Roberts races ATV in honor of grandfather
Jenson Roberts stopped racing his ATV to mourn the death of his grandfather. He returned nearly two years later to honor him.
Roberts, a 17-year-old junior at Verdigris High School, credits his grandfather, Everett Sexton, with beginning and building his passion for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles).
“His grandfather bought him a little 125 (cubic centimeter engine ATV) when he was about eight,” Jenson’s grandmother, Sandra Sexton, said. “He rode it all day in 105-degree temperature, by putting wet rags on his head and putting his helmet back on.
“His grandpa said ‘Boy, he really likes this’ and it just kind of escalated from there. They started talking to people (about racing). His grandfather said ‘I know where he is when he’s racing and it sounds like a good thing to get him involved in.’”
Jenson’s forte is TT racing, short for Tourist Trophy. It involves riding on a prepared, outdoors dirt track. The tracks are crosses between an auto-racing road course requiring left- and right-hand turns, and a motocross layout involving jumps.
“I started going to a shop in Tulsa, called Sand Tracks, and they started getting us into it,” Roberts said. “We started getting flyers from local races.”
Roberts and Sexton entered competitions in Catoosa, Muskogee and Kellyville, along with Texas and Arkansas. He claimed several regional series titles, working his way up from a 200 cubic centimeter engine to a 450 cc engine, and the pair started talking about expanding their racing efforts when Roberts turned 16 and became eligible to compete in a national series.
Those plans went on the shelf when Sexton died in 2002.
Roberts spent more than a year away from the sport after Sexton’s death, deciding whether to quit their shared passion, or continue on with the racing plans they had laid out.
“My sponsors kept calling me, and wanting me to come back,” Roberts said. “I went back and watched a couple of races and, you know, got the fever back. So I started riding again.”
He dedicated the 2004 season to Sexton and moved up to a bigger ATV to compete in the nationwide circuits.
Seven races made up the national series, spread from May to October in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas. Jenson made all but one of the trips by putting his ATV in the back of a pickup truck and driving to the tracks. Sometimes with family, sometimes with a friend, but more than once by himself.
“He flew out to North Carolina,” Sandra Sexton said. “He sent his bike ahead with somebody, because we didn’t want him driving for 22 hours.”
He often spent nights sleeping on a cot at the track, to cut down on hotel costs.
The long drives and impromptu camping expeditions proved worthwhile. He won two races in the 265 cc ‘B’ class and finished well enough in the others to edge out a series championship from Tulsan Stephen Groden.
He also won one race in the Production Class, finishing fourth overall in that series.
“I had second (in the Production Series) wrapped up,” Roberts said. “But, I came around a corner doing about 55 (miles per hour) and the wheel broke, and the axle stuck in the ground. So, I ended up not finishing.”
This season, Jenson plans to run in the ‘A’ or top amateur class, while also competing in a Pro-Am circuit.
The Pro-Am races should give him a feel of what he will need to compete against professionals while keeping his amateur status and without having to spend the nearly $50,000 pros do on their ATVs.
“(Pro-Am) is like a middle class,” Roberts said. “It’s for people that want to win money but don’t necessarily want to jump up into a class where guys have $40-$50,000 in a four-wheeler.”
As an amateur, Roberts won’t claim prize money in the Pro-Am circuit. Instead, he’ll continue to seek sponsorships, which gives him deals on parts and work for the ATV.
Still, his primary source of funding is the First National Bank of Grandma. His most recent Honda ATV cost more than $7,000, which doesn’t even include parts to prepare the vehicle for racing, maintenance, travel costs and race entry fees.
“It’s pretty expensive,” Sandra Sexton said. “Probably for the practice and the two categories he enters, it usually costs him $80-$100 a race, plus the gas to get there. And he can chew up a new set of tires in one or two races.”
Jenson’s goal is to turn professional in one or two years, but he tempers that dream with realism.
“It would be really nice to (make a career of racing),” Roberts said. “I’d love to have a factory ride someday. But, right now, is it coming? No. I’m going to have to increase my ability by tenfold.
“But, I’m getting there. I’m 10 times better than I used to be. I’m winning a lot now.”