Local

Rock Hill teen to become motocross pro

Les Smith, 16, stands with some of his motorcycles at his Rock Hill home. Smith won the national championship in amateur motocross for his experience level this month. Next year, he'll be a professional racer in a sport whose top racers make millions. Top, Smith in action.
Les Smith, 16, stands with some of his motorcycles at his Rock Hill home. Smith won the national championship in amateur motocross for his experience level this month. Next year, he'll be a professional racer in a sport whose top racers make millions. Top, Smith in action.

Sure, 16-year-old Les Smith of Rock Hill won the national championship in amateur motocross for his experience level this month. He got two more trophies to go with the mountain that has filled his parents' living room -- along with one of his winning bikes, propped up right there near the fireplace -- since he started racing competitively at age 6.

Yet, he won with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He needed a cortisone shot and more medications to race. The knee still makes a squeaking sound when he walks and is swollen and lumpy.

"But compared to the three vertebrae fractured in his back, and the bruised sternum, and the third-degree burns on his hip near the groin, and the bottom teeth knocked loose and wired back in, I guess he could handle the knee," said dad Marty Smith.

Injuries don't stop Rock Hill's national champ, who beat all comers on 250cc and 450cc motocross bikes at the races in Tennessee. One time, Les, at age 13, cut a cast off his arm right at the track so he could race.

"This sport, you will crash," Les said. "You have to be tough."

Les gets back on his motorcycles every time because he has one eye on more than trophies and plaques. This time next year, he will be a professional racer in a sport whose top racers make millions.

All before he is a high school graduate.

Les has been such a racing prodigy that Sue Ellen and Marty Smith home-schooled him so he could train and race almost every weekend. He's kept top grades, takes advanced courses, and is one sharp, bright kid.

"Les has kept up his end of the bargain, so whatever we need to do to help him become the best, we'll do it," said Marty Smith, who works for Duke Power.

Les and his mother live most of the year in Florida, training with a professional world champ. After next year's amateur championships that Les must race in to move on to the pros, he'll race full time.

"I'll do well in school, get my high school diploma and leave the college option open for after my run on the motorcycles," Les said.

Riding motorcycles full time isn't for the squeamish. He rides bicycles about 30 miles a day for endurance, lifts weights and trains.

Next week, Rock Hill buddies -- some who went to Tennessee to watch him win -- will go to English class. Les and his mother instead will head to California. He will do his home-school work, then be the subject of a photo shoot for a Honda brochure. Then, he will race some more.

Since Les first won a lower level national title two years ago, he's got his driver's license and avoided a speeding ticket. He's found time for a girlfriend. He rides his father's Harley-Davidson or drives one of the family pickup trucks. He even has driven a motor home and trailer to Florida and back.

Les doesn't worry that his teen years are different from almost every other kid.

"I might be able to retire at age 25," he said. "This is my chance."

  Comments