In a sport that seems to cater to youth, Mike Brown is proving there’s still room for the old guy.
The 41-year-old motorcycle racer from Bluff City, Tenn., has run strong in 2013 and can win the EnduroCross EX Pro championship at 8 p.m. today at Orleans Arena. Brown and two-time defending champion Taddy Blazusiak are tied in the standings with 130 points each, 20 ahead of third-place Cody Webb and 22 in front of fourth-place Colton Haaker.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a fast bike all year,” said Brown, who increased the size of his engine this year from 250ccs to 350. “I’ve won a lot of races in my career, but I’ve never won EnduroCross. It would be very special if I could win.”
This is Brown’s third year on the EnduroCross circuit, a sport that made its debut in the United States in 2004 at Orleans Arena, but he has been riding motorcycles professionally for 23 years.
Like anyone who rides professionally, Brown has had his share of bumps and bruises. His worst injury came in 2001, when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
But three months after having surgery, he was racing again. And he prides himself on his durability.
“I work hard to stay in shape,” Brown said. “I train a lot, and that’s helped me as I’ve gotten older.”
EnduroCross is raced in arenas over a course laden with obstacles, including water, mud, boulders and logs. There are hazards galore to negotiate, and one wrong move can spell disaster.
In 2011, the sport was added to the X Games, a testament to its growing popularity. The majority of competitors are in their middle to late 20s.
Brown, who has a meticulous prerace routine of visualizing the course before he goes to the starting line, knows what parts to avoid and when he can go for it.
“It’s important to know what you can and what you can’t do on the course,” he said. “Every course is different, but the one thing you always have to do is be able to concentrate.
“I think that’s where my experience helps me against these young guys. I’ve always tried to be consistent, and that’s the main thing in being a successful rider.”
But Brown said he doesn’t want to overthink. It’s still about going fast. He took his cue from Blazusiak, who has been running his bike with a 355cc engine. By upgrading his horsepower, Brown might have leveled out the playing field.
“It doesn’t hurt to have a little extra power,” Brown said. “Taddy’s won the last couple of years with a bigger engine, and I decided to move up.”
Brown said he understands the math involved with tonight’s race, which will take about 10 minutes to complete. If he finishes ahead of Blazusiak, he probably wins the championship, which is worth $3,000 but with sponsor bonuses could be worth as much as $10,000.
But he’s not approaching tonight’s finale with that mindset.
“I think the main thing is to race the course and not worry what anyone else is doing,” he said. “I just need to relax and get off to a good start and ride clean.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.