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Pro-ready Brooks, 14, Wins Prestigious AMA Award
Hunter Brooks shows off his biggest prize, the Nicky Hayden AMA Dirt Track Horizon Award, earned after winning a Grand Nationals title in Illinois. Photo contributed

Hunter Brooks is ready to turn pro.

And for high school.

Only 14 years old, the Escalon teen who lived most of his young life in Manteca raced as an amateur for the final time during the week of Fourth of July. Brooks captured the 251-500cc DTX championship in the Amateur Motorcyclist Association Dirt Track Grand Nationals in Du Quoin, Ill.

It’s the third straight year that he’s returned home with a national No. 1 plate, but along with it came an even bigger prize — the Nicky Hayden AMA Dirt Track Horizon Award, which recognizes a pro-ready rider who exhibits a good attitude and enthusiasm as well as merit.

John Brooks, Hunter’s dad, likens it to the Heisman Trophy for NCAA football.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” John said. “It’s special that he won it this year because there’s some meaning to it.”

Nicky Hayden was among the inaugural winners of the Horizon Award — which also go to the top amateurs in road racing and motocross — back in 1997. Hayden went on to become one of the most successful Horizon winners in the pro ranks, claiming the 2002 AMA Superbike championship and 2006 FIM MotoGP world title. Hayden died in May after he was struck by a car while training on his road bicycle in Italy.

The AMA voted unanimously to name the Horizon Award in his honor.

 “I didn’t think I was in contention for it, but it meant a lot to get it,” Hunter Brooks said. “Nicky Hayden is huge for the sport. To get it exactly 20 years after he did is special.”

Brooks won four of 12 races over three days, competing in the half-mile, amateur TT and indoor short-track events. After winning national titles in the 12-15-year-old 85cc DTX and 201-250cc classes in consecutive years, he graduated up to the bigger bike with intentions of turning pro after the 2017 nationals.

“Before my last race my dad said, ‘These are the last eight laps of your amateur career” Brooks said. “Hearing that kind of shocked me for a second, but I’m happy to move on with my career.”

While ever confident in his growing son’s abilities, John was a little concerned about the move to a 450cc bike. At about 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, and still growing, the younger Brooks has proven he could handle the load and hang with the big boys.

“Between the 250 and 450 there’s about 20 more horsepower, which isn’t much, but it’s also heavier,” John said. “My concern was if he’d be able to muscle the bike around and he’s been able to do that and use the extra horsepower to his advantage. He really took to them well.”

As for turning pro?

“He’s been bugging me about it and I was a little skeptical,” John said. “Since nationals we — with Hunter as the rider, me and our other mechanic (Robert Orozco) — just decided to keep our program moving forward. He’s ran some pro-am events around here and done very well.”

Brooks has taken first in pro-am competitions in TT and short track in Lodi. On Saturday, he’ll compete as a pro for the first time in Ventura. While he is a licensed pro in the California Flat Track Association, he won’t be able to obtain a Steel Shoe Nationals license until Dec. 27 when he turns 15. He’ll be a freshman at Escalon High by then.

“I’m definitely excited about high school,” Brooks said. “I would like to stay in a public school, but if I have to do home school that’s fine. I want my career to go as best as it can go.

“I’ve ran some pro-am stuff locally, but when you get to the national level that’s the big time,” Brooks said. “I want to finish my first year with points. It would be nice to win a championship, but top five would be really good.”