It’s not your typical father-daughter outing.
Erica Winkley is in midair, flying 60 feet atop her 250 cc motorcycle. And her dad, Dan Winkley, anxious about the landing, is torn between looking and not looking.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” Dan said.
Erica lands perfectly, hits the throttle and races up another hill on the dirt track, her back tire throwing up mud as she goes.
Motocross has become Erica’s passion. And, in a way, her dad’s nightmare.
“She loves to fly,” he said.
Erica, a junior at Black Hills High School, is an up-and-coming star in motocross. In July, racing against girls 3 and 4 years older, placed sixth at a national amateur race in Washougal. She’s the new motocross queen, usually winning the local races at tracks in Tenino and Onalaska.
“Going fast is the fun part,” Erica said.
Her dad says she reaches speeds of 55 mph on straightaways and just before popping a long jump. She’ll sail 20 feet high, making landings tricky. Over the summer, Erica escaped serious injuries when she slammed into another rider just after landing. A rider had fallen just ahead of her, crashing during a practice lap. Erica landed, spotted the rider ahead of her and tried to turn.
But she was in a deep rut and couldn’t.
“He was just getting up,” Erica said. “I just landed on the guy’s bike.”
Fortunately, Erica didn’t break anything. She did bruise her back.
“That’s the kind of risks you take,” Erica said.
Erica is one of several local riders doing well on the national level. Conner Elliott has won his age bracket at the prestigious Loretta Lynn, a national amateur championship in Tennessee. Courtney
Springer placed in the top five at the national motocross race that Erica raced in this summer at Washougal.
Erica, who has two older sisters, began riding a 50 motorcycle about when she was 5 while visiting friends of the family. When she turned 11, she began racing competitively, riding 150 cc. She’ll often enter 25 races in a year.
“She’s got quite the trophy room,” Dan said.
After playing fastpitch as a freshman at Black Hills, Erica gave up fastpitch to focus on racing. She’s hoping to one day turn pro.
“That’s my dream,” Erica said.
From Erica’s first race, she’s had the support of her parents, who drove her to races nearby and across the state. It’s been an introduction to motocross for both mom and dad. Dan hadn’t ridden a motorcycle. Now, he’s his daughter’s chief mechanic, tearing apart an engine and putting it back together.
“I knew absolutely nothing about motorcycles,” Dan said. “My oldest daughter was a basketball junky. That’s what my passion was. This motocross thing was new to me.”
Like Dan, her mom, Rhonda, is an anxious supporter.
“My mom is a wreck during a race,” Erica said. “She wants me to do well. She also wants me to be safe.”
Besides the long jumps, the start of a race is also both risky and critical. Because of the crowded start, it’s easy to get bumped off your bike and left behind. Erica just tries to get out in front, away from the pack.
“The start is a huge factor in how you do in the a race,” Erica said. “There’s so many of us. If someone goes down right in front of you, you’re going down, too. You just hope for the best.”
In the winter, Erica will compete in a series of indoor races called the Mudslinger in Clark County. Besides racing and practicing, Erica will also workout in the gym, lifting weights to get her arms and core stronger to help brace for landings.
“The landings are more physical than people can imagine,” said Erica, who has never gone over her handlebars but has nearly hit her head on the front fender. “You’ve just got to hold on.”
Hold on and hit the accelerator.
“It’s fun,” Erica said.