By Pat Jenkins
Most young adults at the start of their professional careers are trying to move forward. Brad Baker is happy going in circles. And he’s darn successful.
Baker, 20, is the reigning Grand National champion of the American Motorcycle Association flast track racers. He captured the title last October in Pomona, Calif., becoming its fourth-youngest holder in the sport’s history.
In the motor sports arena, the feat has brought fame, media attention and international stature to Baker at a young age. But he seems to take it in stride, maybe because he’s been riding and outrunning competitors since he was barely removed from kindergarten.
“I’ve been on motorcycles a long time,” said Baker, who calls Eatonville home after growing up in Lewis County. He started racing when he was 6 years old. As the years went by, he spent all his time outside of school racing or working on motorcycles. He won consistently and eventually turned pro at 16, then moved up from the professional level to the expert ranks when he was 18.
In an interview with Paul Carruthers for CycleNews.com, Baker said inspiration came from his father, Kip, who organized a racing team involving Brad and his older brother, Scott.
“When I was on the road during the summer at 16 or 17 years old, I’d be in a box van by myself and staying at friends’ places and maintaining the motorcycles by myself,” Baker said. “Dad would work all week (as a logging truck driver) and fly out Friday night and get there Saturday for the race, and fly out Sunday morning and be back at work on Monday.”
The commitment and support started paying off at the highest levels when Baker was named the 2011 GNC Expert Rookie of the Year after finishing sixth in the overall national standings.
Then came the 2013 season, which Baker started with three consecutive second-place finishes. He broke through for his first victory at the expert level in a race at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, and then capped the year the best way possible by reeling in the national championship. In the tightly raced 25-lap main event at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, Baker finished .706 seconds ahead of runnerup and archrival Bryan Smith.
According to race accounts, Baker had a near-mishap that could have cost him the top spot. Heading into a turn, he almost lost control of his motorcycle, which would have sent him flying over the handlebars and ended his bid for the title. But he stayed upright – which was better for his health, too – and took the lead from Smith for good on the 13th lap.
“I really have to thank my team, Dodge Brothers Racing, for everything they’ve done for me this season and making all of this possible,” Baker told reporters afterward amid the victory celebration.
The championship and his status as one of the sport’s stars earned Baker a trip to Spain last week to compete in Barcelona in the Super Prestigio, one of the top grand prix dirt track motorcycle races in Europe and the world since the 1970s. He was looking forward to the warmer weather there, which was expected to have temperatures in the mid to high-60s – about 20 degrees higher than what he was scheduled to return to in Eatonville today.
He put down roots in Eatonville in part because its the home of Ben Schenck, whose Schenck Racing Enterprises is a sponsor of Baker. “I grew up in a rural area, so I like this kind of place,” Baker said.
Baker plans to race until at least his 30s. “It’s a dangerous sport” with potentially fatal risks, he noted, “but if you keep yourself safe and don’t get hurt, you can stay in racing a pretty long time.”
His advice for anyone with dreams like he had at an early age of success in motorcycle racing is to “give it 100 percent, and you’ll prevail. I’ve always tried to be focused on one thing and not spread myself too thin.”