Amateur racing, Texas style

Published April 22nd, 2006





There are hundreds of local race tracks all over the USA. If you visit just about any of them, you’ll see the hard work that thousands of amateurs put in on a weekly basis. Over the Memorial Day Weekend, I witnessed amateur racing at it’s finest, as Three Palms Extreme Sports Park in Conroe, Texas hosted Round 1 of The Triple Crown Series – The Suzuki Memorial Day Classic.



I met Emil Shebelbon, the owner of Three Palms Extreme Sports Park, and asked about the activities he had planned for this big weekend. To my surprise, I was about to get the grand tour of the entire 255 acre facility via Emil’s Yamaha 4×4 Rhino 660.



Angela: Emil, thank you for inviting me here this weekend. Can you tell me a little bit about Three Palms?



Emil: Well, we have three full blown motocross tracks. We have the main track at the front of the park, and then there is the river track, right next to the river. All the tracks have irrigation systems on them, and we really believe in irrigation out here. It’s more than just racing when you come to an event here at Three Palms. We’ve got wake boarding, freestyle, ATV racing, and of course motocross racing. We light up both of the pit bike tracks when we have a big event going on so the kids can enjoy some night time racing. We have a volleyball court, and we even do a pit cook-offs, and we let the score keepers judge the food. We like to do a lot of fun stuff around here. We’ve got a helicopter out here, and we’ll give rides in that. It’s a lot of fun – that’s the beauty of these events. We try to make them more exciting, with more things to do, and make it more of a family get-away than “Oh boy, we’ve got to go to another race”.



When we are full we can hold 3500 RV’s & campers. What I want to do is try to make this place like a park. Where you can take the whole family and everyone will find something to do. We have so many people that come out here on the weekends, they don’t even own a motor cycle but they come out here to watch the action, go in the lake, cook, and camp-out with family.



We do have alligators in and near the property but they don’t mess with you, and we don’t feed them. There are some 8-10 footers out there.



A: How many people does it take to keep the park running smoothly?



E: We have great guys out here that are responsible for keeping the property clean of litter, the lawn care, and keeping the tracks clean of debris. I have a full staff of people; we have a general park manager, we have a few girls that run the ticket booth, and we have a few equipment operators. My brother works for me here, and my oldest son does the prep work on the tracks. I definitely get out there and take care of the track maintenance. We have a really good staff out here, they are so dependable, and they do such a great job.



A: What is the pride and joy of this park for you?



E: Being able to do this for a living. I love to ride, and I love to build tracks, this is about the best job anyone could ever have.



A: What did you do before owning this park?



E: I use to be in the construction business, and a few years back I bought this and now I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone for any amount of money, because I am doing exactly what I want to do.



A: Tell me a little bit about The Triple Crown Series.



E: The Triple Crown series is three events all tied together, and this year we are thankful to have Toyota involved and a lot of other corporate sponsors. Toyota is going to give the pro class winner a brand new Toyota Tundra pick-up if he wins all three events. This event is The Suzuki Memorial Day Classic



The 2nd event is Labor Day weekend, and that’s the American Vet Championship. Us old guys will get to ride a bit, but we do have a strong Pro Class program and some amateur classes as well. The final event is October 20th – 22nd, The US Dealers Challenge. Each event is kind of unique in itself.



We’ve had The Memorial Day Classic for six years now. The Labor Day event really focuses on the Vets. And the 3rd event is the Dealers Challenge – we invite all the motocross dealers from across the United States. Parts Unlimited is a big sponsor, and the dealers build a team of 4-5 riders, with the 5th rider as an alternate, and it has to be a either a pro rider or a woman rider.



All three of those events are the Three Palms Triple Crown. This year we’ll be giving away a truck, hopefully we will have a rider lucky enough to win all three events. And we also have a $5000.00 pro purse at each one of those events.



A. Future plans here at Three Palms?



E. The land in the back area will eventually be another training track for our moto program. It has good elevation, and there’s a whole bunch of sand. We will cut out some trails, take out a few trees, and make us a little track. We will leave all the dirt bikes and quads up front, and we will clear it out and clean the property up in hopes of some hiking trails and some mountain biking trails. I would like to keep this area a quiet place to come back here and not worry about the noise. That’s the beauty of our location, our facility is right 30 minutes near the heart of downtown Houston, but it still feels like we are way in the country. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, with the hopes that by the end of the year we will start construction on a restaurant and bar, with all kinds of accommodations as well.



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Saturday had lots of sun, a splash of rain, a bit of thunder, and mud. Sunday was all about the bigger bikes, and the aftermath of previous day’s rain made the track slick and full of ruts. One rider who caught everyone’s attention with his speed & talent was Matt Lemoine, #30 on the Xtreme Team Green Kawasaki, who finished with the overall win in the 125 A & 250 A Mod.



Angela: Matt, how old are you, and long have you been racing?



Matt: I am 17 years old, and have been racing for about 8 years now.



A: Tell me about your last race today.



M: I started off pretty good, got a good start, finally, and went around the first turn and never looked back. I was able to ride my own race. Put some consistent laps in, started charging and then (Sean) Hackley started catching me a bit. I started focusing more on the track and charging a little more, and pulling my lead out.



A: You and Sean were getting pretty competitive out there, how were you dealing with that pressure?



M: I don’t know … Hackley’s a really good rider. This is the first time I’ve raced him in forever, because I just moved up to the A Class. He has always been a contender out on the track, and he is a really good rider.



I am pretty happy with my weekend, there were a few mistakes I can correct myself on, but other than that I’ve been riding pretty good ever since I turned pro. I’ve only lost 2 motos, one to Steve Boniface and one to Sean. Had a couple of bike problems, but I’m not one to make excuses! As for the track, it’s really rough. There are a lot of deep ruts, and big holes, and it’s still muddy from the rain. And they watered it last night, and today has been overcast, so it didn’t dry out at all.



A: Who helps you to race?



M: First, my Mom and Dad, and my mechanic Larry. My Dad got me into riding a long time ago with riding 4-wheelers, and it progressed into motocross. We realized that I had a little talent, so we took it from there, progressing each and every day.



A: Have you finished school yet?



M: At the end of this month I should finish that up, get my degree, and then I can really progress and continue with my career in motocross.



A: Who keeps you motivated when you are not feeling it?



M: My Dad mostly. On those days when I just want to chill out, he’ll tell me, “You got to go do your bike ride”. On those days when I need a kick both my Dad and my mechanic keep me on my game. And my trainer is Seiji of Coachseiji.com. He sends me an email every day & tells me what I’ve got to work on.



A: Growing up, was there a rider you looked up to?



M: Kevin Windham. I’m from Louisiana and I grew up watching him ride. I also like James Stewart’s riding style, and everything about him is amazing. He doesn’t like to lose, and I don’t like to lose either.



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Next, I talked with the Wharton brothers, Blake and Tyler. First up was eighth grader Blake. He brought home the overall win in the 85cc class. He also tried his luck in the 125 Mod Inter alongside his older brother Tyler.



Angela: Blake, how’s the racing for you this weekend?



Blake: The track is awesome. We got some rain and it was a little muddy for a bit, but it’s dried up and turned out good. I finished with four 1st places finishes and one second place on the 85. The 125 class was a different story. That was my second race on the 125, it’s a fun bike to ride, but it a little more to handle. I am most comfortable racing with the 85 right now.



This is a really fun track. The sprinkler system is perfect. The track gets nice, rough and rutted. It always seems to be one of the best tracks in Texas.



A: You’ve got quite a few championships under your belt, can you tell me about them?



B: Well, there’s Loretta Lynn’s, Ponca City, Lake Whitney, Branson, and Vegas MGM grand. Those are most of the big races that I’ve won at least once.



A: What is the key to your success? What kind of training program works for you?



B: My success comes from hard practice, getting good starts, and consistent, smooth riding. As for my work outs – running, bicycling, and a little bit of weights. And we do a lot of riding, at least 4 times a week.



A: It’s pretty cool to see two brothers racing. How did you two get started?



B: We both started out at the same time. I started out at 8 years old on 80′s. When we first started I wasn’t that serious, I just wanted to go ride. Eventually I got faster and faster, and now here we are.



A: Who is better, you or your brother?



B: He’s going to say him, but I am going to say me. Depends on the day though. We ride different bikes now. I’m just starting to ride the big bikes, so we will probably really be able to tell in about a year or so.



A: Do you two get along fairly well?



B: We are pretty close. We hang out and do pretty much everything together. It doesn’t matter if I get 1st or he gets 1st, as long as we get good results we are happy.



A: What’s the nickname you run right now?



B: I’ve got a few, but I’m ‘The Chiropractor’ … cuz I set ‘em straight.



A: Who do you have to thank for all your success?



B: God, Suzuki and everyone at Suzuki, Answer, Biggie & Kristen at Answer and everyone for putting this event on. My mechanic Stef, and my family. I definitely like to thank a few friends of mine that helped me out this weekend, Eugene and Ray 661.



A: Any girls in your life right now?



B: Right now, I need to stay away from girls, because they are too much of a distraction for racing.



A: What do you like to do when you are not riding?



B: I like to cook, I like to play guitar, a little bit of golf, and ride my bicycle.



A: What about school?



B: We go to a great home-schooling program through our church during the early morning. They help us out a lot, so it’s pretty good.





Older brother Tyler had his share of success on the track, but is quick to point out where he needs to improve as well. 16 year old Tyler is extremely motivated, and demands his best on and off the track.



Angela: Tyler, will you be at Loretta’s in July, and what will you do to get ready for that?



T: Yes, I’ll be at Loretta’s, riding in both school boy classes. Hopefully I can get a couple titles in. I will definitely be doing some long moto’s with some saw dust tracks, and when we get there we will be perfectly prepared.



A: How did you start riding?



T: Well, we started racing bikes when I was 9. We had a PW50 and we shared a XR50. We had rode every now and then, and I went to a race and got 7th my first race. That was exciting, and it really took off from there. I got my first win at my fifth race, so that definitely made the racing go on.



A: Who helps you to continue racing?



T: My Mom and my Dad, my sister Erica is a big help, talking about our riding to help support what we do out on the track. And Stef, my mechanic, if it wasn’t for him, our bikes would be falling apart, it’s definitely a big role being the mechanic.



A: What about school?



T: I am home schooled with my brother. That’s the hardest part of my day, from 9am – 12 everyday. It’s so much harder than regular school, where you have your friends around. It’s you and your brother, that’s where some of our arguments start at school, sitting frustrated in math. But it is unique lifestyle. It can be fun sometimes: go to school for a few hours, then ride, and do something afterwards, like catch a movie, so it’s pretty fun.



A: Where do you get the motivation for racing?



T: That motivation should just come natural, but having your whole family working together also motivates you. Having fun is a big part of it too. If you’re not having fun then you’re not going to be motivated to go out on race day. We go out some days and just ride pit bikes. It’s about keeping it fun.



A: Your amateur career has taken you all over the country. How much traveling have you done, and how do you deal with it?



T: Yeah, we did a lot of traveling this year. We take the motor home and it’s not that bad. I just bought a laptop, so that may make the trips a little shorter. My mom took away the PlayStation a while back, so that hurt. But it’s fun traveling and getting to ride new tracks.



A: When you’re not racing, what do you like to do?



T: Probably building a pit bike track. Okay, that’s almost the same thing. We do a lot of jet skiing and wake boarding in our pond.



A: Who would you most like to thank for helping you to race?



T: God, most of all. American Suzuki, Answer, Gaerne, Arai, lockjaw, FMF, Ogio, Race wipes, Smith, Asterisk, and everyone who’s helped us out.





Everyone involved in amateur racing truly puts their heart into making it successful & fun, along with being a great family environment. Hopefully, this gives you just a small sample of what happens every weekend all over the country!





Angela



If you would like more information about Three Palms Extreme Sports Park, please visit http://threepalmsextremesportspark.com



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Emil Shebelbon

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Austin Squires

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Tyler Wharton

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Matt Lemoine

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Blake Wharton & friends

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Tyler Wharton

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