- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

APACHE, Okla. (AP) - One of the fastest individuals in Southwest Oklahoma isn’t even out of elementary school.

Meet Gannon Gates - a 7-year-old boy attending Apache Elementary School. By day, he’s a smart student, acing tests, mastering homework and overcoming the rigors of first grade. He’s popular, has fun with other students and is well-respected by his teachers and classmates.

On the weekends, that innocent kindness and unassuming smile disappear beneath a red and white helmet and matching racing gear. He mounts his King Cobra 7 MX motorcycle and hits the dirt tracks - leaving everyone else in his dust.

After just one year on the dirt track, Gannon has already become an accomplished racer, and he has his father to thank.

“My dad got me into it originally,” he told The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/2pscTV5 ). “It’s fun, so I keep doing it.”

His dad, Tim Stewart, has always been a fan of motocross racing. He owned his own dirt bike in his younger days and loved to ride and dabbled in some racing. He enjoyed watching racing on television from time to time and his son just sort of picked up on it and nurtured that desire to race.

“He came up to me one time and told me he wanted to race dirt bikes,” Tim Stewart said. “I told him we weren’t going to do anything until he took the training wheels off his bicycle. So he told me there, take them off.”

The father obliged and watched as his son pushed his bicycle to its limits without the assistance of the training wheels. Unsure whether Gannon’s newfound affinity for dirt bike racing would be a new passion, or merely a child’s passing infatuation, the family waited on taking the financial dive into the potential money pit that can be youth motocross racing.

“We first got him a little electrical-powered bike,” Tim Stewart said. “He then wanted the real thing. We knew this was something he was going to be into.”

The family purchased Gannon his new motorcycle and set about entering him in regional circuits. In one short year, he has already made a name for himself on the Oklahoma State Championship Series of Motocross and the Amateur National Motocross series. He’s one to fear on the track and one to be respected off the track. His mother Tara Stewart said Gannon’s new passion has already earned him plenty of new friends.

“He has these racing buddies,” she said. “They race each other real hard out there. And then they come off the track and they don’t care if they beat each other or who wins. They just huddle together and start playing.”

The on-track success has paid dividends for Gannon. He already has numerous sponsors, both from Southwest Oklahoma and from other parts of the nation. He also has boxes of trophies, plaques and certificates to recognize his accomplishments. The family living room is adorned with some of the most impressive trophies, including many for first-place finishes. Gannon likes the idea of taking over the living room with his winnings.

“It feels good to see them out,” he said.

One would think with so much success in such a short amount of time that Gannon would be tearing up the practice track whenever he can get a moment’s break from his studies. Not quite.

“There aren’t really any tracks around here where he can go and practice,” Tara Stewart said. “He doesn’t really get to practice until the weekends when we get to the track for the race that day.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t have plenty of time on his dirt bike. As of the end of April, Gannon was scheduled to compete for nine of the next 10 weekends. His mother said Gannon is “starting to slowly step up” his racing schedule over the next two months. He won’t just be competing against kids his age from the area. He’ll be entering competitions in which he will face up to 64 students from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Colorado. His toughest challenge is yet to come.

“The Texas regional race will be one of the biggest races around and the biggest he’s ever competed in,” Tim Stewart said.

Despite the uneven mix of pressure, excitement and angst, Gannon isn’t too worried. He already knows what he has to do to win.

“Keep going faster,” the young racer said. “Tear it up, round the corners and land the jumps and keep going fast.”

The first-grade racer has the full support of his family behind him when he pulls up to the starting line each race. Despite the intense nature of the races, neither his mother nor father admits to being too nervous when they see him out there - even when he wipes out from time to time.

“There are moments when you can get a little worried when he gets in the real tight bunches and goes down,” Tara Stewart said. “At his last race, he went down two or three times, but he got right back up on his bike and kept on going.”

Much of the sense of calm is derived from other families who come to watch their own children race.

“We’re sort of a moto family, you could say,” Tara Stewart said. “You see a lot of the same people over and over again at each competition because they’re all there for the same thing you are. We’ve made a lot of friends with other families since getting involved.”

Gannon and his parents hope others in Southwest Oklahoma will be inspired to look into youth motocross racing. It’s still in its infancy in the area, but interest is starting to grow. The town of Apache and many local businesses have thrown their support behind Gannon as he continues to tear up the tracks and the family hopes that a larger interest could lead to a track or facilities being built closer to home. It’s a big commitment, but once they realized Gannon was serious about his racing dreams, they wanted to oblige. They treat it like any other extracurricular activity.

“He has to maintain his work at school, because if he doesn’t do well he doesn’t get to race,” Tim Stewart said. “We were just kind of having fun with it. Then he reached a point where he wanted to go faster and he kept telling us he needed a new bike.”

Gannon doesn’t have to worry about falling behind in school. As a straight-A student, he’s one of the smartest and hardest working kids in his class. It’s that knowledge that he uses on the track each weekend to ensure he stays in the front.

“You have to keep both wheels on the ground and keep pushing,” Gannon said.

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

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