Kevin Pocrnich is trying to win a national championship.
The Effingham resident is the top-ranked all-terrain vehicle racers in Class 16 of the Mountain Dew ATV Motocross Championship and is in sixth place in Class 14.
He has won his last three races in Class 16 on the national circuit and leads the standings by 35 points. He’s traveling all over the U.S. for races, sponsored by IC Enterprises.
He’s also 49, going on 50 years old and making an ageless comeback in the sport.
In 1989, Pocrnich retired from racing after two professional seasons to make time to raise a family and because he hadn’t been able to race in every race on the circuit — needing a sponsor to foot the bill.
Then 25 years old, Pocrnich thought he was leaving a “young man’s sport,” but a decade later, in 1999, he returned and hit the dirt running.
“I knew I could still run with everyone,” Pocrnich realized after watching some races. “I got hooked right back into it. In 2005, I won 24 of 25 races.”
He’s eyeing an elusive national championship as he holds the top spot in Class 16, which is for riders ages 40 and older, and the sixth place position in Class 14 for racers 30 years and older.
At his age, the race tracks are as brutal as ever and Pocrnich said he’s surprised sometimes that he can still hang on to land big jumps and take the “beating” that riding an ATV requires.
But he only feels the pain after the races.
“I feel like, when I’m racing, nothing hurts,” Pocrnich said. “When that gate opens and I take off, that’s the best I feel. The butterflies are gone and you don’t hurt anymore.”
If he can handle the bumps and bruises, he said being a veteran racer comes with advantages. He said he’s smarter on the track than some racers, even though he can’t compete with their physical advantage.
“Just being smart and knowing what I know and how to approach every race — it’s 75 percent mental, maybe a little more,” Pocrnich said. “It’s a mentally-fatiguing game.”
Pocrnich hopes to race for a couple more years on the national stage because he’ll have the sponsorship assistance and he loves it. Even so, he knows a career can end in an instant.
“It’s still very dangerous,” Pocrnich said. “It keeps me in physically great shape and mentally tough. I could wreck and be out in a second.”
The next national race is this weekend in Millville, Minn. The event takes place over two days and Pocrnich said it’s a blast watching a lot of races and seeing a lot of people show up.
But nothing is bigger, he said, than the last race of the season on Aug. 9 and 10 — the Can-Am ATV Dirt Days in Hurricane Mills, Tenn., where Pocrnich will race for a national trophy.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.