By CASEY DEAN
WHEELING - A local teenager's dream has finally come true.
Steven Gretchen was all smiles after winning his class at the 29th Annual AMA Amateur Motocross Championships. Gretchen, a McMechen resident, has won 11 national titles.
Steven Gretchen, 13-year-old McMechen resident, recently earned a National Championship at the largest amateur motocross race in the world. The 29th Annual AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at the Loretta Lynn Ranch, located in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., saw more than 20,000 qualifying amateur motocross athletes. Steven emerged from that field into a group of 1,406 finalists, and from there went on to be crowned one of the 35 class champions.
Steven raced three motos in the 85cc 12-14 Modified Class, with a 2-3-2 victory to earn the national title.
Steven began riding a dirt bike at 4 years old and immediately set his sights on winning the Loretta Lynn National. Nine years later, he achieved this goal.
''I race over 200 races a year, including six yearly nationals, and I have won 11 national titles,'' Gretchen said. ''But nothing compares to the title I just won at Loretta's.
''Winning at Loretta's has been a dream of mine since I was 4. I have been close before and walked away with a top-5. Every year I would tell myself, 'It's an honor just to race here,' but this year, I went in telling myself, 'It's an honor and I'm going to win here.' ''
Gretchen was not met without obstacles, however. He raced in record temperatures, with a high of 115 degrees. A thunderstorm also stalled his second race and led to an early morning ''mud race.''
''Every motocross racer loves racing in the mud, but not at Loretta's,'' Gretchen said. ''Small obstacles like mud seem like mountains at Loretta's.''
Gretchen's mechanics noticed the mud was taking a toll on his bike's motor after the second mud moto.
''My dad, our friend Mark and my engine builder, John Mitchell, worked hard to repair my motor for the final moto,'' he said. ''They did a great job because it carried me through the last race and helped me win the championship.
''It was teamwork.''
Gretchen's family, including his mother, Theresa., was there to witness the victory.
''I don't get to watch Steven race as much as I would like, but watching him win the National Championship with his sisters, Samantha and Sophia, was one of those moments I'll never forget,'' his mother said.
Gretchen is the first 85cc rider from West Virginia to earn a title at the Loretta Lynn National.
''I realized early on that Steven had talent,'' said his father, Steve Gretchen. ''I made it my goal to help him make his dreams come true.
''He knows that he has to work hard, have a positive attitude and overcome obstacles to achieve his goals.''
In 2005, Steven Gretchen was awarded a spot on the Thor Race Team, and in 2008, he was added to the Elite Rockstar Makita Suzuki Amateur Race Team.
''We are proud to be on the national teams,'' his father said. ''but Steven will never forget the help he gets from local fans and businesses, like Forrest Green and Wheeling Cycle.''
Many of America's top professional motocrossers, such as James Stewart, Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana and Jeremy McGrath, have won AMA Amateur National Championships at Loretta Lynn's.
''One day, I want to be pro,'' the younger Gretchen said. ''I have 5 years to make that happen.
''That is my ultimate goal.''
The 2010 AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship from the Loretta Lynn Ranch will air on the Versus Network at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, with a re-air scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28.