Benek leaves the competition in the dust

Nine-year-old motocross rider looks to take top prize at national race in Walton, Ontario

Julien Benak rips up the track on his property in Maple Ridge in preparation for the TransCan Canadian Grand National Championships in Walton

Julien Benak rips up the track on his property in Maple Ridge in preparation for the TransCan Canadian Grand National Championships in Walton

With his hand revving the throttle, nine-year-old Julien Benek patiently waits for his father Oliver to open the gate on their farm, allowing pent-up energy inside both the young rider and the 65 cc KTM dirt bike to be released.

An overnight rain has made the small track on their two-plus-acre property a little slick. But with a few laps under his belt, Julien starts increasing the speed. Corners come faster as large chunks of mud are chewed up and spit out at a quickening pace.

Then it’s on to hitting jumps, as lap after lap he pushes himself to find the perfect line.

If practice makes perfect, Julien should have a long career in motocross. It’s all he known. His dad, an avid motocross racer, modified an old plastic three-wheel ATV bike when he just learned to walk.  Whether he was ripping through the living room or barreling down the small hills on their property, Julien got what would be considered a ridiculously early start.

Then, the day before he turned two, a friend brought over a small dirt bike. Oliver decided to let his young son take a quick ride up a hill.   Despite a slight crash into a blackberry bush, the boy was hooked.

Now, as Julien prepares for his second crack at the 22nd Annual Parts Canada TransCan National Motocross Championship in Walton, Ont. from Aug. 14 to 18, he says he can think of only one thing better than riding.

“Winning,” he laughs. “That’s what I love most about it.”

There’s been no shortage of that.  His house is a shrine to his trophies, most of which are almost as tall as him. Whether it’s his back-to-back first place finishes at the 2012 and 2013 Western Canadian Amateur Nationals or lapping the field at the  race track in Mission, Julien has quickly established himself as an up-and-comer in the sport of motocross.

Oliver attributes much of his son’s success to  the fact that he’s a quick study. He said his son can pick a line in two short laps, regardless if he’s raced on the track or not. Technically, he says that’s where Julien pulls away from his competition. He says it’s not just being the fasted rider on the track.

“Sometimes I kind of want Julien to have that style. But then as he goes around and picks away at the track, he’s calculating the corners, he’s calculating the jumps. He’s kind of picking the pieces slowly, and it frustrates me,” says Oliver. “I think can’t you just go out there and hold the throttle open and blast through everything

But Julien’s dad ultimately sees the wisdom in his son’s approach.

“Definitely he’s a technical rider. He thinks he’s the fast guy, but he’s the technical guy, picking the smart lines. He’s not attacking the track until he knows it.”

Julien and his father hope to take their technical skills and show them off at the TransCan National Motocross Championships. Last year Julien was the only rider in his 50 cc class that represented B.C.

“He really didn’t have a lot of competition here,” notes Oliver on his decision to travel to Walton for the national championships. “If you’re basically lapping the field, we had to go see what the East has to offer.”

While he was pleased with his fourth place finish, he’s confident he can win this year.

Oliver said last year’s winner was a nine-year-old from New York state who towered over the competition.

“He basically muscled all the kids off the track,” Oliver recalls. “Now you’ll be nine and you can be the big kid on the track.”

Julien agrees.

“It’s my turn to smoke them,” the nine-year-old laughs.

While they are confident of their chances, they know nothing in sports is guaranteed. One bad corner can be the difference from first to fifth.  Oliver also says just competing at an event so far away provides its own challenges. Last year the family loaded up the RV and head out on the road for the 50-plus hour drive to Ontario. The taxing trip certainly took its toll on their stamina. This year they decided to fly to the event.      The trip was made easier when the company BigSteelBox offered to ship the four members of Team B.C.’s bikes to the event.

Oliver feels the added rest should benefit them come race day.

“If you want to race their you have to be determined. I know he has the speed and technical skills, so it will be worth it so see where he stacks up to the rest of the country.”