The most coveted
sports trophy is not the elegant $4,000 silver creation that goes to the winner
of horse racing's Triple Crown. It is not the $40 gold medal that symbolizes an
Olympic triumph. Nor is it the $10,000 jeweled gold Hickok belt that goes to
the professional athlete of the year.
fought-over trophy just has to be a little mass-produced plastic and base metal
statue, worth about $5 at most, that goes to a new American breed, the more
than 10,000 children who race undersized motorcycles at some 1,500 to 2,000
tracks around the country. The kids spend their waking hours thinking about the
trophies, and their parents will do almost anything—including spending
thousands of dollars and in some cases flouting the rules—to get the trophies
into the house.
In the modest
Downey, Calif. home of a machine-shop worker there is a bedroom that in many
ways seems typical of a 15-year-old daughter. The bed is canopied and covered
with stuffed animals; there are nail polish and other cosmetics on the dressing
table. But the girl is a minicycle racer. Her trophies fill every inch of table
and shelf space in her bedroom and spill over onto the floor, indeed spill over
into the adjoining hall, the den and the living room.
The girl and her
family are up to their ears in trophies, and the proud father can tell how each
was won. "This was our first," he will say. 'This one's just for third;
we didn't do so good that time. But this one we got in the Winter Nationals in
Florida. My daughter's pretty famous, you know. We've gotten a lot of fan mail
A father, mother
and two boys who live in a nearby neighborhood have almost 200 trophies and
have run out of room for them. Every time they win a new one, the boys send an
old one to their grandparents in Colorado. Eventually even the grandparents
will probably have to call a halt and send some of the trophies to casual
Kids may shoot
marbles for fun, may play catch for fun, may shoot baskets for fun—but in bike
racing it's the trophies that matter. One racing father recalls: "We got
our son his first bike when he was six, but he just didn't get anywhere. He was
never even close to the leaders. Then we heard about a track where they gave
100% trophies, a trophy for every kid who entered. So we drove up there one
night—80 miles through rotten traffic—to get us a trophy.
that was just breaking the ice," the father says. "Now my son is nine
and he's got 72 trophies. My daughter, who is 12, got into it, too, and she's
got 16. She could have a lot more, but you know how girls are. They get spells.
She quit it for a while after she dumped her bike and then she got dumped again
when she was hit from behind, and quit some more. But I think she's coming
along all right now." The little girl tends to agree. "I've been
thinking that maybe I'd like to be a pro racer when I get old enough," she
says. Her father beams.
racing circuit is a form of Little League for rugged individualists. There are
tracks from one end of the nation to the other, and any kid on a motor-driven
pair of wheels can enter any race anywhere for a fee of from $2 to $10. At most
tracks there are races for babies, ages 2½ to 6. There are other races limited
to 7-and 8-year-olds, others for 9-to 11-year-olds, others for children 12
through 16. (At 17 a child is considered too old for the miniature machines and
has to graduate to the big motorcycles if he wants to keep racing, which most
of them say they plan to do.) The winner in every class gets a trophy. So,
usually, do the second-and third-and even up to fifth-place finishers. In the
100%-trophy races a youngster takes home a prize just for showing up at the
starting line—even if, as often happens, he falls off at the first turn or the
bike quits running long before the checkered flag.
How many little
bike racers are there in the country? Nobody really knows, but there are enough
to make the manufacture, sale and servicing of minicycles a big business and to
justify a thriving magazine named MiniCycle, which now appears every month fat
with ads for manufacturing companies like Attex, Chaparral, Gemini, Hodaka,
Honda, Indian, Kami, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Rupp, Simplex and Steen. The magazine
descriptions of the new bikes tell a lot about the fiercely competitive world
of miniracing: "Hell on wheels." "This one's deadly." "Goes
straight for the jugular."
The quest for
minitrophies is no mini-game, financially speaking. Even a pee-wee bike for the
2½-to 6-year-olds costs around $250. Protection against the inevitable falls
costs the racing family almost as much. A crash helmet and a set of leathers—a
rugged, form-fitting suit to keep the skin intact—runs about $160: a pair of
heavy boots, $40.