by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
At 18 Jesse Wentland has not only chosen his profession — motocross racing — but he’s already getting started. Today will be his pro debut at Lucas Oil Red Bull Nationals in Massachusetts.
The Elk River resident has been racing since age 6 and capped a stellar amateur career last week with one championship and one second-place finish in the Loretta Lynn nationals in Tennessee.
“I’ve been racing for 12 years, and this is the time to do it,” said Wentland about going pro. “I have been very dedicated and passionate about motocross.”
Heading into his 11th national meet, Wentland proclaimed “my expectations couldn’t be higher” and he delivered by winning the Open Pro Sport championship (for 250 and 450 cc bikes) while placing second in the 450 cc “A” race.
His dedication is such that he has not been a traditional student since midway though ninth grade at Zimmerman (he graduated from an online school) in order to train and race in the South during winters. And he is fitness and nutrition zealot.
“I take motocross and training very seriously,” said the 5-foot-9, 165-pound athlete, who won the Bubba Bye 5K in Zimmerman on May 5. “I put 100 percent into every workout, whether it’s at the gym, on the track or on the road, either running or biking.”
The regimen includes distance running, mountain and road biking, and workouts for strength and endurance. He holds to an all-organic diet from a nutritionist from Mx Sports, a training group based in South Carolina, where he has spent the last three winters.
His career also requires a heavy commitment from parents, Jesse and Sheila, in time, travel and expenses. Jesse even has a training track at his grandparents’ farm near Cambridge, built by his dad. On the final lap at nationals, his elated father wrote on a pit board. “Twelve years. Thanks, Champ.” Said Sheila: “He’s got the greatest dad. My husband has put his heart and soul into this.”
In 2010, a second-place finish in Schoolboy (12-16) convinced Wentland he could race at high levels. Last year he broke into the “A” class with fourth- and fifth-place finishes at nationals. “This year was my time to shine,” said Wentland, who won 14 of 16 races, mostly at pro tracks Spring Creek in Millville (near Rochester) and Red Bud in Buchanan, Mich., before zipping through an area qualifier in Little Falls and a multi-state regional at Red Bud.
Competitions are three separate motos. At nationals Wentland won two and placed second in the other for a comfortable margin over runner-up Mitchell Oldenberg of Texas. In the 450 he placed second behind another Minnesotan, Zach Williams of Elko.
Each race had 40 cyclists on a winding track with dips, rises and jumps, like Elk River’s ERX except twice as long. Races are a grueling 20 minutes plus two laps. Pro races will be 30 minutes.
“It’s hard work, especially in Tennessee where it’s 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity, too,” said Wentland. “You have to train hard for it … You need strong legs, so you don’t overwork your arms.”
Racing is obviously hazardous, too. Wentland missed half a year at age 13 when he broke and re-broke his lower right leg, and was out a few weeks with a broken scapula two winters ago and a broken (and re-broken) collarbone last winter. None of which seems to dissuade him: “You’ve really got the adrenaline going the whole time, so I don’t really get scared.”
Wentland will join the pro circuit in the Premier 450 class at Southwick National in Massachusetts, followed by events in Unadilla, N.Y., Pennsylvania and California.
“I want to make a living at motocross and win some pro championships,” said Wentland. Also a good student, he has no college plans at this point, aiming instead for a career as a racer and/or trainer or some other aspect of the industry.
THE WENTLAND SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents, Jesse and Sheila; sister, Sidney, 13 … Sport: motorcycle racing … School: Minnesota Virtual Academy … Academics: A’s and B’s
Favorite stuff — Class: world history … TV show: “Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory” … Movie: “The Dark Knight Rises” … Food: Chipotle fare … Drink: water … Athletes: Ryan Dungey, Chad Reed … Reading: motocross magazines … Kickback activities: mountain bike racing, working out