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Enjoying a glorious ‘Sunset’

Sunset Ridge in Walnut offers motocross riders a safe education

“We utilize several local EMTs and paramedics, and they told me they get their best trauma experience at Sunset Ridge,” Pistole said, noting out of 6,000 participants in 2015, only 24 riders experienced injuries. “That’s less than a 1 percent injury rate, and we hold to that standard every single year.”

Pistole said children start riding at 3 or 4 years old, and Sunset Ridge has a particular area for beginner riders. When they show improvement in skill and understanding of their vehicle, the riders move up the ladder to the main motocross track.

“It’s enjoyable for the whole family, and we watch riders grow up here,” she said, adding riders are not just racing, but learning each time they are on the bike. “We have 6,000 family members, because when they come through the gates, they are treated as part of the family — the motocross family.”

She hears it all the time. A person must be crazy — a glutton for punishment — to go flying over the dirt jumps like a bird without wings, as everyone comes crashing back to the planet once in a while, but Pistole mandates a strict regiment of particular safety gear before a person is allowed to roll a single tire down the track.

“They don’t get on track without full riding gear — a helmet, chest protectors, long sleeve jerseys and pants, and most are wearing neck braces now,” she explained, stating Sunset Ridge doesn’t allow any type of stunt activity because of the risk factor, even though it draws a crowd. “People who watch say, ‘I could do that,’ but they aren’t properly trained.

“That’s one of the reasons people like to come here. It’s friendly and safe, which is what we continue striving for,” Pistole said, giving riders a safe course for tires to spin their miles on, and instant medical attention when needed. “We don’t charge for a Band-Aid, let alone a trip to the hospital. The ambulance functions solely on donations, so people throw $5 in the bucket when they come to ride, and it’s their good karma for safety for the day.”

Sunset Ridge hosts 10 gravity-defying race events every year, including a national ATV event and a national qualifier event on the amateur motocross circuit. They supplement practice days two or three weekends each month, so even those who want to ride rather than race are more than welcome to test out the sharp and steeping dirt curves — but only if they steer clear of recklessness.

“We don’t just open the gates and say go ride; we do practice sessions, keeping the little bikes, the big bikes and the ATVs separate, so everybody is riding in their own ability.”

She invites all interested eyes to come watch the excitement of the family sport that has fought hard against the stigma of drug-using law breakers. She said Sunset Ridge is where people start and can continue to stardom, as LaMoille native Chase Sexton is riding nationally with the Geico Honda team; and Galena native Chad Wienen has won four ATV national championships. Both began with the “Sunset” in their eyes.

“We have a facility out of Walnut, Ill., that produces great worth, and as safety has always been our No. 1 goal, and I don’t know who hurts worse when someone gets hurt; the rider or me,” Pistole admitted, stating playing sports, climbing trees and jumping on trampolines can result in serious injuries if participants don’t respect the rules. “If you respect the motorcycle — and enter the track only after you do — then it becomes the culture.”

Pistole celebrates the wild achievement of a 30-foot jump along with everyone else, but there are two things she is unable to put a measurement on at Sunset Ridge — how much fun she’s had, and how many lives they’ve touched.

“Our satisfaction is when they leave in the vehicle they came in, and then come back and tell us what a great time they had.”

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