Loretta Lynn died on October 4. While many will know her for being one of the biggest country music stars of all time, only a few will be aware of the pivotal role she played in American motocross– opening his ranch to host the US National Amateur Motocross Championships. It completely changed the trajectory of the sport.
Until Loretta Lynn stepped in in the early 1980s, the amateur championship was disjointed, confusing, and downright frustrating for riders and families who wanted to compete. The race itself would go around the horn on a different track each year, giving a huge home field advantage to the locals who had more laps. A motorcycle parent and motocross racing promoter, Dave Coombs, was fed up with the lackluster experience and wanted to do something about it.
Coombs had heard about Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, through her friend Paul Schlegel, who told him how great it would be as a family escape from racing. Schlegel was not wrong, because Lynn had built a camping on the grounds, with room for activities like swimming and horse riding and even mini golf. So Coombs and his family went to visit the ranch on their way home from a motocross race in Oklahoma. They loved it. Dave was going for a jog in the field when he had a brilliant idea, realizing that the ranch would be an ideal place to host the National Amateur Motocross Championship; it would be neutral ground with plenty of space and amenities for runners and their families.
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But pitching the idea wasn’t as simple as simply asking for the country music star and giving him the lift. Instead, Coombs found Mooney Lynn, Loretta’s husband, and sold her the concept. (Coombs, it turns out, was a savant at convincing other people of his ideas.) Mooney wasn’t entirely receptive to the idea at first, citing previous motorcycle companies they’d tried with relatively good results. lukewarm. However, once Coombs clarified that these races would involve dirt bikeshe immediately offered him a five-year contract.
Neutral ground, Loretta Lynn’s ranch – often referred to simply as “Loretta’s” – provided an even playing field, as riders were only allowed to do laps during the event itself. As well as eliminating terrain advantage at other tracks, this meant competitors didn’t have to worry about cross-country driving just to be able to compete. “When the amateur nationals were held in Sacramento in the late 1970s, it would have been tough for someone from Pennsylvania to get there,” says Brett Smith, a motocross journalist who raced at Loretta in 1986. and 1997. It was also much more organized, with qualifying races across the country setting the stage for the event.
“Loretta is the holy grail of amateur motocross racing,” says Smith. “This is where you want to see and be seen.” To offer some perspective, it’s the motocross equivalent of the NFL’s combine. However, there really is no other sport that makes it so easy to line up against the nation’s best and prove your worth. The who’s who of motocross all started their careers at Loretta – think names like Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Jeff Emig, among many others.
While it probably feels like a very serious event, when the riders are between motos, it’s anything but. Smith’s family, along with many others, also treated the championship weekend as a vacation. “I remember learning to swim in Loretta’s pool,” Smith says. “We would walk down to the creek, swim and jump off the cliffs, play in the pool, then ride our bikes.”
The event went smoothly until 2021, when massive flooding hit the area after Loretta’s race that year. Nearly 17 inches of rain fell in just a few hours; the flood leveled almost the entire motocross facility. The ranch is estimated to have suffered over $1 million in damage. It also cost the life of ranch manager Wayne Spears as he worked with campground manager Chuck Mcelyea to salvage whatever equipment they could. MX Sports, local businesses and many motorcycle industry entities have banded together and rebuilt the facilities for the 2022 AMA National Amateur Championship at Loretta Lynn.
Loretta Lynn was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame last year for her contributions to the sport. Its namesake event lives on – now over 40 years in a row – as one of the greatest amateur motocross races in the world.
Matt Crisara is an Austin native with an unbridled passion for cars and motorsports, both foreign and domestic, and as an automotive editor for Popular mechanics, he writes the majority of automotive coverage on digital and print. He was previously a contributing writer for Motor1 after internships at Circuit Of The Americas F1 Track and Speed City, an Austin-based broadcaster focused on the world of auto racing. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he raced mountain biking with the varsity club team. When he’s not working, he enjoys sim racing, FPV drones and the great outdoors.