Passion for speed powering Gregory’s rise in motocross

Orion Gregory, 13, races his motocross dirt bike on a course his family built near their Stephens City home. Orion will be competing in the Amateur National Motocross Championship on Aug. 1 in Tennessee. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Orion Gregory’s hunger for speed developed at an early age.

By the time he was 2 years old, his mother Ann recalled Tuesday afternoon, Orion wanted a dirt bike, and instead had to settle for a battery-powered four-wheeler. The machine had two gears, low and high, and Orion, too short to reach the gas pedal while sitting down, would stand on the accelerator with the four-wheeler set permanently in high gear.

“I would chase him and I would hit low,” Ann Gregory said with a laugh, “and he would just hit high and off he’d go again.”

Orion soon graduated to a battery-operated motorcycle, which he rode until the bike’s plastic wheels gave out, the start of a theme that still marks his personality at 13 years old. Around his sixth birthday, Orion’s father David decided Orion was ready for a dirt bike. Orion’s passion for motocross was born.

“He just rode all the time,” his mother said. “He was on it constantly.”

Orion Gregory is making his mark in motocross sports. Rich Cooley/Daily

Orion’s newfound hobby forced the Gregorys to move to a more secluded area in Stephens City away from U.S. Route 11, Ann said, and one of the first orders of business after the move was to build a motocross track on the property. Orion, whose family owns the Appleland Raceway Park in Stephens City, would split his riding time between his own personal track and the 1-mile track owned by a neighbor.

Orion was captivated by the thrill of high speeds.

“I went to one race and I just got hooked to it,” he said while seated at a picnic table overlooking his family’s private motocross track between practice sessions.

That passion has bred success. In just over a week, Orion will make his third straight appearance at the 35th Annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship held at the Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

Orion will be one of 1,482 riders competing at the weeklong competition, as he made the cut out of over 22,000 prospective qualifiers from across the country, according to a news release for the event. Orion qualified by way of a third-place finish in the 125cc (12-16 year old) B/C class at the Doublin Gap MX Youth Regional in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, in mid-June, one of 13 regional championship events that took place across the nation.

Orion Gregory goes airborne on his dirt bike on his motocross course near Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s a big event,” Orion said of the Amateur National Championship at Loretta Lynn’s, which runs from Aug. 1-6. “A whole bunch of national people are there, the fastest guys in the nation are there. I mean, it’s just fun to watch. It’s fun to hang out there. They’ve got a creek there you can swim in and fly off rope swings, jump off bridges. You get there five days early so you get to experience all the things and see the surroundings. It’s pretty cool.”

This year, Orion will compete in the 125 (12-16) B/C and Schoolboy 1 (12-16) B/C classes, he said, a step up from his first two trips to Loretta Lynn’s. In 2014, he placed 34th in the 85cc (9-11) class, and last year he finished 14th and 18th in 85 (9-11) and 85 (9-11) limited, respectively.

Each class at the Amateur National Championship is made up of 42 racers.

“It feels pretty good to go there, but getting in the back doesn’t feel that good because you don’t really get noticed, even if you do go there,” Orion said. “You’ve gotta be in the top 10 or something just to be noticed, so that’s what I’m trying to get to.”

Orion said his goal this year is to “beat the top guys.”

Orion Gregory takes a turn on his dirt bike. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I wanna get top 10 at least but I’m going for number one,” he said.

It should help that Orion is now two years familiar with what it takes to compete at Loretta Lynn’s, and he noted he was surprised at how “rough it was” when he made his initial races along the track.

“It was really rough, and you have to condition for it,” he said. “… Your body has to be ready.”

Races at the Amateur National Championship run longer in comparison to an average motocross race. Where each class at a regional championship is composed of two races (called “motos”), Loretta Lynn’s features three. Each moto at the national event also runs for 20 minutes plus an additional two laps, meaning riders are often racing around the track for nearly 30 minutes at a time.

To prepare for the grind, Orion practices on his private track at least three times a week and races every weekend – he’s run his 2016 125cc KTM so much that the Gregorys had to buy him a 2017 model in order to save his 2016 for competition at Loretta Lynn’s, his mother said – while performing off-the-track activities such as cycling and swimming to build up his cardio.

Orion Gregory goes airborne on his dirt bike. Rich Cooley/Daily

Orion said he’s also improved his performance out of the starting gate since last year’s national championship. Last year, he said, he crashed in the early stages of nearly every race he competed in.

“The past few years I’ve been there I’ve been a little bit too big for the bike, so I fit the bike I’m riding this year,” Orion said. “I feel I can really do a lot of things like standing up through the rough sections and getting comfortable on it.”

For Orion, the experience at Loretta Lynn’s is about more than simply competing on the track, however. It’s about hanging out with friends.

Through motocross, Orion has built a circle of friends comprised of fellow riders, many from outside the state. Brandon Hugney, Gianni Lumadue, Colton Yentzer – all from Pennsylvania – Gage Steine, of Maryland, and fellow Virginian Oscar Moy all frequent the Gregorys’ private motocross track.

“We’re really good friends off the track,” Orion said, jumping from his seat at the picnic table to hop on his bike for a 20-minute session on the track, “but when we’re on the track it’s competitive.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com