Local racers go up against nation’s best in Tennessee

Photo by Mad Moose Photography Matt Surles-Davis of Fort Dodge goes airborne during a race at The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross championships in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.

The Loretta Lynn national championships happened just last week, but the journey began more than a decade ago for four Fort Dodge teenagers.

For classmates Deegan Hepp, age 16, and 15-year-old Matthew Surles-Davis, it was their first-ever trip to the event. Fellow classmate Gage Steburg, 15, was making his ninth straight appearance, while 17-year-old Izaih Clark was competing for the sixth time.

Krista Pyburn, 22, a Fort Dodge native who now lives in Austin, Minn., competed in the women’s division.

The Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship, presented by Lucas Oil, is held annually at the historic Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.

Hepp, Surles-Davis and Steburg will all be sophomores at Fort Dodge Senior High this year and have been riding both together and against each other since they were four years old.

“Matt, Gage, Zay and I are all good friends,” Hepp said. “We all have raced each other a lot through the years, and it was cool to be able to support each other down at Loretta Lynn’s.”

This was the inaugural trip for Hepp, who had an impressive finish on the national stage. The 16-year-old finished 11th overall in the 250C Limited division, placing seventh, 23rd and seventh in the three motos.

“It was awesome to know that you already made it and are racing against the best,” Hepp said. “The biggest thing that I learned is just to treat it like a normal race and don’t get yourself to nervous.”

The majority of the time was spent on the track or working on the bikes, but the friends always enjoy the time they got to spend bonding away from the competition as well.

“There was a lot of time to hang out with friends and family when you weren’t racing,” Hepp said.

For Surles-Davis, the journey began when he got his first bike at the age of two. He started riding at three.

Surles-Davis said the journey wouldn’t be possible without his family.

“It’s great to have my family by my side,” Surles-Davis said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mom; she has been giving up every weekend for the last three years so I could compete.

“It was a crazy experience, and I never thought I would be this far in this sport. I had a blast with all of my friends and family.”

Surles-Davis competed in the 250C Jr. Limited (12-17) division. He placed 33rd overall, grabbing 38th and 18th.

“Down at Loretta’s, I learned that it’s not always about competing — it’s about making memories and having fun with your family and friends,” Surles-Davis said. “I tried to just have fun and stay safe there, but also be competitive at the level I know I can.”

Fort Dodge was again well-represented at the event — something the riders point out with a great deal of pride.

“I never thought that so many kids from one town in Iowa would be here at the top level of amateur motocross,” Surles-Davis said. “It’s always cool to have two of your best friends (Hepp and Steburg) with you. Just having them there to hang out with and make memories with was something I won’t forget.”

Clark, who will be a senior at Fort Dodge Senior High, competed in the Schoolboys 2 division. He placed 24th overall. He finished 29th, 27th and 22nd in the three motos.

Steburg’s trip was cut short. In the first lap of his moto, a rider crashed in front of him and Steburg was unable to avoid hitting him, which sent him cart wheeling into the ditch onto his shoulder.

According to Mindy Steburg, Gage’s mother, he ended up suffering a separated AC of the shoulder.

Pyburn placed 32nd overall in the women’s division. She was 38th, 31st and 29th in the three motos.