- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

Ken Roczen’s family drove their home around Europe just so he could race.

The RV was old and even caught on fire during one road trip in Italy, but it did the job, taking them from their hometown in Germany to places like Bulgaria, Turkey, Spain, Portugal.

It was tough, even crazy at times, but those road trips helped shape him into one of the best motocross riders in the world.

“It was all worth it,” Roczen said on the eve of this weekend’s season-opening AMA Motocross outside of Sacramento, California. “Now you can look back at all the struggles and hard work pays off, for sure.”

Born in a small village near Leipzig, Germany, Roczen grew up without much money, but his father was an avid rider who ran an amateur racing team and built a small track on the family’s land.

Little Kenny was a natural, riding before he turned 3, racing not long after that. The family had to scrape by so he could race, with his mother cleaning the roll offs on the goggles so they could be reused and road trips that sometimes lasted weeks.

Roczen was good enough to race a level or an age group higher as he progressed and by 9 started getting support from Suzuki, allowing the family to save money on bikes and parts.

He juggled school with racing across Europe and started making a name for himself, turning pro when he was 15.

A year later, Roczen was in the United States, fulfilling a lifelong goal to compete at the highest level.

“Here is where they say are the true best riders in the world,” said Roczen, who now has homes in California and Florida. “I always said I wanted to be the best rider in the world, so my goal pretty early was to come over here.”

Roczen quickly rose up the ranks once across the Atlantic, too.

He won a race in the 250cc Supercross class in 2011 and went back to Europe to the FIM MX2 World Championship. He earned his first title two years later, winning the 250cc West Region Supercross championship on the final lap of the final race.

That lower-tier championship allowed Roczen to move up to the 450cc Class in 2014. He won right out of the gate, taking the AMA Motocross championship as a rookie to become the first German to win a 450cc series title in the U.S.

The title resonated back home.

Friends and fellow riders in Germany now stay up all night to watch his races on TV and he’ll occasionally run into German fans who travelled to see him race in the U.S.

“Any championship is big, but especially me coming over from Europe, it was a huge deal,” he said. “It’s great to know that I have the support of so many people.”

Roczen switched teams from Red Bull KTM to RCH Suzuki in 2015, but struggled as he battled injuries and tried to get the setup on his new bike right. He finished 12th in the Supercross season, but bounced back to take second in the outdoor season and won the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas to end the year.

Roczen carried that momentum into the 2016 Supercross season, keeping Ryan Dungey close throughout before finishing second.

Dungey has been the top rider the past two seasons, winning three combined championships, but Roczen has been right on his back wheel, establishing himself - along with Trey Canard - as the top contender to knock him off the throne.

“He’s a very nice guy and we have huge respect for each other,” Roczen said. “He’s obviously really good and hardly makes mistakes, but obviously I want to be a champion so my goal is to beat him.”


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