Blood, Sweat and Dirt
If it has two wheels and a motor, these guys are in.
A group of deputies, most of whom ride motorcycles as part of the Rancho Cucamonga Traffic Division, compete in a motocross series specifically for first responders. Their work bikes are cool enough but their weekend bikes are their pride and joy. They are lighter, brighter and more fun to ride. There is nobody to pull over; just plenty of racers to pull out in front of.
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Cpl. Mark Addy, Dep. Alex Zapata, Dep. Nick Seybert, Dep. Jose Carrillo and Sgt. Kevin Arlotti, are part of a large group of deputies who get together on a regular basis and ride dirt bikes. Some in the larger group simply ride for fun but these five have a dedicated schedule to practice and train for a competitive motocross series.
They gather about once a week to practice for the FirePoliceMX National Racing Series, of which there are six rounds between March 27 and October 10, 2017. They also competed in the Christmas Grand Prix and plan to compete in the World Police & Fire Games.
"Racing against people who have jobs in public service;' Zapata said. ''All of us give so much at work, so coming out to ride is a welcome getaway.'
Although there is no hierarchy to this team, the guys agree Zapata is the unofficial leader. Zapata pulls people together and organizes events. His passion for the sport really bonds the group and his expertise is nearly unparalleled.
Zapata has been riding since he was 16 years old. His passion for dirt biking consumes most of his free time and his garage is full of bikes, bike parts, rear hubs, front hubs, tools, equipment, engine parts, etc.
"I love it;' Zapata said. "Some people go the gym, others have hobbies. This is what I do.'
The mission of the Fire Police Motocross is "to enjoy the competition of fellow firefighters and law enforcement officers on and off the track;' according to the official website. "To bring families together with a common interest in motocross. To provide safe and exciting racing.'
"Safe'' may be a relative term. While plenty of precautions are taken to keep riders from crashing, the sport itself is known for inflicting pain.
Crashes and injuries are common. Going around the group, each person had a list of injuries sustained while riding: dislocated shoulder, broken wrist, broken fingers, hurt backs, bruised ribs, etc.
But for Sgt. Kevin Arlotti, his injuries were so serious he vowed to quit the sport entirely. Arlotti suffered a severe accident in which he broke his neck, his back, his pelvis and his femur.
"I swore I would never ride again;' Arlotti said.
But the love for the sport, and the camaraderie it fosters, drew him back. He called up Asst. Sheriff Shannon Dicus, who is also a dirt bike rider, and asked if he could borrow a bike.
"I was back racing again;' Arlotti said.
Addy and Carrillo started riding when they were kids, both at 5 years old. Carrillo took some time off from the sport but never lost the love for it. Like everyone, injuries plagued him, causing him to second-guess the risks involved. But it is about more than the thrill of the jumps, turns and speed. It is about spending time with friends. This group has a tight bond, working together and playing together.
Seybert started riding a little over a year ago, he said. He was drawn to the sport because so many of his colleagues in the Rancho Cucamonga Traffic Division rode together and competed. Seybert bought Carrillds old bike and rode for the first time in January 2016.
"I hit the track in January and was majorly addicted;' Seybert said.
Since then, he has crashed four times.
The injuries may be OK for them to handle but for their families - specifically their wives - it is nerve-wrecking. The men joke about having to ask for permission to race. They taunt each other about whose wife is the hardest on them. They laugh about how they downplay every spill when asked at home about the severity of their injuries.
Like when Addy crashed during a practice ride. He suffered a concussion and needed emergency medical attention. But one of his biggest fears was what his wife was going to say when she found out. She was rightfully concerned, he admits. It's hard to explain to someone who loves you -- and wants to keep you safe -- why you feel compelled to compete in such a dangerous sport.
Motocross can also be an expensive sport, another point that may draw a sideward glance from a spouse, but it's well worth the cost. Because of Zapata's heavy involvement in the sport, he has made great professional connections with Troy Lee Designs, as well as John Burr cycles and Zip Ty Racing. Sponsorships help to offset some of the costs for his teammates. Once you have a bike and all the gear, the cost is relatively minimal, Zapata said.
The races cost about $25 to $40 to enter and there is no prize money or glory at the end. But it's not necessarily about winning, Zapata said; it's about camaraderie.
And bragging rights, of course.
In 2016, Zapata, Addy and Seybert won the Championship in the Police and Fire Games. The trio also won their respective divisions during the 2016 Fire Police MX race series. Carrillo narrowly missed the title.
"Two-points!" Carrillo said, while getting teased mercilessly by Addy, Zapata and Seybert. "Two freaking points!"
Seybert, the respective rookie of the crew, talked the most trash.
''And I'm the new guy;' Seybert said.
The trash-talking is all part of the fun. This is not a kumbaya-kind of sport. It's dirty, it's tough and it requires thick skin for both on and off the race track. But for all the blood, sweat and dirt that surrounds the rugged hobby, it promotes a sense of family that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
Many of the races involve camping out at the track. All the men and their families get together for the day. The kids play with each other; the wives bond over stories of feeling second to a dirt bike; and they all cook, laugh and enjoy the races.
"We love the camping atmosphere;' Zapata said. "We bring out a big trailer and camp with our families. We all have a great time.'
Kim Brown, Seybert's mother in law, brought his kids to the Glen Helen Race Track to watch their dad practice. Ashton, 10, Gavin, 7 and Maddie, 5, took turns paying their dad compliments as they watched him take turns and jumps on the practice track.
"Look, look, daddy went so high;' Maddie exclaimed as Seybert went over a jump.
Brown said the kids love to watch their dad ride. It is a healthy hobby that gets them all out of the house, she said. It is also important to have something that brings you joy, especially when her son-in-law's profession is so trying.
"They are all under a lot of stress;' Brown said. "They see a lot and have to handle so much at work. It's nice to have something to enjoy and help relieve the stress of the job."
Dirt bike riding not only relieves stress but requires physical fitness and endurance. On March 19th the team competed in a 6-hour, endurance race at the Glen Helen track. The group relies on Addy to help them with fitness. Fitness levels have a definite impact on racing abilities.
"We all try to get out at least once and week and just practice;' Addy said. "We feed off each other."
The FirePoliceMX 2017 Series is underway. It has six rounds, ending in October. In between is the World Police & Fire Games in August at the Glen Helen Raceway. The team is poised to bring home some impressive finishes. But the guys insist it's not all about the glory.
"It's about the stories;' Zapata said.
By Lolita Harper