Seated atop his 85cc motorbike, Cole Carmichael has raced competitively in about 35 races in the past year and a half. He's brought home 16 first place finishes, nine second place finishes, and four third place finishes. Not too shabby, considering he's only been riding seriously for about two years. And oh yeah: he's only 14. To say he's a natural on the seat of a bike is a massive understatement.
It's only been a few short months, but the racing bug has gotten into Cole's heart and the sport has moved from a hobby, to a passion, to a dream of a future professional career.
He had a dirt bike he kind of puttered around on in his backyard, but he was never a serious rider. Then, when he was 12, after five years of competitive baseball, he decided he was ready for a change. He and his friend Anthony, also a ball player, talked it over and decided they both wanted to try riding motorbikes.
One day, he casually mentioned to a family friend, Kirk Huff, that he was quitting baseball to focus on bikes. Kirk used to race motocross professionally and he offered to take Cole out and ride with him. That first Sunday they rode for four hours. The practice session morphed into a weekly ride in the 'dobies.
Cole started out on a 2014 Kawasaki KLX 110. It wasn't long before he was pushing himself and his bike to faster speeds and taking jumps, and then bigger jumps. Pretty soon, he outgrew that bike's limitations on speed and height. He upgraded to an 85cc bike and has been flying ever since.
"When he rides, it's second nature to him," said mom Bobbie. "You can tell it's a passion."
It wasn't too long before Kirk approached Bobbie and told her Cole was ready to race. He wanted Cole to race in the Moto Mayhem held at the Delta County Fair in 2015.
Bobbie said she told Cole to just take it easy on his first race.
Cole said he remembers being nervous, scared and excited as he got ready for the race. He and his competitors were able to practice for 10 minutes before the moto started. "I led most of the practice laps and I held my own, so then I wasn't as nervous," he said. He raced two motos that day in the 85cc class. He earned a second place finish in his first moto, and a first place finish in the second moto. His two high wins helped him take first place overall -- in his very first competitive race. "I didn't expect to lose, but it was a surprise to finish first overall," Cole said. "I felt really happy. It was a huge goal to win a race." Winning that moto also gave him a burst of confidence, he said, that pushed him to want to do more.
He continued to work on a regular basis with Kirk, who has coached Cole on form, safety and how to handle the bike along different points of a course. Other coaches and mentors have come along, too -- Craig Hasto, Tell Gore, Colton Spencer and Eric Rhoten. They help Cole perfect his performance and technique. But Cole is a natural on the seat of a bike, his parents say.
"We see his passion for it, and we support that passion," Bobbie said. "When you have a kid that is this passionate about something, you want to help him improve." That means lots of practice time in the 'dobies, schlepping a bike around the back of the truck, and running all over Colorado so Cole can race. He's raced in Delta during the Downtown DeltaFest, and in Montrose, Eagle, Rifle, Meeker, Powderhorn, Lakewood, Aztec, N.M., and Monticello, Utah, at Bull Hollow Raceway, which is his favorite track. "There is one big jump on it that I really like, and I've done really well there ... except for one wreck," Cole said.
So far Cole has been pretty lucky in that department. There was one race when another rider ended up rolling over the top of Cole. His sleeve got burned and he got knocked in the head. Cole, a racer until the end, stood right back up and tried to get back in the race. "He told me, 'I have to go, I'm in fourth place!' " Bobbie said. But she took one look at the blood running down his face and made him sit out the rest of the race. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt too badly.
"With racing, our theory isn't if a crash will happen, it's when it's going to happen," Bobbie said. "There is danger in this sport. But we also have faith and confidence that he uses his head when he races."
"I'm not afraid to crash," Cole said. "When I'm afraid I'm going to crash, that's when I crash."
"Kirk taught him that when he's out there, it's just him and track," Bobbie added.
When Cole headed back to school this past fall -- as an eighth grader at Delta Middle School -- school work and sports began to eat up more of his time, cutting into his practice time with Kirk. But he has persisted. Every night after football practice, Bobbie would pick up Cole and they'd head to the 'dobies, where Cole would ride until dark, practicing that sport with as much determination as he gave his coaches on the football field. He also plays basketball and wrestles at school, but racing remains his first love.
Like any love, racing can get kind of expensive, from the bike itself, to gas, travel and entry fees. Mom and Dad help tremendously in that department, but Cole also works summers and helps out financially. He's also picked up some business acumen with his racing, seeking, and securing, several sponsors who help him with finances. Like a pro, Cole said he wants to thank his sponsors for their support: 1440 Image Apparel, Daveto's, H&H Transport, H.H. Huff Excavating, Pahgre's and Sparks Crane. He's also looking for additional sponsors, as he wants to amp up his race schedule this summer.
"If I could, I would go all the way. I would go pro with racing. I want to do this my whole life. Well, until I get old. I just love it," he said.
That means he keeps practicing and improving, increasing his bike size along the way. He wants to travel more, and is already planning on several races around the state this summer. He is also looking into a winter series here in a few weeks.
You can keep up with Cole's progress and see some videos on his Facebook page, "Cole Carmichael Racing."
Two accidents involving school property are proving costly for Delta County Joint School District, district business manager Jim Ventrello reported last week. Both incidents involved uninsured drivers, forcing the school district to file claims with its insurance provider and pay deductibles of $10,000.