Blountville’s Brown makes his mark in X Games

Jeff Birchfield • Jul 3, 2012 at 9:13 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Mike Brown continues to defy logic.

The Johnson City native won his first XGames gold medal on Sunday at age 40, beating a field of 20-somethings in the Men’s Enduro X race at XGames 18 in Los Angeles.

Cody Webb and Cory Graffunder finished second and third, while defending XGames champion Taddy Blazusiak, who is Brown’s Red Bull/KTM teammate, missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

“Every race I go to, all they talk about is how old I am,” Brown said. “It used to bother me, but now I enjoy it. Every time I beat them, it makes me want to go even more. This week, there was a lot of pressure to go out and do good. But, I did it.”

It was the latest accomplishment in a remarkable career which has lasted nearly three decades. At age 29, Brown won the 2001 AMA 125cc National Championship, and he later added the British 125 cc motocross title. He’s also won championships in Canada and Japan, and has won races from several corners of the globe. It includes countries throughout Europe to Indonesia to Australia.

After finishing seventh in the 2007 Supercross World Championships, Brown transitioned into endurocross and won the 2009 WORCS (World Off-Road Championship Series) championship.

He was a silver medalist in the 2011 XGames in 2011 before his gold-medal winning effort on Sunday.

Longtime friend Dwayne Leonard, the sales manager at Atlas Honda in Bristol, raved about his versatility.

“He’s changed course so many times, racing different venues,” Leonard said. “By far, he’s most the most well-rounded, two-wheel off-road rider ever.”

Blazusiak, a native of Poland who won last year’s Enduro X debut at X Games, was the pre-race favorite. But, he stumbled out of the gate and had an early fall. Meanwhile, Brown took the hole shot from the start and held his lead throughout the race, even keeping the lead after his own last-lap crash.

Brown finished 4.6 seconds ahead of Webb and over five seconds ahead of Graffunder.

“I’ve been racing this off-road stuff for about three years. For sure, this is one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “We’re doing the Baja 1000. I won the (Baja) 500 a few months ago, but this is awesome.”

There was a large welcome-home celebration for Brown on Tuesday night at Tri-Cities Regional Airport with banner from Bristol Motor Speedway touting him as Tennesee’s first X Games champion. Brown greeted the crowd by pumping his fist and holding his gold medal over his head.

“I feel like a young kid again with all the people here to support me,” he said. “I won one of the biggest championships in the world and it wasn’t like this. This is good for me.”

It was another spectacular moment in a career which began when his father, Berney, bought his first bike from Kirk Hayes of Jim’s Motorcycle Sales in Johnson City when Mike was 12.

Wondering where he might ride the bike, Hayes suggested that Brown’s father take him to Muddy Creek Raceway within shouting distance of Tri-Cities Airport.

Brown took to the motocross track like a duck to water and finished second in his first ever race. It wasn’t long until his father knew there was a special talent.

“After the first year, he was beating kids who had been riding 5-6 years,” Berney Brown said. “I’m very proud of him. He’s doing stuff that 20 year olds can hardly do. When Mike and I go to races, we see the elderly guys at 24, 25, 26 years old and they ask, ‘What’s he still doing racing?’ ”

Longtime friend Jackie Doyle of Bristol talked about Brown’s amazing longevity in a sport which nearly all top riders are done by age 30.

“Mike’s career took off at the point when most people’s end,” Leonard said. “That shows the determination this guy’s got.”

Ask Brown why he consistently outruns riders half his age, and he’s quick to respond.

“It’s the effort I put into it, the training, the riding,” he said. “You have to be on good team to do that, and KTM is one of the top off-road teams. There is a lot of time away from home, traveling and training. That’s what pays off at the end of races. It’s all about the training and preparation. But, I enjoy it all and I still feel like I’m 20 years old.”

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