- The Washington Times - Monday, January 25, 2010

PERRIS, Calif. | Opee is only 8, but he’s already a popular veteran in the down and dirty sport of motocross.

He can pull 6 Gs. He’s been the centerfold for Cycle News and poses regularly for fan photos. He’s a survivor of the grueling Baja 500 and has racked up more than 10,000 hours on a dirt bike.

Sometimes, you can barely see the 70-pound pooch — a blue merle Australian shepherd — through the dust on his goggles and his custom helmet, complete with cam.

“I am his biggest fan,” said Mike Schelin, Opee’s owner, race partner and a purveyor of used motorcycle parts from a shop next to his mobile home.

Mr. Schelin got the dog in 2001 shortly after his divorce. He raises him with other dogs and two horses at a spread he calls Miracle Flats. Known as “The Dogfather” to some in the sport, Mr. Schelin always takes a back seat to Opee.

“He was my instant best friend,” Mr. Schelin said. “He slept in my tool bag. There was something about him. He’s had charisma since Day One. I knew I had a dog who could make a difference.”

Mr. Schelin, 41, realized he had a four-legged motocross fan as a pet when he started riding in the desert with Opee on the chase.

“I felt bad for him, he would run so long.” So Mr. Schelin bought a four-wheeler and they went desert riding together. The dog didn’t like the dust in his eyes, so Mr. Schelin got him goggles. One day, Opee ditched the four-wheeler and hopped on the motorcycle tank, where he’s been ever since, Mr. Schelin said.

If the bike isn’t moving, Opee will just fall asleep on the tank. They keep it bare because they’ve never found a covering that’s comfortable for the dog, Mr. Schelin said.

Reaction to Opee was magic. He was an instant canine ambassador to off-roading.

The dog does lots of other things, too. He’s been a search and rescuer, a California assistance dog and visits kids in hospitals with Mr. Schelin. They regularly work crowds at races in the area, including the Supercross in Anaheim.

Opee and Mr. Schelin race, but not to win. Because they’re different and for safety’s sake, they always start in the rear and they only compete with the cyclist in front of them, Mr. Schelin said.

“From what I see, [Opee] he loves Mike and would go anywhere with him,” said Ricky Johnson, a seven-time national motorcycle champion.

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