Essential travel only is being recommended for Canadians during the pandemic to minimize the risk of a COVID-19 infection.
Motocross parents Doug and Betty Pettis of Prince George were more than willing to accept that risk. It was essential for them to make the trip this weekend to Houston, Texas. It’s where they have to be to watch their 23-year-old son Jess race the top riders in the world Saturday in the season-opening Monster Energy AMA Supercross event.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Doug Pettis. “It’s the exact same thing as if our kid went to the NHL and was playing a game. It’s a lifetime dream. Back 15 years ago a couple of my friends said Jess was just a needle in a haystack and I said yeah, he might be one of those needles in the haystack but you’ve got to give it your best.
“We didn’t tell too many people we were going because there’s lots of naysayers out there who figure we’re irresponsible. But when I found that doctors and politicians went to Hawaii… there’s rules and there’s regulations and then there’s Jess at supercross and I just said to Betty, I’m going, and if you want to come, come along.”
Doug and Betty got Jess involved in motocross not long after he started school and they’ve been there for him at the track throughout his career. They gave up huge chunks of their summers watching him practice at the BCR Industrial Site or Blackwater Motocross Park and driving with him in their motorhome to all the tracks around the province and across Canada on the national circuits. Now that he’s a riding as a two-time Rockstar Energy MX 250 national champion they’ll get to see for themselves how far Jess has progressed after two months of intense practice at the prestigious, by-invitation-only Baker’s Factory training facility in Clermont, Fla, where he’s been working with world-renowned trainer Aldon Baker.
“He’s in a good place,” said Doug. “When they brought him to Baker’s, that’s the best trainer in the world. He takes only the top five guys in the world and for Jess to get invited to that was another dream come true.”
Pettis broke into the supercross world two years ago in the Western series, tackling his first stadium races right after switching bike sponsors. At the time, with only three weeks to train on his new bike, he turned a few heads when he posted five top-12 results in the 250SX class, including a fifth-place finish in San Diego, before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury he suffered in practice.
“He was quite unprepared last time, the bike wasn’t ready and he wasn’t ready after switching to KTM after riding the Yamaha four years and then it was off to supercross, but it went quite well,” said Doug, who attended most of Jess’s 2019 races on the AMA circuit.
“They’ve spent two years with him on that bike. KTM Canada is hooked at the hip with KTM U.S. so he’s on a U.S. bike with a U.S. motor and a U.S. suspension so he’s got an equivalent bike to the other top guys in the world.”
At Baker’s Factory the practice tracks are virtually identical to what he’ll see this year on the supercross circuit, and he’s been riding them regularly the past two months, so there won’t be any surprises in the track setup he’ll see this weekend at NRG Stadium in Houston.
“He’s been gone two months and when I talked to him he said, ‘Dad, I belong with these guys, I’ve never felt this confident before,’” said Doug. “ He’s been living and training with Cooper Webb and Marvin Musquin, two of the best in the world, for two months at Baker’s and he’s really healthy mentally and physically and his bike is deadly, so he’s extremely happy.”
It costs Pettis $10,000 US per month to live and train at Baker’s and he’s had to shell out his own money and tap a few of his best sponsors in B.C. and Alberta to foot the bill. The bank of Mr. and Mrs. Pettis has already been taxed to the max.
“We probably could have bought two or three houses but what the hell, no regrets,” laughed Doug, who makes his living in Prince George as a truck driver. “People say to me, ‘How much money do you think you’ve spent on Jess,’ but I’d hate to figure it out. It was a good journey with lots of memories and where it takes us I don’t know but it’s taken us to a dream come true.
“I told Jess a week ago, ‘you have no pressure except for the pressure you put on yourself.’ He knows he’s racing the best in the world right now but I just told him ‘go have fun, you’re riding your dirt bike.”
Pettis practiced on the Houston course Friday and on Saturday qualified 14th-fastest out of 40 riders but he hurt his leg in a practice lap on the NRG Stadium course and was unable to race.
This was the first of eight stops on the Eastern Supercross circuit. Houston will also host races next Tuesday and Saturday before the circuit switches to Indianapolis, for races Jan. 30, Feb. 2 and 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Eastern series wraps up in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 13 and 20.
Doug and Betty will be in Houston for all three race days and then will drive Jess’s van for the 13-hour trip to Indiana. They plan to stay up in the stands during Saturday’s race, rather than go to the pits to avoid having to go through some of the COVID protocols designed to help the riders avoid contact with the virus. A positive test means no racing for three weeks. The stadium seats 72,220 but the crowd for Saturday’s race will be limited to one-third capacity.
Jess has had his share of racing injuries over the years, including a knee injury that sidelined him last year during supercross season, and Doug says his wife gets extremely nervous watching him race.
“Sometimes it scares the hell out of her and she has to just walk away,” said Doug. “I got better over the years and she got worse.”