In his helmet and padding, and riding his bike around a muddy incline, it is difficult to distinguish Seth Brown from any other competitor on the motocross circuit.
The difference between Seth and many others is he is only 12 years old. Beginning Monday, he will take part in the prestigious 31st annual Red Bull American Motorcyclist Association Amateur National Motocross Championships in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
For Seth, who dreams about winning gold medals at the X Games on ESPN one day, this is the first step toward stardom in a sport he has been passionate about for years. The ride to the top, however, hasn't been without its share of bumps.
The son of Keith and Valerie Brown of Brooksville, Seth was riding four-wheelers by age 3. He continued riding and eventually racing ATVs competitively until he was 8 before transitioning to dirt bikes.
Seth's ability in the sport was obvious almost immediately, but he was inconsistent in events he entered. With his father, a motorcycle enthusiast, working on the bike and his mother and little brother, Slade, always along for support, Seth struggled with a string of bad luck.
"He always seemed to have a mechanical problem with the bike," Valerie said. "If it wasn't that, it was a flat tire or a crash."
Seth's first tough accident happened in his own back yard early in 2012. Practicing for an upcoming competition on the family's 2 1/2 acres one evening as the sun was going down, he spilled the bike. Although he was bruised a little, he got up and seemed fine.
His mother wasn't so sure as Seth walked stiffly to the shower.
"The next thing we knew, he was being rushed to All Children's Hospital (in St. Petersburg) with a lacerated liver," Valerie said. "He was in the (intensive care unit) for a week."
Not only was Seth confined to a hospital bed and then to his own bed and homeschooling for the next couple of months, but doctors told him he couldn't ride a bike for at least six months. The news shattered him.
"When I hurt my liver, it was the worst thing I've ever gone through," he said. "I just wanted to ride again."
Once he did get his opportunity, Seth was more determined than ever. Taking a page from the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, his motto became "If you're not first, you're last." His parents have sometimes even had to stop him from being his own harshest critic.
Nicknamed "Downtown" by his friends and competitors, Seth picked up victories in the Florida Gold Cup series in Okeechobee on Oct. 7 and then in Dade City on Oct. 13. Capturing the title in the 65 cc (ages 9-11) class both weeks, Seth's accomplishment was more impressive in Dade City because he did it while coping with the flu.
"All I could say at the time was 'Wow,' " Valerie said. "I think that is when I started to see just how good he really could be."
After that display, Seth took the Florida Winter Am series by storm, sweeping the 65 cc (10-11) and 65 cc open (7-11) classes in Dade City on Jan. 13 and winning the 65 cc open (7-11) class in Okeechobee on Jan. 19. He ended up first in the points standings for the 65 cc open (7-11) division, beating out Jackson Kinney from Orlando by 20 points.
Seth crashed in the final event of the Winter Am series in Gainesville and suffered a broken ankle. He needed two screws and was laid up at Shands at the University of Florida, where doctors told him he would need another four months off the bike to recover.
Within days, he was back in the hospital with a double concussion. Frightened at the accident-prone nature of her son, Valerie spoke with a neurologist, who eased her mind.
"The neurologist said that kids like Seth are going to do these things regardless (of their activity) because it's in their personalities," she said. "He could hurt himself playing with his friends or playing baseball the same way. He's just a risk-taker."
The small span of time before the regional event in Gainesville would leave Seth only two weeks to prepare to qualify for the nationals in Tennessee. With very little practice and training, Seth was still able to make the field at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Hurricane Mills.
Equipped with sponsorship from BPM Racing Engines, Stellar MX Graphics, Barney's Motorcycle & Marine of Brooksville, Answer, Tucker Rocky and Dragon Race Fuel, Seth says he is ready for the AMA national championships this week. Even the knowledge that some of his heroes — like Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana and Jeremy McGrath — have won titles at this event doesn't seem to faze the young rider.
"I'm more excited about getting to drive up there," he said. "Once it's time to race, I just have to get a good start and make sure I don't overdrive the bike."