Local finds success at his own speed
Racer finds the key to unlocking faster times was asking for help.
NEW YORK MILLS — Hunter Fitzgerald is an atypical motocross racer. He has a stocky stature, joined the race circuit at 19 years of age and quickly found his first sponsors.
In the midst of beginner's success, he learned a trait that likely opened up a world in racing that may have taken many more years to unlock. The trait he learned was how to ask for help.
“Before, asking for help was hard,” he said. “I didn’t want, or think, that I needed help; I wanted to learn on my own.”
When it came to improving his racing abilities, Fitzgerald realized he could hold his ground, learn through hard knocks and watch years pass by. Or, he could change. He sought out a trainer that rides on the national motocross circuit and took advantage of his teammate Braeden Barstow’s knowledge by opening his ears. The result was reduced times.
“I learned how to hit jumps and take corners better,” he said, noting both improved his times.
As his race times decreased, his placing at the end of the events increased, and sponsors followed.
His first leap into the realm of sponsorship came after watching a fellow racer find success with Hydro Power, a vitamin supplement for athletes. On social media, he saw an opportunity for racers to “tag a dream sponsor.”
“Within 20 minutes of doing that, they contacted me through social media,” he said.
Fitzgerald also created a profile with pictures, videos and personal information where potential sponsors could find him. The effort put into his profile yielded results when a travel backpack company took notice. He signed a contract with them that lasts through 2023.
From crash and burn to contender
Fitzgerald stepped up to his first-ever starting line at the Crow Wing County Fair in Brainerd, Minn., this past August.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “I had bought my new bike two weeks before.”
While some motorbikes may be interchangeable with minor differences, Fitzgerald’s change-up was profound. He explained that many racers use a 250 model. Because of his weight, he went with a 450 model, which offers the rider a larger frame and offers more vertical height.
“There was a very big learning curve that day,” he said. “At almost every turn I was crashing or stalling. But, I finished the race.”
Fitzgerald stuck with his bike choice, hoping the stress on his body would be reduced. The typical race, or practice, with a 20-minute run time often left his muscles aching or injured and his mind in a state of “extreme energy drain.”
“It’s been treating me really well,” he said of the 450 bike model. “I’m at the point where if I hop on anyone else's bike, I can take one rip on it and can’t ride it.”
Sticking to what works paid dividends for Fitzgerald. But before gaining a sponsorship, he had to take hard knocks on the race course. Racing had been in his mind for years, as he enjoyed riding dirt bikes.
“I never got around to it (racing),” he said, adding when he turned 19 he had “got to the point” he “needed to just do it, and pull the plug.”
He began competing on tracks, where jumps and corners on a dirt bed separate guts and glory, along with the hare scrambles, like his father used to race when he was a child.
“Hare scrambles are basically an off-road race through the woods,” he explained.
Many races are filled with enjoyment, fun and the thrill of a race. But, Fitzgerald has seen the other side of racing. He recalled the last race of the 2022 outdoor season had 19 competitors at the starting line. When the drop onto the track happened, a hectic frenzy followed and created an accident in which his “friend severed a finger in a sprocket.”
“The race was immediately red-flagged,” he said, noting the suffering he witnessed his friend endure “was hard to see.”
While not to the extent of losing a finger, Fitzgerald also knows the pain that the sport can bring. During a practice run, he crashed and landed hard on his back. That day, just happened to be the day that he didn’t put on his chest protector for the practice lap.
“I ended up compressing my back and neck,” he said, adding he also got a concussion, but may not have been aware of it right away. He noted there was just enough time for him to get to the pits and ready for the race, despite the bike having a bent front fender. During the race, he made a pit stop and asked a crew member how many laps remained.
“He looked at me and said the white flag is out (one lap to go),” he said. “It makes you think about what the sport can do to you.”
However, when one has a passion for motocross racing, it is hard to step away, he said. Fitzgerald plans to continue training and progressing until he goes pro.