At just 20 years old, Tyler Bowers, the 2011 AMA Arenacross Series champion and current points leader, is a track veteran.
He got his first motorcycle at age 2 and has been racing competitively since he was 3.
Still, there's something special about coming home.
"I've been waiting for a while for this," said Bowers, whose family lives in Danville.
He will compete in Arenacross racing this weekend at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Arenacross is a relatively new form of motorcycle racing. As in motocross, competitors race on a closed dirt track with hills and jumps, but unlike that relatively familiar sport, it's on an indoor track (often in an arena), the course is compact and the turns are sharp.
The Bowers family — parents Kathy and Tim and sister Chelcy — started traveling the country for competitions in an RV before Tyler entered middle school. For a time, the camper was the family residence. But the track is where Bowers says he feels most at home.
He turned pro at 16 and already has earned enough cash to buy 60 acres of land in Crab Orchard, southwest of Berea, that he has turned into a training center. The Arenacross championship winner takes home $40,000, and sponsorships and performance fees add up.
But the window to be competitive is small, he said. Prime racing years range from 18 to 28.
"That's when your testosterone is really flowing and your reflexes are quick," Bowers said.
Arenacross has its positives: travel, fierce competition, a pretty good paycheck for someone just entering his third decade of life. There is, of course, a downside. The road can get lonely, he said: "My heart is in Kentucky. That's where I want to be."
Plus, injuries are plentiful. Bowers' career came to a standstill a few years ago when he broke both femurs (the thigh bone). "The bone that is the hardest to break and I broke both of them," he said. He's currently nursing an ankle that he injured in a recent race.
On Saturday at Rupp, 16 professional riders will take to the indoor track, completing each of the 25 laps in about 25 seconds.
Bruising action is part of the allure of the sport, which Bowers compares to a bar fight. The adrenaline is pumping, the quarters on the track are close, and riders do anything they can to win. "It's really aggressive and really rough," he said.
"Bar to bar, banging racing" is how it's described by Lindsey Scheltema, aka Miss Arenacross.
Scheltema, the Arenacross spokeswoman for four years, is a racer herself, and she has an injured rotator cuff from a spill last summer to prove it. She took to the track when she was 8. "It gets really crazy and tight, they bang into each other and crash," she said.
Rupp Arena has been transformed to a dirt track for the event, with heavy equipment shoving mounds of dirt to create just the right angles. Scheltema said about 70 percent of Arenacross racers come from Ohio, where indoor tracks are plentiful.
She and Bowers urge novice racers to come out and try their luck on the course on Sunday, when racing will open to amateurs.
"Everybody needs to experience this once in their life," she said. "It is a crazy, chaotic mess."
Be prepared, alert and ready to ride hard, Bowers said. Hitting the course when you are not fully ready, he said, "is a recipe for disaster."
But, he said, "That's what makes it fun."