing they have in common is hard work.
Devon is a straight-A student at Spring Hill Christian Academy, demonstrating a strong work ethic both in and out of the classroom.
If he can finish in the top three in his class at nationals and make his way to the podium, big things await. While he already has a few sponsors, there are larger deals on the horizon for this budding local star.
Now riding a King Cobra 50, he's already gone through a field of more than 20,000 hopefuls to reach a competition that will include only 1,386 participants. Devon's event will feature 42 riders.
"I love every second of it," Devon said, "the excitement, the nervousness, the desire to push harder this race than last race."