|By Jennifer Sawyer|
Jack Pagano doesn't participate in your typical sort of extra-curricular activity. While his peers at Mile Tree School in Wilbraham try their skills at soccer, dance, and baseball, the seven-year-old finds his excitement in a more extreme craft: motocross.
Jack has recently qualified for the the 25th Annual Air Nautiques Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn's Ranch in Tennessee. He will be among 42 racers nationwide to participate in his age category.
To earn a spot in the Nationals, Jack first had to race in an area competition in Southwick where he took top place. He then moved on to the regional competition in Binghampton, NY, where he raced against 30 other competitors from 14 different states in a series of three races. Despite a nerve-racking moment when his starting gate got stuck, Jack still managed to come in third place overall, earning him a spot at the upcoming National Competition in Tennessee.
"It's basically the Superbowl of racing," said Jim Pagano, Jack's father.
A typical motocross race consists of a series of different jumps and ranges from three to five laps, depending on the size of the track.
Jack began racing at age three when he received his first bike. At age four, he participated in his first real competition in a rocky-soil arena in Middleboro. He came in third place.
From there, Jack's love for racing took off. He has upped his collection of motorbikes to four cycles and has participated in races across the Northeast. Jack tries to practice once a week, but often runs into difficulty finding a place to perfect his craft. Many areas are not open to motocross racing, and his family is always looking for a new place to try. His current racing schedule runs from early April through October. He usually competes every weekend.
"My friends think it's cool and they always ask me if I win," he said.
Jack cites professional motocross riders Ricky Carmichael and James "Bubba" Stewart, both accomplished athletes who have been racing since early childhood, as his role models and favorite racers.
"They're really fast," he said.
Racing is not new to the Pagano family. Jack's older sister, Hannah, used to race, and Jack's father rode dirt bikes with his cousins when he was younger. He explained that his family have been motocross fans for as long as he can remember, and is excited to have his son carry on the tradition.
"It's so exciting," Pagano said. "It's like reliving a part of my childhood."
The soon-to-be second grader is especially confident in his racing abilities. Jack explained that he doesn't usually get nervous prior to races, but he does have a few good-luck charms. He claims to eat five hard-boiled eggs before every competition.
"Then I do a special handshake with my mom," he added.
For Jack's mother, Julie Pagano, safety is the biggest concern. Her son wears a complete set of pads and one of the best helmets on the market. Although Jack has never had any serious injuries, he has had a few scares. But despite occasional falls and bruises, the seven-year-old always finds a way to persevere. His father recalled a race that was particularly hard to watch when his son broke his arm.
"He just picked up his bike and finished the race anyway. In the future we just hope he has a lot of fun and stays safe," Pagano added.
The Pagano family recently purchased a trailer, a move that will greatly assist with their increased amount of traveling to and from Jack's races. The family makes a point to travel together, and enjoys each other's company in what they feel is a strongly family-oriented sport.
"All families stay together in campers. The kids all run around together," Pagano said. "It's a comfort to have people together that are sharing the same experience. Everyone becomes one big family."
Aside from motocross, Jack plays hockey for the Springfield Pics traveling team throughout the winter season. He also spends nearly every afternoon, after school, riding his bicycle. Despite being busy, the Paganos said Jack has missed very little school and his academic life has not suffered. In the fall, he looks forward to attending Stony Hill School.
Jack's parents look forward to watching the growth of his talent. As he matures, he will make the transition into older age categories and higher skill-level competitions.
"I just hope he keeps the passion," Jim Pagano said. "You realize that you have to give it your all."