- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

HOMETOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Alyssa Raynes originally wanted to ride horses. She ended up racing all-terrain vehicles instead.

Raynes, 11, of Buffalo, is a national champion ATV racer. She travels across the country to compete in competitions.

“People expect boys to ride dirt bikes and go muddin’ and get dirty,” Alyssa said. “They don’t expect that from girls.”

It started at the Putnam County fairgrounds. Her grandfather, Larry Leslie, encouraged her to race.

At the first turn of her first race, she crashed. Her father, Travis Raynes, went down to check on her. Trying to figure out if she was injured, he asked her what hurts.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Well, then why are you crying,” Raynes asked.

“I’m going to lose.”

He knew then it wasn’t going to be her last race. She began racing against boys at Mason Motocross in Point Pleasant. Two years ago, her grandparents took her to compete in a national race in Tennessee, just to see how good she was. In her second race of the trip, she came in first. That made Alyssa want to race at a national level.

“When she’s doing so good, how could you not?” Larry Leslie, her grandfather, said.

Last year was her first on the full circuit. She took first place in most of those races, surprising many.

“Winning gives you that feeling like ‘I won that. That was me. I did that,’?” Raynes said.

They’ve traveled to multiple states from Alabama to Minnesota with a camper.

Her grandparents, Larry and Paula Leslie, take her to each one. While their family has always been close, the trips have allowed them to meet other families throughout the country. If someone’s missing a part, another person steps in to help.

“It really is a community effort. After a race you’re either at someone else’s trailer, or they’re at your trailer,” Larry Leslie said. “Everybody works together. We’re competitive, but we’re all friends.”

They’ve taken thousands of dollars out of their savings to fund the trips. While Raynes does have some sponsors, including the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, Yeager Insurance and Hetrick Motorsports, the costs have taken a toll on the family.

“It would be easy to quit,” Leslie said. “But she’s just so doggone good at it.”

She still has a 4.0 grade average, bringing homework with her to races when she has it.

Her friends at school support her, but occasionally she’ll meet a boy who doesn’t believe that she’s a champion and then try to pick on her.

“I’ll say, ‘I go across the country and race every weekend. What do you do?’?” Raynes said.

Even the boys she’s raced against would get angry when she won, making excuses for their losses instead of congratulating her.

Raynes said her favorite part is accelerating. She usually reaches about 50 to 60 mph during each race.

“You gotta be 16 to drive, but you don’t have to be 16 to ride a four-wheeler,” she said.

Sometimes she gets hurt. She’s broken a few ribs, but she’s escaped injury in most cases. When she falls, she gets angry not because of her injuries, because it might cause her to lose.

She classifies people into three types: the very overprotective, the semi-overprotective and the “if you get hurt, that’s your fault” groups. Her family falls under the more overprotective categories.

Raynes didn’t realize what she does was too far out of the ordinary until she found her rankings after searching her name online. She showed a Google results page to her friends at school, and they accused her of placing it there herself.

“I told ‘em yes, yes, yes. I went on Google, figured out the password and put my information on Google. Then I released it to the whole world,” she said. “I did that.”

Next month Raynes will begin competing on the circuit again. She’s hoping to win another national championship, but said she’d be OK if she doesn’t. She can race in the same class until she’s 13.

“It’s really cool knowing that you have a reputation, because when you’re as small as me people look at you and think that you’re easy to beat,” she said.

Raynes also plays basketball as part of the Buffalo Youth Basketball League. She said people sometimes underestimate her as a point guard because of her small stature, but she just made a half-court shot a few weeks ago.

“You really gotta watch out for me everywhere,” she said.

___

Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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