By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
In February, The Oxford Leader ran an article covering eight-year-old Joseph “Joey” Vicari’s third-place finish in the KTM Junior Supercross Series at Houston, Texas’ NRG Stadium, and his desire to qualify for the national finals at the family ranch of country music superstar Loretta Lynn in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee in August.
Since then, two things have happened. First, Vicari celebrated his ninth birthday, and second, he did just that, securing one of 42 spots in the Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship in the seven-and-eight-year-old 50cc Sr. Limited division.
Impressively, Vicari is the only rider from the state of Michigan among the 42 to qualify at his age level.
Though Vicari has turned nine years old, the AMA, which stands for the American Motorcyclist Association and is headquartered in Pickerington, Ohio, uses competitors ages as of January 1, allowing the Oxford resident to continue competing in the same class.
To punch their ticket to Loretta Lynn’s, riders must first place in the top-nine of an area qualifier, which advances them to one of eight regional qualifiers. From there, participants must finish in the top-six of their regional to clinch their shot at a national championship.
In Vicari’s case, he qualified for three regionals, the Mid-East, North Central, and Northeast. The Mid-East was the one where he captured his trip to Tennessee.
Held in Nashport, Ohio on June 26-27, Vicari finished sixth, fourth, and fifth in the three Mid-East qualifying races, good enough for an average finish of five, which awarded him the sixth – and final – national spot out of the region.
78 seven-and-eight-year-olds made the trip to Nashport, all vying for one of those six spots.
To determine a rider’s average finish, all you need to do is add up their finishing places and divide by three for the number of qualifying races. Vicari’s six plus four plus five equals 15; divide by three and you arrive at his average finish of five.
At his regional, Vicari also achieved the distinction of being the highest-finishing KTM rider, as the first five finishers all rode Cobras. Among the 42 competitors to qualify for Loretta Lynn’s, just three did so on a KTM.
Traveling all over America and competing against riders from across our great country, Vicari shared what he has enjoyed most about these last roughly six months.
“Spending time with my family and being able to meet new friends,” he began. “Getting to race against the best kids in the world and across the country.”
While Joey is the one responsible for the finishing positions on the track, this has been a family affair for the Vicaris and this spot in the national finals would not have been possible without his parents, Jaclyn and Dominic, who have been there with him every step of the way, devoting their time and money to make this goal a reality.
Dominic serves as Joey’s mechanic and crew chief, ensuring his dirt bike is race-ready and managing his pit, and Jaclyn helps handle the air filters and tire pressures, everything Joey needs to hit the track running.
Locking up his spot in nationals was not 100 percent smooth sailing for Vicari, however, as on June 2, he suffered a broken collarbone while training at ClubMx in Chesterfield, South Carolina.
“We packed up the RV and headed home in tears, mourning the end of his season and we thought, ‘Well, that’s it,’” Jaclyn shared. “After sitting at home for a week in tears, we decided, you know what, maybe it’s not it.
“We started some intense therapy, and kind of went against the doctor’s wishes, but we had a feeling that maybe, at 23 days post-fracture, he could qualify. So, he had two days of training with his coach prior to the regional and then we threw him out there on the racetrack and he raced the best of the best and pulled out a ticket with a broken collarbone.
“On Tuesday (June 29), we just went back to the doctor and he’s about 60 percent healed. We’re still kind of taking it easy right now, but as soon as he gets fully healed, hopefully in the next two weeks, we’ll get back into real heavy training getting ready for nationals.”
For those of you that are NASCAR on FOX fans, this story reminds this writer of how Darrell Waltrip used to preach the mental toughness and short memory required of drivers to compete at the sport’s highest level. Even after witnessing a wreck collect some of your competitors, many of whom are likely your friends, you must put it out of your mind, act like it never happened, and keep moving forward.
The young Vicari did just that. Many children his age would likely be hesitant to jump back on a dirt bike so soon after suffering a broken bone, but not Joey, he has the mental toughness that will continue to serve him well as his career progresses.
There is another local tie to Vicari’s success, as his coach, Matt Crown, resides in Metamora. The father of an AMA Professional, 22-year-old Joey Crown, the elder Crown has been with Vicari in South Carolina and undoubtedly played a significant role in helping him qualify for Loretta Lynn’s.
The national finals at Loretta Lynn’s will be held from August 2-7, with the schedule of exactly when Vicari will be competing set to be unveiled on July 16. Like the regional qualifiers, the national finals are the best average finish of three races.
Once the action begins, Monster Energy AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship results will be available on mxsports.com. First held in 1982, 2021 will serve as the 40th running of the event.
Regardless of how Vicari fares in Hurricane Mills, two things are certain: He will have an experience he will remember forever, and he has made his hometown proud!