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  • Courtesy Connar Troyer races in June at the High Point National in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania. 

  • Courtesy Troyer on his bike at Ironman Raceway in Crawfordsville last month. The Ironman National was the last of 12 Lucas Oil Motocross Championship events this year. 

  • Troyer

Sunday, September 02, 2018 1:00 am

Woodlan grad chasing his dream

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

In some ways, Connar Troyer is just a hair away from the pinnacle of the motocross universe. The Fort Wayne native and Woodlan grad competed in the top level of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, the world's most competitive motocross circuit, for the first time this summer.

If you look at his lap times from qualifying rounds, they're just a few seconds slower than those posted by the giants of the sport. But Troyer, 23, knows that tiny margin counts for a lot in motocross, a sport where riders race dirt bikes on elaborate, enclosed dirt courses. 

“The lap times in practice, they'll be so close,” Troyer said. “But then the race comes, and you'll see people getting lapped. How does that happen? It's how much you are willing to risk that day.”

In the championship series, the fastest 40 racers from the qualifying rounds advance to the main event, made up of two “motos,” or races. Points are awarded to top placers in each moto, and the top combined point-getter wins the event. The series, which included 12 events all over the U.S., concluded at the rain-soaked Ironman National in Crawfordsville on Aug. 25. 

“The jump is hard, going from competing against the five guys in Indiana who are any good, to competing against 100 guys from all over the world that do this for a living,” Troyer said. “The intensity level, it's crazy at the pro level. I can't even explain it. They're ready to kill, pretty much.”

Motocross can be a dangerous sport (Troyer, for example, managed to break both of his legs in an accident when he was 12 or 13), and the competition for a limited pool of winnings just adds to the tension.

This season was a landmark for Troyer, who turned pro in 2016, because he actually earned more money racing than he spent on the sport for the first time. And he's far from the only one to race without much to show for it financially: prize money is usually concentrated among the very top competitors, and Troyer said there are only a few dozen motocross athletes in the world who earn a salary as part of a factory team.

“That's one NFL team,” Troyer said, comparing the number of athletes making money in his sport to the 53-man roster of every pro football team. “It's not just (athletes from) the United States. It's the dudes from France, the dudes from Australia, the dudes from everywhere you could think of – Germany, Puerto Rico. Wherever you name, there's probably a rider from there.”

Like most motocross riders, Troyer took up the sport at a young age, in his case because his grandparents bought him a tiny motorbike as a small child. He wasn't too interested in the sport at first – or, more specifically, didn't have the patience to learn how to ride a dirt bike through fields and flat terrain – but he changed his mind when his motorcycle-enthusiast grandparents took him to Miny O's, a race at Gatorback Cycle Park near Gainesville, Florida. 

“I started out, and it was hard,” Troyer said. “Riding a dirt bike isn't easy. It took me awhile to get it down. Probably at least two or three years before I was any good at all. ... This isn't something you get into at like 20 years old, where you're like, 'OK, I'm going to go race dirt bikes.' I mean, you can, like for a casual, 'I want to go ride with my family on the weekends.' But everyone that races professionally has been doing this since they were 5 years old or 8 years old.”

While Troyer has collected sponsors who help defray some of the costs of the sport, he is still a “privateer,” which means he does not belong to a factory team. While the most successful members of factory teams can focus on training and racing full time and have the help of a staff to handle their equipment, Troyer juggles racing with a job at UPS and a course load at Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

“I have help here and there, but there's no one that's driving a semi with my equipment in it to the race, and I'm not flying there, so that's half the fun, in my opinion,” Troyer said. (The van breakdown on his way to the Budds Creek, Maryland, race last month, however, was less fun.)

Troyer rarely qualified for the final motos this summer, but he says his goal is to break into the top 10 at some point in the future. And if he does find more support from sponsors, or even a factory team, he might be able to drop his job and limit his schedule to motocross and college courses. The window for success in motocross is short (the oldest competitors on the circuit are in their early- to mid-30s), but Troyer thinks he has time to break through.

“I want to race professionally until I'm 28, at least. We'll see how long I can last,” he said. “I don't feel like I've peaked yet in my career. I feel like I learned a lot.”

vjacobsen@jg.net