By Jeanne Sager
COCHECTON December 24, 2004 Phil Nicoletti Jr. has come a long way from winging a motorized bike around his familys basement.
The 15-year-old is on the brink of making it in the motocross world a win at nationals this coming August, and he could go from an amateur with a dream to a professional motocross racer.
But its going to take more than just dreaming.
Nicoletti said motocross is the hardest sport hes ever tried his hand at it takes guts, it takes strength, it takes skills.
And he loves every minute of it.
Theres nothing like it, the Sullivan West sophomore said. Its probably one of the most physically demanding sports there is it takes a lot of practice, but its fun.
Nicoletti remembers the day he sat down with his dad, Phil Nicoletti Sr., to talk about his future.
He was 4 years old, and his dad gave him three choices.
He said I could play basketball, soccer or motocross, Nicoletti recalls. I got my first bike a PW50 that Christmas.
Nicoletti took his first ride in the family basement. By the time he was 6 years old, his dad had set up a track in the backyard for him to hit the jumps for real.
His first race was a youngsters competition at Holiday Mountain in Bridgeville.
I think I came in dead last, Nicoletti recalled. I probably only made it one lap, and Dad ran around the whole thing with me.
It was a thrill Nicoletti has been chasing ever since.
Hes put in practice time and developed as a racer, entering competitions from New Jersey to Texas, traveling the country sometimes with his family, sometimes just with his dad, and sometimes going it alone.
There have been Thursday nights where I drove out to I-84 to meet somebody coming down from New England and put him in a truck with them to head down South, Phil Sr. recalled.
On Sunday, Nicoletti would come back North and get picked up by his dad somewhere along the way.
Phil Sr. is an old motocross racer himself he and his brothers had snowmobiles and dirtbikes, and they all loved to race.
But he said he was nothing compared to his son.
I was never really good, he said with a laugh. But hes taking it to a different level.
Phil Jr. puts in hours of practice everyday after school he rides in his backyard, and on weekends he heads to races.
The family knows what hes up against most serious motocross racers in the South have made this their life.
They get up at 5 in the morning and train all day, Phil Sr. explained. Theyre home-schooled, so they only go to school for about two, two and a half hours a day.
Its not really like being an amateur, its more like being a professional.
Those kids have a personal trainer and a mechanic on staff Phil Jr. has Phil Sr.
And they have a years worth of quality riding weather. Phil Jr. takes the winter off, heading to a few indoor events, but mostly putting his efforts into trying to stay in shape.
The bikes are heavy, and with all the jumps and bumps, you need to be able to hold it in place, Phil Jr. explained.
During the winter, hell stud out his tires and go riding on snowmobile tracks to keep his hand in it. And hell study past performances with his dad.
My dad knows all the tricks and everything hes really smart with that, Nicoletti said.
Its tough, having his father for his coach, but hed like to show his dad theres an appreciation for what he used to do.
I definitely wasnt forced into this, Phil Jr. explained. This was definitely my decision if I were to back out now, he wouldnt mind.
Nicoletti said he knows hes lucky to have a family that supports his every move.
Theyre behind me 100 percent, he said. My mom puts up with us jetting on her all the time.
And his brothers and sisters deal with having their dad and brother on the road constantly.
Phil Sr. said its difficult to be away at the holidays, and he wants to be home watching his daughters play basketball or soccer so he has to split his time carefully.
He said his wife, Sue, keeps things moving and makes Phils motocross career possible.
Without my wifes support you can bet it wouldnt get done, he said.
Also helping to make this a possibility are the sponsors both local and national companies have ponied up money to keep Nicoletti racing.
His dad said theyve been impressed that a kid from New York, who faces the challenges of the off-season, has done so well.
He gets money for races, bikes, gear, even goggles from companies like OTooles Harley Davidson in Wurtsboro, Honda, Thor, Scott Goggles, Twin Air Air Filters, Boyeson Reeds, Red Line Oils, PR Two Oils, Freese Shoes and Pro-Circuit Pipes.
Its unbelievable the money thats poured into amateur racers, Phil Sr. said.
If he has a motorcycle problem, he takes it over to Honda right in the trailer its just like NASCAR, he explained. Four mechanics rip it apart and fix the problem . . . they get you right back out there.
Honda in particular has increased their support to Nicoletti, and they expect to see him winning races with their name emblazoned on his bike and their endorsement mentioned when hes on the winners podium.
Garnering sponsors is part of the path to the pros.
Nicoletti is looking for as much outside support as he can get as he prepares for the Loretta Lynn National Motocross Championship in Tennessee.
Two years ago, he placed seventh. Last year, he was third in his age group.
Now hes on the brink of something big.
A lot of decisions have to be made in the next year, Phil Sr. said. Hes got to go down to the nationals and make a statement by winning a few events.
Phil Jr. is sure he can do it. Phil Sr. is optimistic, but much more cautious.
There are so many kids anymore who are into it, he said. Theyre coming from all over the place - its very competitive.
And the competitive life of a pro motocross racer is only about eight or nine years, he added. Its not a sport like baseball where you can just let your child go to practice and theyre fine.
To have any chances, Phil Jr. has to stay healthy and strong, he said.
Thats a challenge, but one the younger Nicoletti said hes ready for.
Hes blown out his knee, broken the growthplate in his arm, dislocated both his shoulders the left one twice.
He knocked out four of his permanent teeth and almost bit off his own tongue, but he just gets back on the bike and heads out on the track.
Ive been doing it for so long, you dont really think about it, he said.
Theres nothing like motocross, Phil Jr. added. Its a lot harder, and it takes a lot more guts.
Its not like shooting a basketball into a hoop youre hoping to make a 90 foot gap with you and a bike.
And Phil Nicoletti Jr. is hoping to make it into the record books.
Name: Phil Nicoletti Jr.
School and grade: 10th grade, Sullivan West High School
Parents and family: Nicoletti is the son of Sue and Phil Nicoletti Sr. He has three sisters, 14-year-old Amelia, 13-year-old Laura and 11-year-old Regina; and a brother, 7-year-old Michael.
Favorite sport: Motocross
Favorite professional sports figure: Ricky Carmichael
Ultimate athletic goal or dream career: To ride the motocross tracks as a professional racer.
Favorite school subject: Biology