(Brianna Loper / The Columbian)
(Paul Valencia/The Columbian)
WASHOUGAL — This is the year.
This has got to be the year.
Ryan Villopoto has got to win in Clark County eventually.
The 2013 points leader of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship has won 11 of 14 motos this season in the 450 class, four of the seven overalls. That gives him 27 overall victories in his motocross career, including those years he competed in what was then called the MX Lites.
Yet the rider who grew up three hours north of Washougal in Poulsbo has never won the motocross event in his home state.
"It's been a little tough. That's part of racing, though," Villopoto said.
Villopoto will try to end this bad run with a victory Saturday in the Peterson Cat Washougal National, the eighth round of the series.
"Most definitely, this is going to be his year," said Kyle Garman, a 22-year-old fan from Washougal. "The way he's riding, it's absolutely going to be his year."
Garman and his mother, Kari Murphy, decorated their fence outside their home with "Go Villopoto" signs. The house sits on the main street that leads to Washougal River Road, and thousands of fans on their way to the Washougal MX Park just might take notice.
"I was a moto-mom for years, and I loved it," Murphy said, referring to the days when she would watch Garman ride at Washougal.
"He's our local Washington guy," Murphy said. "We've loved to watch him over the years."
"The first time we saw him, he was amazing," Garman recalled.
Ask around the motocross park this week, and surely you will find others with similar respect for Villopoto. Even if he has not won here.
It is not as though he has never had any success in Washougal. He has come close. He has won a moto. Mostly, it's been a case of bad luck, bad timing. Just getting to Washougal to compete has been a challenge.
Injuries have kept him from riding in Washougal in three of the past four years. In 2011 -- his 450 championship season -- Villopoto won the first moto at Washougal and had a big lead in the second moto before the race was halted after a crash. Ryan Dungey took the lead on the re-start and won that second moto and the overall title.
"I haven't been able to seal the deal with the overall," he says matter-of-factly.
There is no curse. Just racing, he said.
Still, Villopoto understands what it would mean to his fans if he were to get a win Saturday in Washington.
"A lot of people have watched me grow up, watched me race here," Villopoto said. "It would be nice to finally get a win here."
He might not know the feeling in Washougal, but Villopoto knows the rush that winning provides.
After finishing second in the overall to Dungey in the sixth round of the series this season, Villopoto went 1-1 in Michigan two weeks ago to get back on top of the podium.
"A win anywhere is huge," Villopoto said. "At RedBud (in Buchanan, Mich.), there were a lot of fans. They were crazy loud. Any time the fans are into it, it's amazing. It would be really cool to win here. I'm sure the fans would be very into it."
Villopoto is not just thinking about a win in Washougal. He acknowledged he is looking at the bigger prize — the points title.
In his championship year of 2011, he came into Washougal trailing by six points. He left town with the lead. However, with four rounds remaining, it was too close to call.
This year, he comes into Washougal with a 42-point lead, a huge number considering the most a rider can earn in a round is 50 points.
"If you do have the points lead, and it's a big one, you're already thinking you have to minimize mistakes and be consistent," Villopoto said.
That does not mean cautious. Villopoto and his Monster Energy Kawasaki team want victories.
"We're trying to improve the bike and work on myself," Villopoto said. "I want to keep the edge."
Villopoto, 24, is under contract with his team through 2015. He is hoping that he won't have to answer the same questions regarding Washougal in 2014 and 2015.
In fact, if it were up to him, next year he will be talking about being the defending champion in his home state.
And maybe even see a few more "Go Villopoto" signs on the way to the track.