2008-07-30 / Sports

Chester teen satisfies his need for speed

By Jim McConnell

Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Nic Hayes is in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., this week participating in the 27th Annual AMA Amateur National Motosee cross Championships at Loretta Lynn's Ranch.
Even when he was too young to know much else, Nic Hayes knew he loved motorcycles. As often as she tried to deny it, his mother knew it, too.

Diana Hayes was working back then as an emergency room nurse. As such, she was intimately acquainted with the human destruction caused by one false move aboard those powerful machines. She wasn't just going to stand back and let her son turn himself into another casualty.

Eventually it became part of their daily routine: Nic begging Diana for a dirt bike, Diana telling him no.

She bought him a safer alternative, a fancy bike that looked just like a racing motorcycle - except, of course, for the lack of a gasoline-powered engine. Still, nothing could quench the boy's desire.

Finally, when Nic was 11, Diana gave in and bought him a small motorcycle for Christmas. It was a trail bike, neither intended nor properly equipped for racing, but such details mattered little at the time; its purchase was a defining moment for the entire Hayes family.

"It's been our life for the last six years," Diana said of motocross racing, the sport in which Nic has become one of the nation's most accomplished amateurs.

The Hayes clan is in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., this week, living out of their RV while Nic participates in the 27th Annual AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn's Ranch.

More than 20,000 racers from across America began the year hoping to earn enough points to qualify for the world's most prestigious amateur motocross event. Nic, who competed at nationals each of the last two years, was one of only 1,386 to make the cut.

"Once you go once, you have to make it the next year. If you don't, you feel like you haven't accomplished anything," he said.

Considering his relative lack of experience - most of the top professional riders start racing dirt bikes as young as age 5 or 6 - Nic's list of motocross accomplishments is remarkable. Since 2003, the 19-year-old Chester native has won nine series championships in Virginia District 13. He also has six Grand Championship Series and five Extreme Factory Mega Cup Series titles.

His mother, however, is more proud of the person he's become along the way. Twice in the last five years, he's earned District 13 sportsmanship awards for his classification.

"He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't do drugs. He's just very focused on his racing," Diana said. "When you have someone like that, you don't mind going the extra mile to help him. If we were having those problems, we wouldn't be racing."

That's because supporting Nic's racing career has required sacrifice from each member of his family. In an average year, Nic races on 40 of 52 weekends. When he's not competing in local events in Sussex or Dinwiddie counties, he's traveling up and down the East Coast for races in Pennsylvania, New York or Florida.

Nic's dad, Jim, drives the RV and serves as his mechanic. His brothers, David and James, help out by washing the bikes. His mom, who also sets up his competition schedule and pursues sponsorship opportunities, makes sure the RV feels as much as possible like a home away from home.

"I don't even buy groceries for our house most of the time," Diana said with a laugh. "I pack the RV every Friday, unpack it every Monday and bring whatever is left into the house."

Fortunately for Nic's social life, his girlfriend is also a motocross fanatic. Alexis Jeffers, whose father built a dirt track on his Chesterfield County property, frequently travels with the Hayes family and provides moral support on the road.

"It's just like a date," Alexis said. "I wouldn't want anyone different. It's a great lifestyle for him, and I'm just glad to be part of it."

Both of Nic's parents left their previous jobs so they would have the flexibility to travel with him. Jim is now self-employed as a home inspector. Diana works as a real estate agent and also provides home-health care on a part-time basis.

Just as the parents of NASCAR superstar Denny Hamlin did before their son made it to the big time, the Hayes somehow have managed to bankroll the vast majority of Nic's racing career out of their own pockets. From $6,000 for each Honda racing bike to special racing boots ($400 to $600 per pair) to thousands of dollars in gas for the RV, the Hayes spend about $30,000 every year on racing.

"I really don't know how they've done it," Nic said. "I try not to think about it because racing is mental, and it can mess with you, so I just leave the money stuff to them."

Because of the enormous financial commitment associated with a professional motocross career, Nic finds himself at something of a crossroads this week. Last year, three teenage riders - Trey Canard, Nico Izzi and Austin Stroupe - signed six-figure sponsorship contracts after impressive performances at the Amateur Nationals. A similar effort this year could conceivably attract sponsors and serve as the springboard for Nic's pro career.

But while he earned his professional license earlier this year, Nic also has put together a backup plan in case pro motocross doesn't pan out. He graduated from Thomas Dale High School last year, earning his diploma through an online education program that allowed him to train during the day and complete his coursework on a more flexible schedule. He already has his real estate license, and plans to take business classes during the fall semester at John Tyler Community College.

"If you get a ride and somebody is paying you, that's one thing. But I don't want to be a bum. I want to be able to take care of myself," Nic said.

Even if Nic decides not to pursue a pro career, Diana insisted she'll have "no regrets" about the sacrifices her family has made over the last six years.

"I've done what I had to do to make sure he got this opportunity," she added. "I don't know what we'd do on weekends - that would be a big adjustment - but I don't feel like I've wasted any of our money. He's worked hard and proven he can be a champion."

One way or another, motorcycles will always be an important part of Nic's life.

"I don't think he'll ever stop riding," Alexis said. "He'll be 80 and still on a bike."

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