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May 12, 2021

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One lucky break for Thai motocross riders

December injury provides an unusual opportunity for pair at Washougal National

By , Columbian Sports Editor
Published:
3 Photos
Antonio Atiyoot, a 13-year-old from Thailand, races in a 85cc motocross race Thursday at Washougal Motocross Park.
Antonio Atiyoot, a 13-year-old from Thailand, races in a 85cc motocross race Thursday at Washougal Motocross Park. (Photo courtesy of (Hannah Balcos) Photo Gallery

WASHOUGAL — It was a painful and lucky break.

When 13-year-old Antonio Atiyoot broke his foot on a motocross track in his native Thailand, he never dreamed the injury would allow him to ride in the United States just eight months later.

Yet, there was Atiyoot launching off the jumps this week at Washougal Motocross Park.

Saturday’s Washougal MX National has brought hundreds of pro and amateur riders to Clark County. Each has a unique story that has led them to Washougal.

But few can match Atiyoot’s for its improbability.

Motocross is an emerging sport in Thailand. Atiyoot is a two-time national champion for his age and is coached by Chaiyan Romphan, a top-ranked Asian rider in the 250cc class.

But the sport has its perils. Atiyoot broke his foot while riding in December.

How could an injury open a door of opportunity? Enter Mel McCormick.

The Cle Elum resident has remained involved in the sport since he began racing in the 1980s. But McCormick was purely on a sightseeing trip when he visited Thailand over the New Year holiday.

A friend had offered a place to stay. One night, that friend asked if they could pay someone a visit.

“He said, ‘I was riding last week with a family and the young boy broke his foot,’ ” McCormick said. “He wanted to see how he was doing.”

So McCormick followed his friend to the Atiyoot family’s house, where the 13 year old lay in his bed, a cast on his leg.

“I looked around his room and there were just walls of trophies,” McCormick said.

That evening, through the conversation’s twists and turns, McCormick asked whether Atiyoot would like to come to the United States for a few races.

At first, Atiyoot thought McCormick was just extending a casual friendly invitation. But McCormick was serious.

After a few months of hammering out the details, plans were made for Atiyoot, his family, and the rider/coach Romphan to come to America.

“I was very excited,” Atiyoot said through an interpreter. “I wanted to get myself very fit to prepare for the race.”

Top riders in America have physical trainers and full gyms. Atiyoot learns by watching YouTube videos of how famous riders prepare.

Atiyoot doesn’t have a gym, so he improvises by using whatever is on hand. In a video on his Facebook page, he exercises with a contraption that uses a bar, a cable and pulleys to lift a large bag of sand.

The Thai riders arrived in the Northwest early last week. They have been busy since.

On bikes supplied by Hillsboro MotorSports, they have raced near Seattle, at Portland International Raceway and at Mountain View Motocross Park near Sandy, Ore.

Atiyoot has been holding his own against other young amateurs in the 85cc class.

Romphan won 30-and-older races at PIR and Mountain View, collecting about $250 in prize money. He’ll use that money, which McCormick will match, to buy safety gear for young riders in Thailand, where the average wage is about $400 a month.

Atiyoot and Romphan aren’t in the highest-profile races this weekend at Washougal. Romphan will be in an exhibition race Saturday and a Sunday pro-am that was rained out Friday. Atiyoot will ride his rain-delayed 85cc amateur races Sunday.

But for the Thai riders, there’s a larger meaning to this Clark County visit. Like the circuit of a motocross track, what goes around comes around in spite of the ups and downs.

“I think they’ll take a lot back,” McCormick said. “The kids over there will be more interested in the sport and in Antonio, so in the future he might be able to pick up a young rider like Chaiyan has.”

Five things to watch at Washougal National

1. It’s Roczen’s World — Ken Roczen is cruising toward his first 450 cc Pro Motocross Championship points title. The 22-year-old from Germany has claimed six of eight events this season, winning 13 of 16 motos. He has a sizable 55-point lead with four events to go in the season. Roczen was fourth at Washougal last year and is seeking to become just the fourth international rider to win at Washougal in 35 years.

2. Dungey sidelined — Nobody has owned Washougal like Ryan Dungey, who has won the 450 cc class five of the past six years. But Dungey is out for the year after cracking a vertebra in the season’s third race. With Dungey out, the favorites are Roczen and Justin Barcia, who placed second at Washougal last year and is fourth in the points chase.

3. Webb seeks repeat — In the 250 cc class, Cooper Webb hopes to repeat as a Washougal winner. The 20 year old from North Carolina leads the 250 cc chase by 38 points over Jeremy Martin. He has won three of the past four events, during which he hasn’t finished worse than second in any moto.

4. The format — The 450 cc and 250 cc classes will each run two “motos” or races on Saturday. Each race lasts 30 minutes with an additional two laps tacked on to the end. Riders earn points based on their finishes in each race, with 25 points for first place, 22 for second, 20 for third and one point less for each subsequent place. The rider with the most points after both races wins. In case of a tie, the rider who finished better in the second race wins.

5. How to watch — In person, $40 general admission tickets will be available at Washougal Motocross Park at 40205 N.E. Borin Road. Racing starts at 11:35 a.m. with consolation races, followed by the first motos at 1:10 p.m. On television, the second moto will be shown live on NBCSN (Comcast channel 32) beginning at 3:30 p.m.

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