Belleville resident Mark Weishaar counts himself among the lucky.
“I’ve seen guys break a pelvis or a femur and be out for months,” said Weishaar, who joined the American Motorcycle Association professional Supercross circuit three years ago. “Those take a long time to heal anyway, but then they’d come back and break them again.”
Weishaar has only broken an arm, hand, collar bone, wrist, both ankles three times and had “a lot of concussions.”
“It’s a dangerous sport, but there are risks you don’t have to take. I’m not going to go out and kill myself,” said Weishaar. “Knock on wood, I haven’t run into anything too serious.”
He earns anywhere from $750 to $1,500 per race.
The 2011 graduate of Belleville West will be among the riders in the Monster Energy Supercross event Saturday at the former Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis.
I’m literally doing my dream. I was 13 and got my first bike and saw Supercross the first time. I said ‘that’s it, that’s going to be me.
Mark Weishaar, Professional Supercross biker
It will be a return to same venue where Weishaar, who was 13 at the time, saw his first professional event.
“I’m literally doing my dream. I was 13 and got my first bike and saw Supercross the first time. I said ‘that’s it, that’s going to be me,’” Weishaar said. “Now I’m one of those guys up on the jumps, looking back into the crowd.
“I look back on that now and think ‘man, I’m so lucky.’”
‘Pinnacle of the sport’
The Dome at America’s Center — the former home of the NFL’s now-departed Rams franchise — will open its doors this week to 500 dump trucks that will deposit 26 million pounds of dirt where there once was a football field. It will be molded into a uniquely-designed race track of high jumps and other obstacles.
The object for Weishaar and his opponents will be to circle the track as quickly as possible while maneuvering the kind of bone-breaking obstructions that so frequently send competitors to the emergency room.
The jumps will propel the dirt bikes and their riders 35 to 40 feet toward the Dome’s rafters and across up to 75 feet of floor space. Mistimed jumps almost always end ugly.
“Imagine nine jumps all five to eight feet tall each, 35 feet apart, and you have to go through it as fast as possible,” Weishaar said. “You have to have your timing on just to get through it.”
That’s what separates Supercross from motocross and other off-road motor sports.
“Supercross is the pinnacle of the sport. In baseball terms, this essentially like playing for the Cardinals,” Weishaar said.
Weishaar started learning to ride when he was 11, earned his professional license by the time he was 19, and is now in his fourth season on the AMA circuit.
Imagine nine jumps all five to eight feet tall each, 35 feet apart, and you have to go through it as fast as possible. You have to have your timing on just to get through it.
There are 17 events each Supercross season, which last from the start of July through roughly the end of April. Held mostly in pro football stadiums, AMA events last year drew an average of 46,000 fans in 14 cities.
There are 250cc and 450cc classes. Weishaar splits his seasons between both, but will be competing in the 250cc class Saturday in St. Louis.
Each class will usually draw 80 to 100 riders for timed practice rounds, Weishaar said. The 40 fastest lap times advance to the night program, which can earn a dirt biker a payday in that $750 to $1,500 range, depending on their finish.
That’s “realistic money” for a rider like Weishaar, who last season qualified for the night program in eight of the 10 races in which he participated.
The top 22 qualifiers from the night program advance to the main event, which Weishaar has reached once in his three previous seasons. That’s where the real money is.
“For a guy like me and my skill level, making the night show is what I should be doing every weekend,” he said. “Making the main event with some regularity is what I’m working toward.”
‘A really good job’
Supercross stars like Ryan Dungey, James Stewart and Chad Reed — who all will be competing at this weekend’s St. Louis race — can earn prize money and sponsorship dollars in the millions each year.
“Those guys ride every day, have semis with their bikes and equipment, and fly into cities every weekend for the races,” Weishaar said.
That won’t be Weishaar, who at 23 is approaching an advanced age for participants in his sport and competes in events only as long as there are no conflicts with his schedule as a full-time student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He gets to races with his bikes in the back of his Toyota Tundra pickup truck, calling his team “2 Dudes in a Tundra.”
The second dude is whomever he can get to come along with him that weekend to act as mechanic. He’s put 37,000 miles on the truck in five months.
I want to keep racing a few more years, as long as I can keep up the sponsorships and still have fun. It’s not a career for me, but right now it’s a really good job.
Local sponsorships help with travel costs and other accommodations. Contegra Construction in Edwardsville even helped finance a practice track built on private property in Madison County. Some national equipment sponsorships help him with motorcycle parts and riding gear.
Weishaar’s parents, with whom he still lives in Villa Hills, help subsidize the cost of his motorcycles on the condition that he continues to pursue his education full-time.
Weishaar will be wrapping up a degree in kinesiology in the fall, having just completed an internship in California with an athletic trainer known to Supercross athletes from his regular work with the AMA.
He said he’s likely bound for a master’s program in the fall, but is still weighing career options he says includes being a physician’s assistant or a teacher. He may even consider going to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon.
In the meantime, it’s a lot of weekend travel and muddy dirt bikes for Weishaar, who also hopes to avoid further trips to the ER.
“I want to keep racing a few more years, as long as I can keep up the sponsorships and still have fun,” he said. “It’s not a career for me, but right now it’s a really good job.
“As long as I can keep doing it and keep up with school, I’m happy.”
At a Glance
What: Monster Energy AMA Supercross
When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Dome at America’s Center, St. Louis
Tickets: Tickets range from $10 each to $155 and are available at Ticketmaster