It’s not often that a seven-and-a-half-year-old youngster from the Nicola Valley gets to take his chosen sport to the international level and perform in front of 60,000 screaming fans.

Merritt resident Lane Schultz, a Grade 2 French immersion student at Collettville Elementary School who’s passionate about motorbikes, got to do just that a month ago when he competed at the AMA Monster Energy Supercross in Phoenix, Arizona on January 10.

Schultz was one of 15 hand-picked seven-and-eight-year-olds, and the only Canadian, to take part in the KTM Junior Supercross Challenge — held midway through the professional racing program at a sold-out Chase Field, home of major league baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.

Lane’s mom, Jill, explained how her son wound up in Phoenix and on the world stage.

“One of Lane’s dirtbiking friends (Rhett Bates from Kelowna) did the KTM Junior last year,” she said. “His family encouraged me to at least apply, even though I didn’t think it would ever happen. But, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. I didn’t want to regret not even trying.”

Jill sent the application to the American Motocross Association in late November. The Schultzes were shocked to receive an acceptance reply on December 14.

“We were actually planning a road trip to California at Christmas with all the kids,” she said. “We cancelled that trip. My mom and dad came down from Smithers to look after our two younger boys, Evan and Owen, because it would have been just too much driving for them.”

Lane on board a KTM with his dad. Submitted

Lane on board a KTM with his dad. Submitted

Lane’s too little brothers were young enough to not fully comprehend that they’d just lost out on Christmas vacation in the sun.

“Luckily, grandma and grandpa coming to visit sort of outweighed everything else,” Jill said with a laugh.

Lane and his mom and dad (Monty) left on January 2 and headed to California first before making their way to Phoenix. In the Golden State, Lane had the opportunity to ride and practice at several well-known motocross tracks in the communities of Perris, Cahuilla and Riverside, Calif.

Phoenix itself was an experience Lane and his parents will never forget.

All the young riders were given brand-new, identically-prepared KTM 50 SXS motorcycles to ride. They got to walk around the track, do two practice sessions, sign autographs for fans, and meet some of their heroes in the sport of motocross.

“They got to chat with the likes of pro riders Ryan Dungey and Malcolm Stewart and even see Ryan’s moto rig.” Jill said.

“Meeting the supercross pros was cool!” Lane said. “My dad and I were in the staging area where all the pros came out, and I got to thumbs up all the riders. That was awesome.

“Being introduced at the opening ceremonies was also lots of fun,” Lane added. “They had huge fireworks and fog, and we were all on the platform waving.”

For Lane’s mom, Jill, it was all a bit overwhelming.

Lane (right) completes the pre-race track walk with a fellow competitor. Submitted

Lane (right) completes the pre-race track walk with a fellow competitor. Submitted

“The screaming for them from the crowd was unbelievable. It was one of the proudest moments you could have,” she said. “It brought a tear to my eye the second I saw Lane with all the other kids. I was just so excited for him. I probably went paparazzi-crazy. I tried to capture everything.”

The Junior Challenge race itself was a thrill for Lane, who had to ride one of the sponsor KTM bikes rather than his own familiar 2014 King Cobra 50cc.

“When we were waiting at the gate to race, I kept trying to find myself on the big screen,” he said. “My dad had to keep turning my head to get me to focus on the gate and the start. I was so excited to be the only Canadian. I could hear the crowd cheering for me when they announced my name.”

“Lane was extremely nervous,” his mom said. “We kept reminding him that it was only for fun. All we wanted was for him to enjoy himself.”

The young motocross stars-of-the-future raced three full laps on the same course that the pros were riding that night, complete with huge rollers, stepups and tabletops and steep corners.

Lane managed to finish 11th in the field of 15 — pretty darn good for a seven-year-old up against many riders a year older than him. Getting used to an unfamiliar bike was no small challenge.

“The KTM was way different from my Cobra,” Lane explained. “It was hard to lean into the corners. I felt like I was going to crash. Luckily, my friend (Tyler Buvold, Langley) let me borrow his KTM to take to California, so I got some practice on one before I had to race.”

All the competitors in the KTM Junior Supercross in Phoenix line up to be introduced to the sell-out crowd of 60,000 at Chase Field. (Lane Schultz and his dad Monty are ninth from the left). Submitted

All the competitors in the KTM Junior Supercross in Phoenix line up to be introduced to the sell-out crowd of 60,000 at Chase Field. (Lane Schultz and his dad Monty are ninth from the left). Submitted

Thanks to his father, who also races motocross competitively and acts as his son’s mechanic, Lane has definite strategies when he’s competing.

“I don’t want to give away all my secrets,” Lane said, “but my dad always tells me to keep my eyes on the first turn when the [start] gate drops, to not look at the other riders and to try not to jump the gate. I’ve done that a couple of times and it hurts pretty bad. One time I hit the gate so hard I broke it right off.”

Injuries are inevitable in the sport of motocross, but fortunately Lane’s have all been of the minor variety — just bumps and bruises.

“He’s knocked the wind out of himself, too, and actually gone over the handlebars a couple of times but, luckily, nothing serious has happened,” Lane’s mom said. “He’s always eager to keep going.

“The riders all have to wear a neck brace, a chest protector, elbow protectors, knee guards and everything,” Jill added.

Despite his youthfulness, Lane is a veteran when it comes to riding a motorbike and competing in motocross.

“Lane first climbed on a bike at age two-and-a-half, and was riding by himself at three,” Jill said. “He started racing at six and has probably competed 30 times.”

Lane races both outdoors and indoors, primarily around B.C. in the Future West Series.

The young competitors and their mechanics are briefed by track officials. Submitted

The young competitors and their mechanics are briefed by track officials. Submitted

In addition to working with his dad, Lane also receives instruction from pro riders like Sean Hamblin, Kyle Beaton and Ryan Lockhart at clinics and through occasional private lessons.

Most of Lane’s racing takes place at the Coast, in the Chilliwack and Abbotsford’s areas, but this fall, he also competed in Armstrong.

“They’re trying to promote the sport outside the Lower Mainland,” Jill said. “In Armstrong, they used one of the big barns at the fair grounds. They brought in all the dirt for the weekend.”

The Schultzes make frequent trips to the Coast for practices and for races.

“We’re very lucky that we own our own company, so we can usually make our schedule work for us,” Jill said. “Next weekend, we’re probably heading down to the Chilliwack/Abbotsford area where we all practise in the sand beside the [Fraser] River. Everyone meets up and builds little tracks.”

Lane has already enjoyed considerable success in his relatively short motocross career. He was fourth in the 2013-14 Canadian Arenacross Series, third in the 2014 Future West Fall Series and second in the 2015 Future West Spring-Summer Series.

Lane says that you have to be aggressive and super fast to race motocross, and be prepared to keep the throttle tapped, even when you’re scared and your legs feel like Jell-O. His goals for this year are to win as many trophies as he can, and maybe even get on a race team if he’s fast enough.

All the members of the Schultz family from Merritt are reaping the benefits of their involvement in the sport of motocross. (From left to right) Owen, mom Jill, Lane, dad Monty and Evan. Ian Webster/Herald

All the members of the Schultz family from Merritt are reaping the benefits of their involvement in the sport of motocross. (From left to right) Owen, mom Jill, Lane, dad Monty and Evan. Ian Webster/Herald

Lane’s two younger siblings are itching to follow in their big brother’s footsteps.

“Evan is four and Owen is two-and-a-half. Evan just started racing last year, while Owen can’t wait to get his turn on a bike,” their mom said.

“It’s definitely a family-friendly sport. I just love that we can go to the races and spend the weekend with other moto families. The kids all play together, get on the track and race, and then get off the track and play some more.”

“My brothers crack me up; they’re so funny,” Lane said. “When Evan and I practice, he always tells me what I need to do to copy him. Owen is going to be crazy on a bike.”

As for Lane’s favorite motocross rider? It’s his dad, of course.

Talk about keeping it in the family!

Merritt’s Lane Schultz, age seven-and-a-half, competes in the KTM Junior Supercross at Chase Field in Phoenix in front of 60,000 racing fans. Lane, who is in Grade 2 French immersion at Collettville Elementary School, has been riding a motorbike since he was three years old and racing motocross since he was six.  Photo courtesy of KTM Junior Supercross

Merritt’s Lane Schultz, age seven-and-a-half, competes in the KTM Junior Supercross at Chase Field in Phoenix in front of 60,000 racing fans. Lane, who is in Grade 2 French immersion at Collettville Elementary School, has been riding a motorbike since he was three years old and racing motocross since he was six. Photo courtesy of KTM Junior Supercross