Dean Johnson is living proof motocross is not just a young man's game.
Just two months shy of his 50th birthday, the Fort St. James mill worker was more than willing to puts his guts through the blender racing the 450cc pro class last weekend at the Rockstar Energy Triple Crown MX tour stop at Blackwater Motocross Park, and lived to tell the tale.
Just to qualify for the race was a feat in itself, taking on some of the top professional riders in Canada and the United States, most of whom are half his age.
Johnson was among 37 riders who lined up in the gate and he finished 32nd in his first moto and 35th in the second to place 35th overall.
He was three laps behind the leaders when the checkered flag dropped, but those guys up front do it for a living as sponsored riders. Johnson decided this year he'd take a run at the pros riding a bike he borrowed from his buddy, Garry Logan, at Forest Power Sports.
It wasn't exactly smooth sailing for Johnson racing one of the most technically-challenging courses on the pro circuit. Blackwater is known for its long steep pitches, rutty tracks and bone-jarring bumps and it didn't help tat his 450 pro class are marathons - 30 minutes plus two laps - more than enough to leave him feeling drained.
"It's really rough out there, I probably haven't rode a track that rough in 20 years," said Johnson, while sipping on a cool drink of water.
"I'm turning 50 this year so I wanted to have one last kick at the can and qualify for a national and go and have fun, mix it up with the guys and show some of the younger kids that age in not something that makes you pack everything in. You can still do things when you're old.
"I want to kind of be that guy kids look up to, 'It's cool, he's still racing,' I want to be that guy. It's satisfying. My arms are throbbing a bit, but everything else feels good."
Johnson started racing motocross when he was 15 and knows how hard you have to train to be able to race at a national level. Before last weekend it had been 20 years since he last raced in a national event. That was also at Blackwater and placed seventh overall after finishing 16th on the Western national pro circuit the previous season.
His job at Apollo Forest Products involves shift work and that means getting into the gym whatever time of the day suits his schedule. Ever since the snow melted in March he's been making the half-hour trek to Vanderhoof, the closest motocross track, to practice on his bike. But there's nothing like a race to replicate the adrenaline rush he gets cranking the throttle. Living on the edge for more than half-hour each race taxes his body to the limit.
"It's exhilarating, but on the same page it's mentally challenging and physically demanding and it's something you can't take lightly," he said.
"I started training three months ago, changed my diet (trading sugar and carbohydrates for fruits and vegetables). If you're going to do it, you can't do it half-assed. There's days when I'm lying there and I don't want to go ride - I'm 50 and I'm tired - but if you want to come out here and do well, you have to do it. You have to put in the seat time, I've probably got close to 70 hours on this bike and my own personal bike this year, with three months to go. Last year I had 35 hours for the whole year."
Most often he has his 20-year-old son Nathan along for the ride. Nathan, who started riding minis when he was five, tried to qualify last Saturday in the 250cc pro class for the Prince George pro race but came up two seconds short of cracking the 40-rider field.
"Me and him I think we were the only father and son to try out for nationals this weekend, because most of them aren't old enough even to have kids," laughed Nathan.
"It's just really awesome to see your dad, 50 years old, out there. He's happier than a pig. It's so cool to see him out there racing. It's not even being fast, it's just knowing he's out there. He was three laps down and still giving 'er."
The Blackwater race will be Johnson's only pro race this year but he's not going to let his talents for taming horsepower go to waste.
He plans to enter oldtimers series races this summer in Agassiz and Edmonton.