In the winter of 2018, Washougal residents Paul and Sara Kitchen packed their RV and drove their 17-year-old son, Levi, to Kentwood, Louisiana, where he would enroll in the motocross training program. Real Deal at Wildwood MX Park. They knew that Levi could no longer rely solely on his talent and needed professional training if he was to become the best motocross racer he could be. They also knew that they could not continue to financially support his nascent career and that it was time for him to turn his passion into a profession.
Paul and Sarah believed in their son, but couldn’t help but wonder if he was prepared for the demands of adulthood that would be placed on him. They were wondering if they should go back to Pelican State in a few weeks to pick it up.
“I really didn’t think he was going to make it,” Sara said. “I mean, he was a boy from Washougal from a small town who liked to hang out with friends, and now we’re going to leave him and he’s going to learn to cook for himself and do his own laundry?” I didn’t think we taught him enough independence to be alone because we did everything for him when he was here. I said to my husband when we left, ‘I don’t think he will last more than a month.’ “
But it lasted over a month, in fact. Much more. He worked diligently to improve his art and became one of America’s top amateur runners. His efforts paid off earlier this month when he competed in the first professional race of his career.
The Washougal native, 20, a member of the California Monster Energy / Star Racing Yamaha team, finished 12th out of 42 riders in the 250 class race at the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship National RedBud in Buchanan, Michigan on 3 July.
Levi called his 12th place a “super special moment”.
“I knew the nerves were going to come in because it was a whole new experience – fielding 40 of the top guys on a 250 is pretty nerve-racking,” said Levi Kitchen. “But it was a great experience. When I was sitting on the (starting) line, I knew that the “me” of seven years ago dreamed of doing this. Seeing all the hard work paying off and being with the team I’m with and being on that line was definitely a pretty surreal feeling.
In a motocross event, riders complete two races, or “motorcycles”, in which points are awarded and combined to determine the overall classification. Levi overcame his early nerves to finish ninth in the first run, but fell several times and finished in 19th place in the second run.
“I was pretty happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “The day before I was pretty nervous just because there was a lot of hype around it and it was my first professional race. But it went well. The goal was to be as close to the top 10 as possible, so I think finishing 12th was definitely positive. It could have been a lot worse, I guess you could tell.
Levi’s performance exceeded the expectations of his parents, who traveled to Michigan for the race.
“We were shocked,” said Sara. “We said, ‘We would be happy (if he finished) in the top 20, ideally in the top 15. For him to finish 12th after a few switchovers – wow, that was good. He went into the race to learn, and he feels like he accomplished it. They didn’t have high expectations (for him). They said, ‘Go get your feet wet. It’s a really fun race and see where you end up. Going forward and finishing ninth on that first “bike” was an incredible feeling. In the second “bike” he was in the back with the chaos, so he sort of had a bit of both (extremes).
Levi knows he has more work to do, but he’s more confident and “hungry” to succeed after his performance at RedBud, according to Sara.
“I obviously took longer (to turn pro) than most people, but I think it helped me a lot because I’ll be more mature than others when they turn pro,” Levi said. “I know I’m ready now, especially with my experience in Michigan. It definitely gives me a lot more confidence knowing that I belong there. I would really like to get into the top five by the end of the year. I know I can do it.
Levi, who currently lives and trains with his teammates in Florida, will compete as a non-professional for the last time on Monday, August 2, in the AMA National Amateur Motocross Championship at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, enjoying of a new rule that allows amateurs to make their professional debuts and still compete in the professional sports classes of the Loretta Lynn Amateur Circuit.
After the Tennessee race, he plans to compete in the final five LucasOil Pro Motocross Championship races of the 2021 season, then return to Washougal for a short break before returning to Florida to prepare for the 2022 season, his first full year as a that professional. .
“Fortunately (his team) didn’t put too much pressure on him (for the RedBud race), and I don’t think they will for the rest of this outdoor season as this is really his rookie year and he is not eligible for a championship no matter how successful he is, “said Sara.” The real pressure is going to come over the next couple of years as he is under contract (for the 2022 and 2023 seasons) with the Star Yamaha team, and they’re going to expect a winner and (better) performances and championships if they want to. to get another contract signed.
“To see him blossom and become a young adult navigating all this professional stuff is pretty special,” she continued. “We’re pretty excited to say the least. It hasn’t really sunk yet. It’s like, ‘He did it?’ He did it for the next three years.